By N Sathiya Moorthy*
Putting at rest avoidable speculation about the nation’s political Opposition being behind Monday’s blast on the presidential speedboat, the Maldivian Government has ruled out the possibility of an assassination attempt by saying that a mechanical issue was the probable cause. “Our Opposition is vocal but not violent to carry out something like this,” Mohammed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ told newsmen in Colombo, the capital of neighbouring Sri Lanka, on Tuesday.
“We have no reason to believe that anyone would want to assassinate the President,” Minister Mundhu said. “We are looking at an accident rather than sabotage,” he added. The minister explained that the nation lacked forensic capabilities, but experts from Saudi Arabia and the US had already arrived in the capital Male to assist, and more were to join from Australia and India.
The clarification on the ‘assassination plot’ issue became necessary after speculation began doing the rounds, based on Minister Mundhu’s early statement that the Government did not “rule out all possibilities” behind the blast, in which President Abdulla Yameen escaped unhurt. Mundhu was quick to declare the same day that he did not mean it was a ‘planned attack’.
The explosion occurred when President Yameen was returning to capital Male from the nearby Hulhule airport-island at the completion of annual Hajj p9ilgrimage. The blast on board ‘Finifenmaa’ (meaning ‘rose’ in the local language, Dhivehi) was noticed as the boat was close to the landing-point at the presidential boat-jetty in Male. First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim, who had accompanied the President on the pilgrimage, was said to have suffered back/spinal injuries. Two personal staff members of the President, including a security officer, were also injured, according to local media report.
As speculation began doing their inevitable rounds on such occasions, Minister Mundhu clarified that he did not say the explosion was a planned attack. However, he reiterated his early statement that “nothing is impossible, nothing is ruled out…One cannot say that the incident happened in a specific way”. Both Mundhu, and another Minister, ‘Sun’ Ali Shiyam, who accompanied the Yameens in the Hajj pilgrimage and was on the ill-fated boat, said that the chances of mechanical/engine failure in the well-maintained presidential launch was ‘small’.
Though the local media has been sparse in its coverage of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), barring the pending court-case and allied matter involving jailed former President Mohammed Nasheed, the party was the among the first ones to condemn the boat-blast. “That such a dangerous incident should occur on board the vessel specially earmarked for presidential travel is a matter that needs to be immediately investigated and call on all relevant State institutions to take swift actions against those parties responsible for this negligence,” MDP’s International Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor said further in a prompt media statement. Ghafoor also conveyed “our profound prayers to His Excellency the President and his family…”
Threat from ISIS?
Independent of Monday’s incident, President Yameen has been facing ‘threats’, purportedly from ISIS, in recent weeks. The Government had to intervene to have YouTube pull out a social media threat to the lives of President Yameen and Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb in early September by three masked men standing by an ‘ISIS’ flag, and demanding the early release of religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) leader, Imran Abdulla, jailed for months after co-sponsoring an anti-Government protest rally.
President Yameen reacted by saying that he would not be cowed down by such threats, and went ahead with his planned tour of the islands. As may be recalled others, including political leaders, civil society activists and media personnel, too came to face such threats. The threats came to be viewed seriously after a member of imprisoned former President Mohammed Nasheed’s legal team was stabbed in a busy Male street during sun-light hours.
Some analysts, mainly those from outside the country, have pegged on to Monday’s incidents to refer to the purported rise of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and militancy in Maldives in recent years (read: Yameen presidency). While it’s true that half a dozen or so of Maldivians – not all of them ‘youth’ – have been reported killed in or by the IS in Syria, the Government has been very vociferous in calling upon the people to stay the straight path.
Ever since the first Maldivian getting killed in ‘IS war’ in Syria came to notice, the Government has also pressed religious leaders into telling the faithful in their sermons that Islam did not recognise fighting somebody else’s war, elsewhere as ‘jihad’. It is another matter that Imam, Sheikh Abdul Latheef, in his ‘super blood moon eclipse’ sermon on Sunday, likened human life to the waning and waxing of the moon, and stated that all things were ordained by God and that everything will remain the same constant way.
However, some analysts unwittingly and unwisely seemed to have taken a dig at President Yameen by saying that he might blame Monday’s explosion as a product of ‘black magic’ practised against him by his political opponents. For those not fully in the know, many Maldivian politicians believe in the occult just as their neighbourhood Sri Lankan counterparts have faith in astrology. In the common neighbourhood of India, political leaders even of ‘rationalist’ hues are known to be closet believers in astrology – which even has a horoscope cast in the name of the Indian Nation, with the ‘midnight hour’ of 15 August 1947 as the ‘hour of birth’.
Speculation and crude jokes apart, and going beyond Monday’s episode involving the presidential launch, could be – and still ‘could’ be – is a series of accidents/involving speed-boats, cruise vessels, tugs and some even in tourist resorts across the nation. Though some of the early incidents came to be attributed to the impending ‘super red eclipse’ impact on sea-swells, as traditionally believed, and the police and the Coast Guard even cautioned boat-owners to be extra-cautious, post-eclipse, the Government’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said that no eclipse-related incidents of the kind were reported on the day. Subsequently since, authorities have clarified that some eclipse-related sea-swells had occurred in the nation’s southern parts, where some of the reported sea-incidents had occurred.
Taken to their logical or illogical conclusion, they, however, could impact on the nation’s tourism industry, still the mainstay of Maldivian economy. With the result, if the ‘Finifemaa incident’ had brought back to focus the ‘Sultan Park episode’ in the heart of Male city, that too at the height of the pro-democracy protests, across the country in 2007, it could not be mistaken. The Government of then President, Maumoon Gayoom, half-brother of incumbent Yameen, had claimed that the blast, which thankfully did not result in any casualty, was aimed at impacting on the nation’s tourism economy.
At the time, it was left to the late B Raman, the international terrorism expert from India, to draw a parallel with the modus adopted in the ‘London subway explosion’. Police investigations led to the arrest of a few locals, holed up in a relatively remote island, against locals protests. That was also when possibly the world began looking at the impending emergence of religious fundamentalism/militancy in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Not long after, reports of the nine Maldivians getting caught fighting, by the US forces along the Af-Pak border, set the Government thinking, and the rest of the world cautioning the nation.
*The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter