ISSN 2330-717X

Maldives: Struggling With Terror – Analysis

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By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*

On July 29, 2021, Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem announced that the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has accepted the case of an additional suspect, Ali Haisham, forwarded by the Police in the May 6, 2021, attack case. Earlier, Police had forwarded the names of Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, Mujaz Ahmed, Thahmeen Ahmed and Ahmed Fathih and cases against them had been accepted.

Ali Haisham was arrested on June 11; Mujaz Ahmed and Thahmeen Ahmed, both on May 8; Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, on May 9 and Ahmed Fathih, on May 19. Adhuham is believed to be the man who detonated the explosive. Thahumeen is the owner of the motorcycle used in the blast.

Another five suspects are under investigation – Is’haq, Fahumy Ali, Mohamed Nazim, Abdulla Ali Manik and Mohamed Thasleem.

On May 6, 2021, Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives Speaker of Parliament and former President, was grievously injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast outside his home in the national capital, Male. Three of his body guards and two bystanders – a local and a British national – also received minor injuries in the explosion. The Police have since launched nationwide operations to arrest the culprits.

Meanwhile, on July 24, 2021, the trio of the Maldives Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed, Assistant Commissioner Mohamed Riyaz, and Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem. addressed a press conference and provided details of the investigation into the May 6 attack. Mohamed Riyaz revealed that the arrestees shared beliefs endorsed by the Islamic State (IS, also Daesh). Nonetheless, to date, Daesh’s direct role in these cases has not been established. He also added that the ‘terrorist cell’ involved in the attack had declared Mohamed Nasheed a kafir (infidel).

On July 6, 2021, the Chairman of the Committee of People’s Majilis on National Security (also known as the 241 Committee), Hassan Afeef, submitted the Report of the Committee to Parliament. The Report was passed by the Parliament on July 7 and subsequently presented to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on July 12. The Report mentions, among other things, that Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi had acted against established protocol and failed to share information received by her with authorities. The  Report also states that the Member of Parliament from Hulhudhoo constituency, Ilyas Labeeb, who on May 14, 2021, had stated that he had informed Ahmed Didi of an impending attack on Mohamed Nasheed, also failed in his duty to inform the Police.  Indeed, according to a July 12 report, Ahmed Didi and Labeeb are being investigated for failing to report the information they received about the assassination attempt on Parliament Speaker Nasheed, to the Police.

This Report which was passed with a total of 45 submitted recommendations, included:

Armed security personnel monitoring those who enter Nasheed’s household even when he is not homeEstablish an evacuation procedure for his householdProvide a standard armored car for Nasheed for personal travelVet Nasheed’s security personnel once a yearMonitor Nasheed’s household at all times with CCTVTerminate employment of all personnel who were either negligent on the day of the attack or did not take act as per procedureAppoint a National Security Advisor to the President after joint discussions by Police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)Amend the Armed Forces Act to make it more fit for current timesCreate a national database of people participating in terrorist acts or religious extremismRaise awareness amongst the media about terrorism and religious extremismOutline the duties and responsibilities of the organisations working against terrorism so that there is no overlapMake a new law for intelligence

The 13-member Committee to look into Speaker Nasheed’s security breach was constituted on May 17. 

After the May 6 attack the Government has already initiated some legislative measures.

On June 21, Parliament passed two Bills – the First Amendment to the Parliament’s Privileges and Powers Act and the Sixth Amendment to the Judges Act – to arrange for official residences for the Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed and the Chief Justice Ahmed Muthasim Adnan to strengthen their security. After the May 6 attack, a Bill was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on June 14, calling for amendments to be brought to the law in order to arrange for residences for the Speaker of the Parliament and the Chief Justice of Maldives. Later, on June 30, the President ratified the two Bills. The amended Bills state that the residences must be such that sufficient security measures can be implemented if needed.

Further, in a renewed emphasis to stop hate crimes, a Bill was introduced on May 31, 2021, by the Member of Parliament for Thulhaadhoo Constituency, Ms. Hisaan Hussain, of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). As per the Bill, the list of hate crimes includes accusing a person of having violated Islam, being against the religion of Islam publicly, and using the Islamic faith to foster hatred against a specific person. In addition to this, accusing, labelling, or taking part in describing a Muslim as a non-Muslim or “kafir” are also listed as hate crimes. The Bill was accepted with 38 votes in favor and 17 against, on June 16. However, it was sent to the Judiciary Committee for further ‘research’ on the same day, ostensibly, because the Solih Government was cowed down by the extremists who oppose the Bill.

Meanwhile, the attack and following developments have adversely affected politics in the country. On July 17, 2021, Mohmad Nasheed wrote an open letter and shared it on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. The letter reads, inter alia,

We must never – out of fear – simply hand the reins of democratic leadership and the course of Maldivian progress to fringe factions, or to a minor coalition partner that did not carry the vote. Democratic principles, and our constitution, demand that our elected leaders maintain their contract with the people and defend the MDP’s most basic standards.

It is pertinent to recall here that Dr. Afrasheem (killed in 2012), Ahmed Rilwan (in 2014) and Yameen Rasheed (in 2017), are believed to have been murdered by local extremist groups allied to Al-Qaeda, according to the Presidential Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances (DDCom).

Earlier, on July 12, 2021, Nasheed had sent a WhatsApp message to his colleagues in which he tentatively proposed an alliance with rival Abdullah Yameen. Speaker Nasheed said, “It does not matter to me if some MDP members are unhappy with this – but if former President Yameen and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) support moderate religious views, I will ask for their help.” Significantly, it is believed that the political instability of 2012, resulting in protests and the ouster of the then President Nasheed, had facilitated the growth of extremism.

Meanwhile, highlighting prosecution failure as a major hindrance in Maldives’ fight with extremism/terrorism, and referring to the May 6, attack, Nasheed appealed to the judiciary on June 26, arguing, “I believe the local judges must receive a big message. They must not allow for them [terror suspects] to be remanded for 10 or 15 days and then released to the streets… I imagine a very dark picture. That is, the beginning of suicide attacks among us.”

There have been numerous cases in the recent past where terrorism suspects have been arrested, released, re-arrested and released again. On June 30, 2021, in one such case, the Supreme Court revoked the order for the detention of one of the suspects, Mafthooh Saeed, arrested in the Police crackdown on extremism in Addu City in May 2021. Saeed was arrested from Addu on May 15 on suspicion of involvement in a separatist movement to spread extremism, incitement to terrorism, possession and storage of items needed to prepare improvised explosive devices, and conspiracy to harm civilians and property.

The stated vision of the country to remain a moderate, progressive, tolerant, and peaceful Muslim country is coming under increased stress in the absence of a consensus on the crucial issues of hate speech, radicalization and terrorism, which are obstructing efforts to seriously tackle militancy/terrorism. Efforts are also needed to facilitate sharing of intelligence between various security agencies and to implement the 241-committee report in order to cement responses to terrorism. 

*Giriraj Bhattacharjee
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

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SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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