Twelve foreign tourists— eight Chinese, two Japanese and two British— were injured in an explosion on September 29,2007, in a park near the main mosque in the Maldives capital of Male. It is not yet known whether the Chinese were from mainland China or elsewhere. Nor is it known whether the explosion specifically targeted the foreign tourists or whether the tourists just happened to be near the scene when the explosion took place. The local police, however, seem to suspect that the blast was meant to target foreign tourists and affect the flow of tourists to the country. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the blast.
2. The Friends of Maldives (FOM), a non-Governmental organisation, which has been supporting the pro-democracy movement in the Islands, has strongly refuted insinuations allegedly made by President Abdul Gayoom and a Government spokesman that the FOM, which, according to them, has been carrying on a Boycott of Tourism to the Maldives campaign, might have been behind the blast. In a statement, Mr.David Hardingham, the founder of the FOM, has stated as follows: ” The FOM has never requested tourists NOT to visit the Maldives. The FOM campaign asks tourists to choose a resort not closely associated with the repressive Regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. FOM understands that the bombing has potentially significant ramifications for the Maldives tourism industry and in solidarity with the people of the Maldives, the FOM has decided on a temporary suspension of the FOM Selected Resorts Boycott Campaign. This will be reviewed at the end of October 2007. The FOM maintains the importance of the installation of a liberal and democratic Maldives where tourism and free enterprise can flourish and prosper. The current dictatorship and their refusal to allow a real democracy and respect for human rights will continue to create an environment where criminal activity and extremism will flourish. The international community must be more active in this regard.”
3. According to the local media, the improvised explosive device (IED) used in the blast consisted of a gas cylinder, a washing machine motor and a mobile telephone. It is not yet clear whether the mobile telephone was used as a remote control device or as a timer. Automobile fuel, gas cylinders and mobile telephones were also used by the jihadi terrorists—one of them an Indian Muslim from Bangalore— who attempted to stage terrorist strikes in London and Glasgow in the last week of June,2007. The Maldivian Police claim to have detained two persons for questioning. They are also reportedly examining the pictures in the Closed Circuit TV cameras installed in the park.
4. Since 9/11, there have been reports of the spread of fundamentalist ideas to the Maldives from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In 2002, a 28-year-old Maldivian national named Ibrahim Fauzee was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, and taken to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba by the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on suspicion of his having links with Al Qaeda. As his interrogation did not confirm this suspicion, the FBI sent him to the Madives. He lives in Male and is subject to regular police surveillance.
5. In the spring of 2006, the Maldivian authorities announced the arrest in Sri Lanka of three Maldivians—two women and a man—who were allegedly on their way to a jihadi training camp in Pakistan, but they were not prosecuted for want of satisfactory evidence. Fatimah Nisreen, a policeman’s daughter, was accused of helping them to go to Pakistan, but she refuted this allegation.
6. Ahmed Shah, a Maldivian national, was reported to have attended a training camp of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) at Muridke, near Lahore. He was deported to the Maldives by the Pakistani authorities.In April last year, seven young Maldivians were arrested by the Maldives Police on a charge of encouraging other Maldivians to wage jihad abroad, but they were not prosecuted for want of evidence.
7. Himendhoo, one of the outlying islands, has been described as a centre for Wahabism. A Hindu school teacher working in the island was allegedly beaten up badly by Wahabi elements last year.
8. For over a year now, the local Wahabis of the island have been refusing to obey Ibrahim Abrahman, the Government-appointed chief cleric in the island. They have declined to pray in the Government-maintained mosque. They constructed their own mosque, which was demolished by the Government. They built another. Cassettes containing the video and audio messages of Osama bin Laden and his No.2 .Ayman al-Zawahiri freely circulate in the island and nearby islands. Some students from the island, who were studying in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad, were reported to have recently returned home after the Lal Masjid was raided by the Pakistani commandos between July 10 and 13,2007. They have also been spreading stories of what is projected as the glorious martyrdom of the girl students of the Lal Masjid’s madrasa for girls.
9. Saudi money has funded the construction of a high school in Male, called the Islamic Studies Institute, where the students are taught , inter alia, the Arabic language. This is becoming another centre for the spread of Wahabism.
10. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has also been using the Maldives as a transit point for its arms smuggling activities for many years. There were reports of the Maldivian authorities co-operating with the Sri Lankan Navy in some of its recent operations to disrupt arms smuggling by the LTTE. Thus, the LTTE has reasons for anger against the Maldivian authorities.
(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )