In the Maldives: Time to walk the talk on terror| MENAFN.COM

Wednesday, 05 October 2022 04:52 GMT

In the Maldives: Time to walk the talk on terror


(MENAFN- NewsIn.Asia)

Male, December 16 (Maldives Financial Review): The Maldives has been named, by the country's current Speaker of Parliament no less, the nation with the highest per capita fighters in foreign terror wars.

On 14 December, the Criminal Court sentenced Adhuham Rasheed, charged with attempting to assassinate Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, on 6 May 2021, to 23 years, six months and nine days in prison. He had entered into a plea agreement with the prosecution, and had also apologized to Speaker Nasheed and others injured in the attack, claiming he had been misled by his religious beliefs at the time.

The attack on Nasheed triggered a priority investigation by the Maldives Police Service (MPS). It has arrested three individuals, of whom Rasheed is the first to be convicted.

Speaker Nasheed was attacked as he was on his way to his car from his home in Neelofaru Magu. He sustained various injuries and underwent life-saving surgery at ADK Hospital in Malé, as well as treatment in Germany and the United Kingdom. He returned to the Maldives on 11 October after four months abroad seeking treatment and resumed his duties as Speaker.

While this is the first such attack in which a senior state official was critically injured, there have been previous attempts on the lives of presidents within their terms — President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in 2008, was the target of a knife attack and President Abdulla Yameen, in 2015, was the target of an IED planted on the president's speedboat; both escaped largely unscathed and with no other casualties.

Post-Tsunami Phenomenon

Terrorism, although it had reared its ugly head in the Maldives earlier, is claimed to have become increasingly prevalent in the Maldives after the 2004 tsunami, when those affiliated with terror groups came to the Maldives under the guise of assisting with recovery efforts, and started indoctrinating Maldivian youth to religious extremism.

 The high levels of corruption, comparative poverty and the belief that the tsunami was the wrath of God for not adhering strictly to the teachings of Islam, made Maldivian youth ripe pickings for these groups.

One of the more prominent results of this radicalization was the Sultan Park bombing in 2007, targeting tourists visiting capital Malé, the first such incident in the country. The government initiated a crackdown following the attack, and eventually charged 16 men under the Anti-Terrorism Act, of whom 10 had fled. Three of the 16 were sentenced to 15 years in prison, although they were later commuted to three-year suspended sentences, and two set free in 2010. Many of those charged for the Sultan Park attack have been reported to have been involved in various other terror attacks in later years. Of note is Moosa Inaz, who was charged for setting a police boat on fire at Alif Dhaal Mahibadhoo in April 2020.

Another case is that of Mohamed Ameen, who was arrested on allegations of promoting extremism and recruiting Maldivians for foreign terror organizations. Ameen, suspected of being involved in the Sultan Park attack, had reportedly fled the country in 2007. He was subsequently arrested in Sri Lanka but had been released in 2012. He had been re-arrested in late October 2019 and is the first Maldivian to be included in the United States' Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control's list of militants. The Criminal Court had continued to extend the detention of Ameen, who is also allegedly a senior member of the Islamic Stare in Syria and Afghanistan, but the Court ruled to release him into house arrest in February 2021, citing lack of medical care in prison.

Religious extremism and radicalization had been kept in check under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's autocratic administration, through various restrictions, although one would not agree that they were the fairest or most just measures. With the introduction of modern democracy into the Maldives in 2008, religious extremism was given free rein, operating under the guise of freedom of expression, which had been guaranteed by the Nasheed administration. 

In attacks believed to be tied to extremism, a prominent reform activist and blogger, Yameen Rasheed, was stabbed and murdered near his home in 2017; journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was, in 2014, abducted on his way home from work and assumed dead; and religious scholar and member of parliament, Afrasheem Ali, was, in 2012, stabbed to death near this home. In September 2014, a group marched in the capital Malé, bearing IS flags and calling for the establishment of strict Islamic Shariah in the country.

ISIS

In April 2020, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for five bombs set off in Mahibadhoo harbour, which destroyed a sea ambulance, and four speedboats, among other vessels. This was the first attack claimed by the IS in the country. In February the same year, attackers supporting the IS stabbed and injured tourists in Hulhumalé.

What has the response been?

According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, the government has said that 188 cases related to 'religious extremism' had been reported between 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2019. Of these, a mere 14 have been brought forward for prosecution.

The Maldives enacted an Anti-Terrorism Act in 2015, which was amended in October 2019 to further clarify the definition of terrorism and expand the number of chargeable offences under terrorism. It also allows the Maldives Police Service to make warrantless arrests for criminal acts that fall under terrorism and mandates the establishment of a rehabilitation center for returning Jihadis. The Maldives enacted a Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act in 2014. It also established a National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) in 2016.

The NCTC has on its website a National Strategy on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, dated 2017, which provides the guiding principles for counter-terrorism action planning. The strategy outlines the government's counter-terrorism to be a 'whole-of-government' and 'whole-of-society' approach, with a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and violent extremism.

In October 2019, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih also announced a five-year action plan to counter violent extremism (CVE) and designated the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) as the national coordination body. This Action Plan, however, duplicates the principles, aims and underlying pillars already outlined in the National Strategy, and does not outline concrete actions that will be taken by the government — although the government may have these in confidential documents. 

Counter-terror Measures

Counter terrorism efforts understandably took a back seat in 2020, as the Maldives, like most other countries in the world, battled against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the 6 May 2021 attack against Speaker Nasheed, counter terrorism measures have been renewed with gusto. Minister of Home Affairs Imran Abdulla, also the head of the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party, on 17 August announced a framework to share terrorism-related information — a requirement under the Anti-Terrorism Act — between the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives Customs Service (MCS) and the Department of Immigration & Emigration as well as the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

On 14 October, the Home Minister, speaking at the Global Security Forum in Qatar, said that close to 200 Maldivians have travelled abroad between 2012 and 2018 as fighters in foreign wars, and that many of them are expected to return to the Maldives soon. This brings into focus the urgent need for a fully functioning rehabilitation center capable of properly rehabilitating returnees before they are allowed back into society. The Minister has said that a rehabilitation center has been established in Kaafu Himmafushi, although how well prepared the government is, is anybody's guess. 

On 14 December, the Criminal Court sentenced Adhuham Rasheed, charged with attempting to assassinate Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, on 6 May 2021, to 23 years, six months and nine days in prison. He had entered into a plea agreement with the prosecution, and had also apologised to Speaker Nasheed and others injured in the attack, claiming he had been misled by his religious beliefs at the time. The attack on Nasheed triggered a priority investigation by the Maldives Police Service (MPS). It has arrested three individuals, of whom Rasheed is the first to be convicted.

Speaker Nasheed was attacked as he was on his way to his car from his home in Neelofaru Magu. He sustained various injuries and underwent life-saving surgery at ADK Hospital in Malé, as well as treatment in Germany and the United Kingdom. He returned to the Maldives on 11 October after four months abroad seeking treatment and resumed his duties as Speaker.

While this is the first such attack in which a senior state official was critically injured, there have been previous attempts on the lives of presidents within their terms — President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in 2008, was the target of a knife attack and President Abdulla Yameen, in 2015, was the target of an IED planted on the president's speedboat; both escaped largely unscathed and with no other casualties.

Terrorism, although it had reared its ugly head in the Maldives earlier, is claimed to have become increasingly prevalent in the Maldives after the 2004 tsunami, when those affiliated with terror groups came to the Maldives under the guise of assisting with recovery efforts, and started indoctrinating Maldivian youth to religious extremism. The high levels of corruption, comparative poverty and the belief that the tsunami was the wrath of God for not adhering strictly to the teachings of Islam, made Maldivian youth ripe pickings for these groups.

One of the more prominent results of this radicalization was the Sultan Park bombing in 2007, targeting tourists visiting capital Malé, the first such incident in the country. The government initiated a crackdown following the attack, and eventually charged 16 men under the Anti-Terrorism Act, of whom 10 had fled. Three of the 16 were sentenced to 15 years in prison, although they were later commuted to three-year suspended sentences, and two set free in 2010. Many of those charged for the Sultan Park attack have been reported to have been involved in various other terror attacks in later years. Of note is Moosa Inaz, who was charged for setting a police boat on fire at Alif Dhaal Mahibadhoo in April 2020.

Another case is that of Mohamed Ameen, who was arrested on allegations of promoting extremism and recruiting Maldivians for foreign terror organizations. Ameen, suspected of being involved in the Sultan Park attack, had reportedly fled the country in 2007. He was subsequently arrested in Sri Lanka but had been released in 2012. He had been re-arrested in late October 2019 and is the first Maldivian to be included in the United States' Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control's list of militants. The Criminal Court had continued to extend the detention of Ameen, who is also allegedly a senior member of the Islamic Stare in Syria and Afghanistan, but ruled to release him into house arrest in February 2021, citing lack of medical care in prison.

Religious extremism and radicalization had been kept in check under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's autocratic administration, through various restrictions, although one would not agree that they were the fairest or most just measures. With the introduction of modern democracy into the Maldives in 2008, religious extremism was given free reign, operating under the guise of freedom of expression, which had been guaranteed by the Nasheed administration. 

In attacks believed to be tied to extremism, a prominent reform activist and blogger, Yameen Rasheed was stabbed and murdered near his home in 2017, journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was, in 2014, abducted on his way home from work and assumed dead, and religious scholar and member of parliament Afrasheem Ali was, in 2012, stabbed to death near this home. In September 2014, a group marched in the capital Malé, bearing IS flags and calling for the establishment of strict Islamic shariah in the country.

In April 2020, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for five bombs set off in Mahibadhoo harbour, which destroyed a sea ambulance, and four speedboats, among other vessels. This was the first attack claimed by the IS in the country. In February the same year, attackers supporting the IS stabbed and injured tourists in Hulhumalé.

What has the response been?

According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, the government has said that 188 cases related to 'religious extremism' had been reported between 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2019. Of these, a mere 14 have been brought forward for prosecution.

The Maldives enacted an Anti-Terrorism Act in 2015, which was amended in October 2019 to further clarify the definition of terrorism and expand the number of chargeable offences under terrorism. It also allows the Maldives Police Service to make warrantless arrests for criminal acts that fall under terrorism and mandates the establishment of a rehabilitation center for returning jihadis. The Maldives enacted a Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act in 2014. It also established a National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) in 2016.

The NCTC has on its website a National Strategy on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, dated 2017, which provides the guiding principles for counter-terrorism action planning. The strategy outlines the government's counter-terrorism to be a 'whole-of-government' and 'whole-of-society' approach, with a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and violent extremism.

In October 2019, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih also announced a five-year action plan to counter violent extremism (CVE) and designated the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) as the national coordination body. This Action Plan, however, duplicates the principles, aims and underlying pillars already outlined in the National Strategy, and does not outline concrete actions that will be taken by the government — although the government may have these in confidential documents. 

Counter terrorism efforts understandably took a back seat in 2020, as the Maldives, like most other countries in the world, battled against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the 6 May 2021 attack against Speaker Nasheed, counter terrorism measures have been renewed with gusto. Minister of Home Affairs Imran Abdulla, also the head of the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party, on 17 August announced a framework to share terrorism-related information — a requirement under the Anti-Terrorism Act — between the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives Customs Service (MCS) and the Department of Immigration & Emigration as well as the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

200 Maldivians in ISIS and 1400 Radicals in Maldives itself

On 14 October, the Home Minister, speaking at the Global Security Forum in Qatar, said that close to 200 Maldivians have travelled abroad between 2012 and 2018 as fighters in foreign wars, and that many of them are expected to return to the Maldives soon. This brings into focus the urgent need for a fully functioning rehabilitation center capable of properly rehabilitating returnees before they are allowed back into society. The Minister has said that a rehabilitation center has been established in Kaafu Himmafushi, although how well prepared the government is, is anybody's guess. 

In February 2021, he also declared open a special unit at Maafushi Prison to house and rehabilitate extremists in prison. However, Commissioner of Prisons Ahmed Mohamed Fulhu in November 2021, almost seven months after the Minister declared open the unit, said that a separate block with the capacity to house 100 prisoners, has been established at Maafushi Prison. He added that assessments are being done to identify who to transfer to the block, bringing into focus the lack of government action against the spread of extremism in prisons over the said seven months.

The low prosecution levels and the alarming incidences of alleged terror suspects being let go, is of concern for a country that says it is countering radicalisation. In June 2020, the Criminal Court released Moosa Inaz and two other suspects allegedly involved in the April 2020 Mahibadhooo attack, citing lack of sufficient evidence for prosecution. Then there was the dismissal of terror charges against alleged IS leader Ameen by the High Court, which was however later overturned by the Supreme Court.

The much-touted Presidential Commission on Investigation of Unresolved Murders and Enforced Disappearances (DCom) also appears to have stagnated, having far surpassed the two-year deadline announced by President Solih, with nothing to show for it. After DCom President Husnu Suood resigned from the commission to be appointed Supreme Court justice, it took the government over a year to appoint a new president, perhaps an indication of the commitment, or lack thereof, the government has for this initiative.

The Government on 7 December 2021, announced the establishment of a Joint Interagency Operation Center (JIOC), as the main operational hub linking national institutions in efforts against threats to national security, such as terror attacks. This also begs the question as to what the objective of the NCTC was. Interestingly, Director General of the NCTC, Brigadier General Zakariya Mansoor retired from his post a mere two days after JIOC was announced.

The Maldives has been named, by the Maldives' current Speaker no less, as the nation with the highest per capita fighters in foreign terror wars. According to Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed, there are around 1,400 radicalized individuals in the Maldives who will not hesitate to shed blood in the name of Islam. Minister of Home Affairs Imran Abdulla on 24 May 2021 said that there were individuals in the Maldives with the technical expertise to build IEDs, but that the government's hands were tied as it could not arrest these individuals just based on their knowledge and expertise. With such numbers being touted, and the apparant failures in containing and acting against terrorism, it is high time the government became serious about counter-terrorism and walk the talk. Perhaps JIOC is a step in the right direction, or perhaps it is still another new label on an old tin — time, which is never an ally in matters pertaining to threats such as terrorism, will tell.

END

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