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18 May, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Maldives: Extremist spectre

Nijeesh N
Maldives: Extremist spectre

The Global Terrorism Index 2017 report states, “Over the last 15 years, Bhutan and the Maldives have experienced the lowest levels of terrorist impact in the region.” There were, nevertheless, several developments indicative of growing Islamist radicalization in the Maldives in the recent past, adversely impacting its national security. Former President Mohamed Nasheed in an interview published on February 25, 2018, thus warned:

“The Maldives is threatened by a religious extremist take over. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is now a parallel state in the Maldives. A state within the state. A network of religious radicals that have infiltrated strategic institutions, the government, and the street gangs. They are ready to overrun the country and impose a radical version of religion upon the Maldivians and tourists alike. President Yameen [Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom] works with this ‘deep state’, but he cannot control it.”

Worryingly, several Maldivians have gone to the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to participate in jihad. On January 15, 2018, Maldives’ Defence Minister Adam Shareef had disclosed that 61 Maldivians had travelled to Syria to fight along with jihadi groups [Islamic State or Daesh and al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra – currently also known as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham]. However, the Soufan Group’s report on foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq published in December 2015 claimed that around 200 Maldivians were fighting in Syria and Iraq, making the Maldives the world’s second largest number of foreign fighters ‘per capita’ (500 fighters per million population), after Tunisia (at 545.5 fighters per million).

Defence Minister Shareef had also disclosed that around 68 persons, including nine children, had been stopped from going to Syria to join jihadist groups. Reports indicate that the first traces of such emigration were noticed when two youth were detained at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) at Male in October 2013. Some of the other recent arrests include:

October 21, 2017: Two Maldivians en-route to Syria were arrested in Turkey and brought back to their country.

September 23, 2017: Three Maldivians en route to Syria were arrested in Turkey and brought back. The three men were arrested in a joint operation with the Turkish law enforcement authorities while they were trying to cross the border into Syria.

August 7-9, 2017: Two Maldivians were among 19 suspected terrorists arrested for their alleged links with Islamic State in Malaysia. The duo was using Malaysia and Singapore as their transit points before heading to Syria to join Daesh. February, 2017: A Maldivian man was arrested in Turkey and deported to the Maldives while attempting to cross-over to Syria. February, 2016: Three Maldivians, identified as Ahmed Latheef, Ahmed Suhail Moosa and Munawwar Abdulla were arrested on the Turkey-Syria border and extradited to the Maldives in March.

Further, according to a classified report prepared by the Indian Intelligence Bureau in July 2016, the Islamic State reportedly had as many as 500 sympathisers in Maldives in addition to those who had already travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the conflict. Significantly, Yameen Rasheed, a popular liberal blogger and a strong voice against radical Islamist elements, was stabbed to death in his apartment in Male on the North Male Atoll on April 23, 2017. Weeks before his assassination, Rasheed had received several death threats from various sources, including Islamic State-inspired extremist groups and gangs.

Surprisingly, according to an April 17, 2018 report, one Maldivian (identity not revealed), who in 2017 went to Syria to fight alongside terrorist groups (along with his wife and child) returned to the Maldives in March 2018 and lives in the capital, Male. Reports indicate that he had participated in terrorist activities while in Syria; however, no action has been initiated against him.

According to various releases from Islamic State and al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, at least 12 to 20 Maldivians have already been killed in different conflict zones of the Middle East. In one such incident, on December 24, 2017, a 25 year old Maldivian fighter, a native of Naivaidhoo on the Haa Dhaal Atoll, who left the country in early 2017, (name not specified) was killed while fighting in Syria.

Confirming the continuing presence of Maldivians in West Asian conflict zones on January 20, 2018, Jabhat al-Nusra’s media wing, Bilad al-Sham Media (BASM, the media outlet for Maldivians fighting in Syria) released a video of Maldivian fighters undertaking jihadi training at an unspecified location in Syria. The video shows men in camouflage performing drills, handling of weapons and raiding buildings.

In the meantime, with Daesh losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the foreign fighters have started retuning home, to their country of origin, including Maldives. This is likely to further endanger the security situation within the country. Referring to the challenges to countries from Daesh returnees the Global Terrorism Index 2017 report warned, “In Asia, two countries that have little history of violent Islamist attacks are grappling with these challenges; Malaysia and the Maldives. Both have seen a startling number of their citizens travel to Iraq and Syria relative to their population.”

The writer is a security analyst



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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