The Emirates News Agency, known also as WAM, said authorities arrested at least seven Arab nationals thought to be affiliated with al-Qaida.
"An official source said that the cell was planning to carry out acts within the UAE affecting the security of the state and the safety of its citizens and residents," WAM reported. "It was also planning to recruit people and to promote the work of al-Qaida, in addition to providing the organization with funds and logistical support to facilitate the extension of their activities to some countries in the region."
An Emirati human rights activist told the BBC on condition of anonymity that claims of al-Qaida affiliates operating locally were doubtful.
"I don't put any credibility in what state security says," the activist said. "These kinds of arrests are a pretext for repression."
More than 90 people are on trial in the United Arab Emirates on suspicion of plotting against the government. The BBC reports the suspects include student activists and human rights lawyers.