By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On August 8, 2020, Maldives’ Disappearances and Death Commission (DDC) announced that it is going to hire a foreign expert to assist it in completing its investigations by September 2020. Earlier, on December 8, 2019, the President of DDC, Uz. Husnu Al Suood, resigned from the Presidential Commission after his nomination to the Supreme Court as a Judge. A December 12, 2019, report mentions President’s spokesperson Ibrahim Hood saying that President’s Office was working on a replacement for Uz. Husnu Al Suood. However, no further updates are available. Another member, Adam Ibrahim, also resigned, citing ‘personal reasons’. DDC has just three members left, Misbah Abbas, Ahmed Nashid and Fareesha Abdulla.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had announced the establishment of the DDC on November 18, 2018. The Commission commenced its work officially on November 21, 2018, with a two-year deadline to investigate 27 cases of Disappearances and Death. On September 1, 2019, DDC revealed that, of the 27 cases being investigated, only 4 or 5 were ‘currently pending’. Three of these were ‘interlinked’ cases, involving al Qaeda. These included:
- Recovery of the dead body of Dr Afrasheem Ali bearing multiple stab wounds. The body was discovered in the stairwell of his home in Male in the early hours of October 1, 2012. Status: Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has ordered the DDC to resubmit the charges against the accused.
- Disappearance of Journalist Ahmed Rilwan: Ahmed Rilwan (28), a journalist with now discontinued Maldives Independent, was last seen on August 8, 2014. Status: The case has yet to reach trial phase. The DDC on December 3, 2019, said that the case was forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office, to press charges against Mohamed Mazeed and Smith Mohamed, suspected of masterminding Rilwan’s enforced disappearance. Subsequently, the Prosecutor General’s Office had rejected the case over procedural issues, and no charges were pressed against any suspects.
- Killing of Blogger Yameen Rasheed: A local affiliate of al Qaeda killed blogger Yameen Rasheed, who had received repeated death threats for his ‘anti-Islamic views’, on April 23, 2017. Status: PG office in January 2020, citing inadequate investigations, rejected the charges against the suspects. Further, the Prosecutor General sent the case back to DDC for further investigation, following which the commission stated they would resubmit the charges. DDC could not find any fresh leads in the case.
The al Qaeda is a major threat to the Maldives. On September 19, 2019, the Maldives Government made public the details of 17 terror organisations placed under its Anti-Terrorism Act on the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. Five of these were related al Qaeda: Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
Meanwhile, since the formation of the DDC on November 18, 2018, another five terrorism cases have taken place in the country (data till August 30, 2020), though these have not resulted in any fatalities. These include:
- April 15, 2020, arson attack at Mahibadhoo Harbour: On April 15, 2020, five government speedboats were damaged in an arson attack at Mahibadhoo Harbour on Ariatholhu Dhekunuburi. According to reports, the attack was a retaliation against Government investigations into extremism and drug trafficking.
- March 22, 2020, Police boat attack: Unidentified attackers set ablaze a Police boat docked at the Harbour of Gan Island in Laamu Atoll on March 22, 2020.
- March 21, 2020, arson attack: An arson incident occurred at Villa number 47 in Cheval Blanc Randheli, a luxury hotel located in Noonu Atoll.
- February 4, 2020, stabbing incidents: Extremists, suspected to be inspired by the Islamic State, stabbed and injured three foreign nationals – two Chinese and one Australian – near Hulhumale Red Bull Park Futsal Ground in the Hulhumale city of Kaffu Atoll on February 4, 2020.
- Attack on Turkish national: Extremists stabbed a Turkish national in Hulhumale city in December 2019.
Though all these cases are still under investigation, it is suspected that the Islamic State is behind each of them. Indeed, IS has claimed two of these incidents (April 15) and (March 21).
Though none of the cases reported since November 18, 2018, the date of establishment of the DDC, are under the purview of the DDC, other agencies investigating the cases have also failed to prosecute a single person in these cases, with the exception of the March 22, 2020, arson incident.
On August 2, 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor General filed an additional terror charge against terror accused Moosa Inaas, for setting ablaze a Police surveillance speedboat on March 22. The speedboat was docked in the harbour of Thundi District of Gan in Laamu Atoll. The Prosecutor General’s office disclosed that it has filed the charge of carrying out an act of terrorism under Article 6 (b) of the Counter-Terrorism Act, with reference to Article 6 (a) (i) of the Counter-Terrorism Act. Earlier, on July 29, 2020, the Prosecutor General’s Office had charged Moosa Inaas and Abdul Latheef Ibrahim for “possession of material implying support for a terrorist organization” under Article 6 (b) of the Counter-Terrorism Act.
The State continued failure to successfully prosecute those involved in violent acts could strengthen the resolve of terrorist and extremist formations. It will also help such elements to claim that the case filed against them were the vendetta of a secular’ government against the ‘faithful’.
In the meantime, there is a strong possibility of more arson attacks by the extremists, as evident from available online content. On July 30, 2020, the Australia-based scholar of Maldives, Azim Zahir, tweeted that the Maldivian IS group had released a video encouraging arson attacks. Further, the SITE Intelligence group,an organisation that monitors online activities of extremist groups,disclosedthat the original 4-minute video version “Incite the Believers” was released in both English and Arabic by the IS-linked Al-Hayat Media Center on July 26, 2020. The SITE Intelligence group added further that the video asked supporters to use arson as a method to attack enemies across Africa, North and South America and Europe.
The outbreak of Novel Corona Virus-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to massive financial losses for the State; the full extent of this is yet to be fully assessed. According to data published by the Ministry of Economic Development, Government of Maldives, and the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), the best-case scenario for the island nation would be a negative economic growth of -11.5 per cent, but at worst could go down to -29.7 per cent. A lethal combination of economic meltdown and poverty-led marginalisation could lead to heightened radicalisation, greatly destabilising the island nation. Lieutenant Colonel Amanulla A. Rasheed in his article ‘Global Trends of Crime and Terror Nexus during COVID-19 Pandemic: Building Community Resilience to Prevent Violent Extremism’ published in National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) Newsletter Volume 37: April 2020 observes,
…crime and terror would transform, changing its ways and means to exploit the situation and target the vulnerable communities in order to create chaos and misconceptions amongst the public and hate towards the State Governments. Extremist sympathizers are covertly playing their role in spreading the Jihadist beliefs in the vulnerable communities, which is part of terror tactics, and yet the spread of violent extremism have been managed…
There is need for greater synergy between various security agencies both at the level of intelligence sharing and investigation, so that cases that are registered can be brought to their natural conclusion. The capacities and capabilities of the Maldivian Security Forces need a boost, in order to effectively meet increasing challenges of terrorist groups and radical elements.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management