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Maldives: Sequel to Malé Explosion—An Update

This is in continuation of my earlier article on an explosion in a park in Malé, the capital of the Maldives, on September 29,2007, in which eight Chinese, two Japanese and two British tourists were injured (“Copy-Cat Bali in Malé” at ). The Chinese were from the Chinese mainland.

2. Eight Maldivian nationals and three Bangladeshi nationals are under questioning in police custody. The eight Maldivian nationals under questioning are: 21-year old Moosa Inas and 20-year-old Ahmed Naseer, both of the Laamu Atoll, Gaaf Ali, 19-year-old Mohamed Sobah of Villigilli near Malé and Moosa Fazeel, Amir Abdullah, Asrar Saud and Ismail Nasser, all four blacksmiths from Rinbidhoo, who were working in Malé. A local source reported that in addition to these eight, two other Maldivian nationals— Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, age 24, of Green Villa, L. Kalhaidhoo and Ali Shameem aged 25 of Dhoores Sh. Komandoo were also arrested in a house at Manchangolhi, but this was not confirmed. According to the Police, these two have fled to Pakistan.

3. Out of the eight Maldivian nationals arrested so far, three — Moosa Inas, Ahmed Naseer and Gaaf Ali—were reported to have fled to an unidentified foreign country after the explosion. They were arrested by the authorities there and sent back to the Maldives. A closed circuit TV footage showed Moosa Inas and Ahmed Naseer entering the Sultan Park, where the explosion took place, 10 minutes before the explosion and leaving the park on foot separately of each other seven minutes later. Three minutes later, Moosa Inas returned to the park on a motorcyle. The explosion took place a minute later. He immediately fled from the area on his motor-bike. According to the Police, the improvised explosive device was triggered off by a mobile phone, which was later recovered at the instance of one of the arrested persons.

4. In addition to these eight Maldivian nationals, the Police also reportedly detained for questioning three Bangladeshis working in the Maldives—- Abdur Razzaq, Khabir Hussain and Imran Ali. Razzaq was working for Travelling Maldives, a company which owns two resorts and a number of safari boats, while Hussain and Ali were working for a fisheries company called HMS Maldives.

5. The role of the Bangladeshis is not yet clear. A Police spokesman said on November 8, 2007, that 10 other Maldivian nationals had participated in the plot, but they managed to run away to Pakistan before the explosion. The Police have sought the assistance of the INTERPOL for their arrest by the Pakistani authorities and deportation to the Maldives. The spokesman was quoted as saying: “They masterminded the bombing and then fled to Pakistan. Three of the men have confessed to police that they planted the device to target, attack and injure non-Muslims, to fulfil jihad. Two of the suspects in Pakistan, Ali Shameem and Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, both Maldivian nationals, were on a travel blacklist after family members voiced concerns about their intention to travel to Pakistan to train for militant attacks. They slipped out of the country with the assistance of an immigration officer who has been arrested. Several of the fugitives, as well as some of the suspects detained in the Maldives, received training in bomb making in Pakistani madrasas.”

6. It is not yet known whether the persons already arrested and those, who have fled to Pakistan, belonged to any jihadi organisation. However, all of them are suspected to be Wahabis, who were practising and preaching Wahabism. Did the spread of Wahabi influence come from Pakistan or directly from Saudi Arabia? Immediately after the explosion, there was speculation that the perpetrators had studied in Pakistani madrasas. This was refuted by the Pakistani High Commission in Malé.

7. Dr. Jamaluddin, Second Secretary in the Pakistani High Commission, was quoted by the media as saying as follows: “It is 100% untrue to say Maldivians are coming to Pakistan to study in radical madrasas. Its not possible for them to do so. Rigorous visa checks mean it is impossible for Maldivians to enter Pakistan for religious training. There are less than 100 Maldivians in Pakistan right now. Most of those are in medical colleges or other professional institutions. Or they are police officers receiving training. We only issue visas when there are recommendations from the Government here, and confirmation from the colleges in Pakistan.”

8. This was corroborated by an unidentified source in the Maldivian Foreign Office, who was quoted by the media as saying that the Governments of the two countries had agreed “several years ago to only issue study visas for Maldivians who produced letters of enrollment from bona fide universities, excluding religious schools.”

9. Despite this, the Police spokesman claimed on November 8,2007, that some of the perpetrators had received training in bomb-making in Pakistani madrasas. Well-informed sources in the Maldives Government say that while the local police and immigration keep a strict watch on persons travelling directly to Pakistan, they may not know if some persons go to India or Bangladesh and from there proceed to Pakistan for training without any entry in their passports regarding their visit to Pakistan. The suspicion is that either the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) or the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) might be recruiting young Maldivians studying in Indian educational institutions and taking them across to Pakistan or Bangladesh for training.

10. The Saudi role in the spread of Wahabism arises from the large flow of funds from Saudi Arabia for promoting religious education. An unidentified observer commented as follows:”Signs of “creeping Islamisation,” as one Maldivian described it, have been growing for over a decade. Walk through any island in the country in 2000, and you would be hard pressed to spot a veil,” the editor of a local paper told me. “Now on some islands it is difficult to find a woman without one.” As in several Western countries, the burka has come to represent Islam for many in the Maldives. A sign of the veil’s new status came in March, when opposition activist Aishath Aniya, who has never worn the burka, penned an article openly hostile to the practice. Death threats related to her article forced Aniya into hiding. And public outcry forced her to resign from her position in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. The Saudi Government has pumped millions into the Maldives, notably building an Islamic college. And with Saudi money have come preachers of the Saudis’ conservative Wahabi Islam. Characteristically wearing their pants above the ankle and with longer beards, Wahabis have become an increasingly common sight on the streets of Malé, even in my six months here. Sensational stories, apparently not apocryphal, of young brides persuading a close friend to become their husband’s second wife to speed their passage to heaven, are common in Malé. Wearing full veil, with no flesh showing, is not permitted under the country’s moderate state Islam. But women fully covered in black are now occasionally seen on the street.”

11. The Wahabis coming from Saudi Arabia have been accusing scantily-clad Western tourists of damaging the Islamic culture and the Islamic way of life through their life style while visiting the tourist spots. Tourism is being projected as harmful to the pristine purity of Islam. Similar allegations were also made against volunteers of the humanitarian relief organisations, who had come to the Maldives after the Tsunami of December,2004, to provide relief to the victims. The destruction caused by the Tsunami also saw a large flow of funds from Saudi institutions and Pakistani organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organisation of the LET, to provide humanitarian relief to the victims.

12. There were sporadic violent incidents even before the explosion, which had not received attention outside the Maldives. To quote the same observer: “Violence is not unknown. Most famously on Himandhoo island last year, Wahabis barricaded the island mosque after rumours it was constructed on a burial ground. An island official was found dead on the island’s beach in December, after enforcing a government decision to close a breakaway mosque. His younger brother had narrowly escaped a burning speedboat with huge gashes to his chest two months earlier. The police have not prosecuted anyone in relation to either incident. But the island has since divided between pro-government moderates and conservatives, with the latter refusing to send their children to a government school as instruction is not in Arabic. But violence has only reached the capital once. In June police and radical youths fought a pitched battle in Malé as the government tried to close an illegal Friday prayers meeting. A policeman was hospitalised by masonry thrown from the congregation before several of the prayer group were forced into a police van.”

13. The Adhaalath [Justice] Party, founded in 2005 by religious scholars, has been canvassing for governance in accordance with the Sharia, but it has not come to notice for indulging in any violent activities so far.

14. The police investigation so far has been focussed on the activities of the radicals in the island of Himandhoo where the writ of the State is hardly effective and on special pro-Wahabi prayer groups in Malé, which do not accept the Government regulation that mosques can be established and run only by the Government and that clerics appointed for conducting religious services must be approved by the Government. The radicals in the Himandhoo island constructed their own mosque to hold prayers in accordance with Wahabi traditions. When the Government had it demolished, they had it re-built. On October 7,2007, there were reports of a clash between the police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the radicals of the island when the Police and the MNDF went to the island to arrest some persons in connection with the investigation into the explosion. The radical elements even seized a member of the MNDF and held him as a hostage for some time in order to demand that the Police and the MNDF should leave the island. While the Wahabis in Male have not built their own mosque, they avoid going to the Government-run mosque and prefer to hold their prayers in the residences of the members of the group by rotation.

15. On October 18,2007, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ordered that fundamentalists should not be allowed to conduct religious services and that foreign clerics should not be allowed to enter the country without special permission.Under the new measures, the Government will also not recognise educational qualifications obtained from madrasas. Commenting on these measures, Mr.Abdul Majeed Abdul Baari, the leader of the Adhaalath Party, said: “Banning the full covering and the full veil for women would not stop terrorism. The Government is going to fight terrorism by banning the beard and the burka.We are asking the Government to study the causes of terrorism and extremism.”

(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: )

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