“I wanted to get rid of Gayoom at any cost”: Abdulla Luthufee’s Sri Lankan interview

Sri Lankan newspaper The Island has published a two-part interview with Abdulla Luthufee, a Maldivian businessman once sentenced to death for his role in the 1988 coup attempt.

“I wanted to get rid of [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom at any cost. As the election process in my country never gave a reasonable opportunity to the opposition, I felt an outside force should be used to oust Gayoom,” The Island reported Luthufee as saying, on the 23rd anniversary of the November 3 coup attempt.

“Due to my close association with the then PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) leader Uma Maheswaran, I negotiated for the deployment of an 80-member strong PLOTE raiding party. In fact, we discussed the sea-borne raid since 1987 after the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka in line with the July 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord.”

Eighty Tamil mercenaries land on Male’ on November 3, 1988, and quickly took over the airport. However they were caught in a shoot out with military forces in Male’ and were forced to retreat after India deployed 1600 paratroopers to the Maldives on Gayoom’s request.

“Luthufee and another Maldivian had joined a heavily-armed PLOTE contingent on the night of October 29, 1988 on the Mollikulam beach,” writes Sri Lankan journalist Shamindra Ferdinando.

“They left the north-western shores at about 8.30am in two 40-foot long fishing trawlers. Luthufee had the support of several key persons in the Maldivian military, ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid and Umaru Jamaal. The trawlers reached Male at 4:30am on November 3, 1988, and having secured the beach without a fight, the group divided into over half a dozen groups and moved to specific targets, including the army barracks, the President’s house and the Deputy Defence Minister’s residence,” Ferdinando writes.

Despite Luthufee’s professed confidence that the coup would be bloodless, nineteen were killed in heavy fighting after the plan fell apart when the PLOTE contingent tasked with taking over the army barracks opened fire on the base rather than entering through a lightly-guarded entry point.

“Had they entered the barracks, the majority [inside] would have thrown their weight behind us. We lost the group leader, and thereby the initiative,” Ferdinando reported Luthufee as saying.

“I didn’t want to kill anyone. I believed those loyal to Gayoom would give up quickly. They wouldn’t have been a match for the experienced PLOTE cadres. Unfortunately, due to hasty action on the part of the group tasked with seizing the army barracks, we gave the game away.”

Further support from rebels already in Male’ failed to materialise, “and the absence of their support made us vulnerable and automatically strengthened Gayoom’s position. But still we could have achieved our military objectives if those assigned to seize Gayoom had succeeded.”

Gayoom eluded the PLOTE team sent to his residence, and was able to contact the Maldivian ambassador in Colombo, Ahmad Abdulla “and Ali Manisha, his Singapore-based advisor.”

The-then Sri Lankan government offered elite troops to quell the coup attempt. Gayoom also reportedly requested assistance from both the UK and US governments.

Then US State Department spokesman Charles Redman told US media at the time that the Maldivian government had asked for assistance in putting down the coup attempt, prompting it to establish a working group to monitor the events.

“The United States and India want to protect the interests of the Maldives government because this is an elected government subject to attack and it has requested assistance,” Redman said at the time.

However eventually it was India that was able to quickly deploy paratroopers and force the rebels to flee.

“We didn’t have a way to escape as we allowed the trawlers to leave as we were confident of seizing control. There was total chaos,” Luthufee told The Island.

“During gun battles we lost two PLOTE personnel, while several received gunshot injuries. We retreated towards the Male’ harbour as Indian paratroopers landed in the capital. We didn’t have any other option other than to seize the Maldivian vessel, MV Progress Light. We got away at about 11am and left the bodies of two PLOTE cadres killed in action. Three PLOTE personnel trying to get away in a rubber dingy were captured.”

The retreating PLOTE group took a small group of hostages, including serving Transport Minister Ahmed Mujuthaba and his wife, and attempted to flee towards Java in Indonesia via waters between India and Sri Lanka.

“We believed the presence of hostages, particularly a minister and his wife, gave us an advantage over those pursuing us,” Luthufee told The Island. “An Indian military helicopter maintained constant surveillance, while we proceeded towards our target. But on the following day at about 4:30pm our radar picked up two objects, and we knew the Indian navy was on its way to intercept us. One of the vessels, subsequently identified as INS Gadavari fired at our ship, though it didn’t cause any serious damage. We kept on course. They contacted us over the ship’s radio and demanded the immediate surrender or face the consequences. A five-member Maldivian defence team, including Major Adam Saheer, was on the Indian warship.”

The pursuing vessel demanded that the fleeing rebels set course for either an Indian or Maldivian port.

“We refused to give in. We demanded mid-sea negotiations to settle the dispute. The Indians started firing at our ship at the behest of the Maldivians onboard their vessel. The PLOTE commander got in touch with their headquarters in Sri Lanka and sought instructions. They received instructions to execute one hostage and throw his body to the sea. In spite of the Maldivian minister in captivity making a desperate bid to avoid the execution of one of the hostages, the PLOTE took one person to the deck and shot him. They threw the body [overboard] and the Indians recovered it. The remaining hostages volunteered to come on the main deck in a bid to discourage the Indians from firing at us. But the Maldivians onboard the Indian warship wanted all of us killed,” Luthufee claimed.

INS Gadavari gave the rebels three hours to surrender unconditionally “or face the consequences.”

“We didn’t stop but proceeded towards Sri Lankan waters. We were about 30 nautical miles away from our position when the Indians opened up with big guns. The minister was among the persons hit during the initial fire. We didn’t fire back as Indian ships were out of the range of our guns. I directed the Filipino engineer to stop the engine. As I was watching him killing the engine, he was hit. We were ordered to jump into the sea and were rescued by the Indians immediately after we raised a white flag.”

Luthufee told The Island he was blindfolded and locked in a toilet on board the Indian vessel as the warships turned back towards Male’, leaving the MV Progress Light to sink behind them.

Speaking to Minivan News in November 2010, South Asian security expert Professor Stephen Cohen recalled his time at the US State Department and noted US involvement in tracking suspected players in the failed 1988 coup.

“It’s a little known fact,” he said. “A passing American vessel transiting in the area picked up the escaping ship and pointed [the pursuers] towards it. I had only just left the State Department but I heard about it. It was a pivotal moment in the country’s history, and its purpose was never quite clear.”
The INS Gadavari reached Male’ to a waiting crowd of Indian journalists a senior military officials, Luthufee recalls, and their presence “prevented Gayoom loyalists from harming us.”

According to The Island’s story, Luthufee was first taken before Gayoom and then to another island, where he was interrogated by Indian intelligence.

“I had an opportunity to tell Indian intelligence what was going on in my country. I have no doubt the Indians realized that the vast majority of people hated Gayoom and his cronies. I won the confidence of the Indians and I have no doubt those in charge of handling the Maldivian issue quickly recognized the need for reforms. Gayoom resented the Indian attitude and moved me to another prison on a different island, where I was held for 11 months,” Luthufee was reported as saying.

Once the Indian witnesses had departed he alleged he was tortured and humiliated in custody. He along with Ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid, Ahmed Nasir and 12 captured Tamils received the death penalty, while three others received prison terms: Umaru Jamaal Sikka, Ahmed Ismail Maniku, and Mohamed Naeem.

“Under Gayoom the Maldivian judiciary was nothing but a farce. It was a tool in the hands of Gayoom and his cronies, who used and abused Maldivian law to pursue their agenda. They sought to consolidate their power at the expense of the freedom of the ordinary Maldivians, the vast majority of whom lived a simple life,” Luthufee was reported as saying.

Luthufee credited his survival to the intervention of Indian head of state Rajiv Gandhi, who reportedly summoned Gayoom to New Delhi on September 16, 1989, less than a month after the death sentences were passed, and demanded that they be repealed .

“All of us are grateful to those Indian intelligence officers for briefing the Indian political leadership regarding the Maldivian political crisis. Thanks to them, Gayoom couldn’t deceive the Indian leader,” Luthufee told The Island.

“Gayoom flew back to Male on September 17, 1989. Obviously, he was a dejected man. He declared that he didn’t want to shed anymore blood in Male and commuted capital punishment imposed on us to life imprisonment. We were moved to special cells, which were surrounded by a steel fence at the same facility where we were held. Gayoom’s men enjoyed torturing prisoners. They were rewarded by their masters for being beastly to their fellow countrymen.

Luthufee was reported in The Island as expressing no regret for his role in the failed coup.

“Even now, Gayoom is not happy being an ordinary Maldivian. The ousted leader wanted power at any cost and was trying to undermine the present leader. Maldivians should be cautious of those seeking to play politics at their expense.”

Read the article as it originally appeared in The Island:

Part one (English)
Part two (English)

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35 thoughts on ““I wanted to get rid of Gayoom at any cost”: Abdulla Luthufee’s Sri Lankan interview”

  1. Luthfee you should atleast be glad that you are alive becuase of Maumoon's pardobship of your death sentence. What you and your terrorist friends did was beyond any forgiveness. You have innocent maldivians blood on your hands. And their is no way you can repay it. So shut your mouth and don't consider yourself a hero in anyway. You are a murderer, a terrorist and an animal. This is the truth and it shall always be like this. You are alive today because of Maumoon, so thank him instead of giving bossy interviews. If I was then the leader of Maldives in 1998, I would chop of your balls and the head infront of the maldivian public and the relatives of the maldivians whome you have hurt on 3rd november 1988.

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  2. Why thank you Luthfee. We are cautious all the same. However, our caution extends to responding to whatever wool is pulled over our eyes at the moment.

    In your case, I guess you would like us to think that you are some sort of savior rather than a person acting out of personal interest.

    Done. All hail the great Luthfee!

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  3. jj robinson, no matter how hard you try, maldivians will never forget the blood spilled on november 3rd. that foto you put with this article does nothing to erase the memory of the maldivians who were shot and lay dying on the streets of male', as people who tried to rescue them were shot at

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  4. Shame on you Luthufee! Shame on you! How can you even try to justify what you did? You killed innocent people that day. Left innocent children without a father. left innocent families grieving. Have you seen the pictures from that sad day? How can you even think of yourself as the victim? If you have any sense of humanity and humility, APPOLIGIZE TO THE MALDIVIAN PEOPLE. You don't sound like a man regretting your actions. Hating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom does not give you the right to take away innocent lives. Maumoon showed you mercy. Not something the majority of Maldivian's wanted for you. And now, you try to justify your actions? Shame on you. I pray god show you the right path.

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  5. I support Ziyan, beep beep and A very shocked Maldivian's comment.
    Great Luthufee? EVIL LUTHUFEE is way more appropriate!

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  6. so, this JJ charecter think he is some sort of a great journalist??
    Did this article even mention the number of innocent maldivian civilians who were killed on that day?? Did he even know the name of a single matyer on that day??

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  7. First I CONDEMN any KILLINGS or COUPS and the 3rd Nov '88 attack on Male'. And certainly Mr.Luthufee or any other guys involved in that attack in NOT a FAVORITE of mine.

    Having said that, but let's all ponder into as to WHY people do such things.

    Hopeless situations, psychopathic-problems, vengeance, revenge, greed, etc...?

    When one analyzes similar things throughout the world the answer to the question as to WHY will fall within the above. Irrelevant to the region, cultural or religious beliefs or countries in which involves the event.

    Now that leaves us with the final question of, "So who's the REAL bad guy?" Or more to the point: "Whose to be take the responsibility of such things to occur in the first place?" Was it the perpetrators or the targets.

    The answer depends on generally how good these people were to the majority of the people.

    If there was an extremely just king/ruler/president governing a prosperous country and someone does try to kill the leader, then obviously the bad guy will be the 'attackers'.

    But if it's not so then what? NO! Not necessarily the good guys may come as the 'attacking-heroes' but greedy and/or the psychopathic ones may too approach with PROMISING FREEDOM.

    In such cases the real BAD-guy will be the unjust ruler who 'opened the door' for the 'attackers' and put the rest of the country in hell for a long long time. Loss of lives of loved ones, chaos, looting, unrest, etc. Like in IRAQ, LIBYA, YEMEN, SYRIA these days. If you think this is something against Muslims, then read this:

    The European countries had this in their history too. But they did learn their lessons and got rid of monarchies or put them aside and went to a system where the people ELECTED their governments (ppl who will run their countries for them in a FAIRER manner). The Europeans made systems so that their citizens can educate themselves at universities and get good education, get good jobs and get good incomes and opportunities. The kings who ruled the churches and the people were not merely 'controlled' by the ONE FAMILY. People were FREE and their limit was 'the sky'.

    But the rest of the world were too much ignorant and still stuck with their religious leaders' crappy 'mind-controlling' sermons. Most are thought not to ponder beyond what's in your sight and thought. NO FREEDOM. Inadequate system to educate, employ, produce, trade, or earn due to HEAVY CORRUPTIONS. (True, in Europe too corruptions are there - but they don't EAT UP ALL or most of the pies. At lease they do keep some so that some good can be done to the mass.) AFRICANS and ASIANS are TOO GREEDY.

    For the kind info of "sick" extremist-Muslim readers I've put some European coups below too. I'm a normal Muslim and believe that there are a sick bunch who'd 'attack' would this comment religiously.
    ===
    1967, George Papadoupoulos.

    Greece. The 'Greek colonels' seized power 1967 and king Constantine II was exiled. The junta lasted until the Cyprus crisis 1974.

    1926, General Gomez da Costa.

    Portugal. This was the name of the first coup General in 1926. However, Gomez da Costa was driven from power by General Antonio de Fragoso Carmona who was installed as president the same year. The better known Antonio Salazar was installed in 1932.

    1940, Ion Antonescu.

    Romania. King Carol II abolished democratic institutions 1930. He abdicated 1940 and Marshal Antonescu gained effective power.

    1929, King Alexander I.

    Yugoslavia. The king established a Serbian-dominated military dictatorship in 1929. He was assassinated in 1934.

    1920, Miklos Horthy.

    Hungary. Admiral Horthy restored the Kingdom of Hungary with himself as regent in 1920.

    1926, Jozef Pilsudski.

    Poland. Pilsudski seized full power in a coup in 1926 and established an autocratic regime.

    1926, Antanas Smetona.

    Lithuania. Democracy overthrown 1926 by Smetona, who became president.

    1934, Karlis Ulmanis.

    Latvia. By the coup d'etat by Ulmanis presidential dicatorship was established in 1934.

    1934, Konstantin Pats.

    Estonia. Pats overthrew parliamentary democracy in a quasi-fascist coup in 1934.

    1923, Primo de Rivera.

    Spain. General de Rivera established military dictatorship in 1923.

    1923, Alexander Tsankov.

    Bulgaria. The Agrarian Party government led by Alexander Stamboliski was overthrown and murdered in a right-wing coup in 1923.

    1974, Nikos Sampson.

    Cyprus. Coup by Greek officers in Cypriot National Guard installed Nikos Sampson as president 1974. Turkey, fearing union between Cyprus and Greece (the so called 'enosis') invaded Northern Cyprus the same year.

    1934, Engelbert Dollfuss.

    Austria. Coup d'etat in 1934 brought Dollfuss and his pro German 'Fatherland Front' to power.

    1928, Ahmed Zogu.

    Albania. The dictator Ahmed Zogu made himself president of Albania 1925 and King under the name King Zog in 1928.

    1799, Napoleon Bonaparte.

    France. Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in a coup in 1799 and crowned himself Emperor in 1804.

    1917, Vladimir Iljitsch Lenin.

    Russia. The Russian Revolution 1917 began with the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty in February (March by Western calendar). In October (November by Western calendar) Kerensky's government was overthrown in a coup, and the Bolsheviks under Lenin came to power. Soviet Union and USSR would be wrong answers, as the Soviet Union (or USSR) didn't exist until 1922, when the former Russian Empire was renamed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union. The Rusian Federation is the name of the new Russian state established after the collapse of the Soviet Union 1991.

    1939, Jozef Tiso.

    Slovakia. Monsignor Tiso was established as leader of an axis (German) puppet state in Slovakia 1939.

    1941, Ante Pavelic.

    Croatia. 'Greater Croatia', a Nazi puppet state led by Ante Pavelic was established in 1941.

    1943, Benito Mussolini.

    Salo Republic. Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship 1922. The Salo Republic was a shortlived republic in North Italy established by a German coup in 1943. Mussolini was removed from power in 1943 by Allied forces, but was set free by the Germans and became head of this new state. It lasted just for one and a half years. Mussolini was shot by partisans while trying to escape to Switzerland 1945.

    1939, Konrad Henlein (civil govt.) and Johannes Blaskowitz.(military govt.)

    Bohemia. The remainder of Czechoslovakia annexed by Germany, Bohemia-Moravia, became a German controlled 'protectorate' or puppet state in 1939. Adminstratively, though, they were seperate entities. Konrad Henlein, leader of the Sudeten German Party, was head of civil administration in Bohemia. The military governor here was Johannes Blaskowitz. The other administrative entity was Moravia and Silesia. Military governor here was Wilhelm List, whereas Josef Burckel was leader of the civil administration.

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  8. Actually there are a lot of ppl who have forgiven Luthfee now. Count me as one. Maumoon just made Luthfee a monster by using his media and the show trials after the whole affair. The fact is that Luthfee is telling the truth. If Maumoon was not the vile dictator he was, Luthfee would not have to resort to that. I have another hunch. If its not for Luthfee, Maumoon could still be strongman of our country. He was the first to shake Maumoon's empire. As for the ppl killed at Nov3, nobody can say they are shaheeds because shuhadhaa is for ppl who fight for the sake of Allah, not for Maumoon or country. Although we love and respect our fallen heroes, we cannot send them to suvaruge, cos its not for us to send ppl to places we like.

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  9. And we have Shahid with our tax money paid as his fat salaries. I dont take this argument. Luthfee and his coup is not the way to address political issues. Noway this is accepted

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  10. Whether it was done with good intentions or bad intentions for Maldives and the Maldivian people, i still lost my great-grandfather that night; He was the ADC to the Deputy Defence Minister and was called in the early hours of the morning to protect his Boss but ended up getting shot on the doorsteps of his Boss's house (the DDM).
    So Abdulla Luthufee, his blood and the rest of the Maldivian blood that was spilled that night lies on your head!!!

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  11. bringing mercenaries into the country and spilling maldivian blood can never be justified.a decision like that is only driven by greed. i am not a fan of maumoon, and there were grave injustices commited by him, but he was NOT a "vile dictator" that had to be removed at "all costs"; and despite his many faults, he did make remarkable progress; certainly in education and health, just like president nasir did. when the people of the country decided they had had enough of maumoon and his 30 years of rule, they rallied round an opposition led by nasheed and voted and changed a government without a single drop of blood. JJ robinson should publish and honour the maldivians who lost their lives due to the lunacy and violence luthfee brought to this country

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  12. We are extremely thankful for the courage of revolutionary minded Luthfee. He was the only person in the Maldives who had balls to face an armed attempt to oust a dictator. He is an extra ordinary character that we don’t find in the Maldivian frigid blood. May be Luthfee’s attempt might have brought a negative result had he succeeded his goal but his struggle was heroic to put an end to a brutal dictatorship who was untouchable at that time. Those who died were misfortunate who happened to be in a wrong place in wrong time. Luthfee was the turning point for that maniac to loosen up his grip a bit and Luthfee is the one who put the freedom course in the direction in Maldives. It is time to praise brave people instead of condemning them. Qayoom has done more damages to Maldivian society and the blood that spilled due to Luthfee’s attempt was a small water drop compare to that maniac’s 30 year of madness

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  13. ammatey, u must either be related to luthfy or a raving lunatic. no one in their right mind will be thankful to someone who hires a mercenaries reeks havoc, shooting and killing randomly. what he did was an ACT OF TERROR, against his own people, he is not a hero....i cant begin to fathom the thinking behind people like you. when one has to resort to mercenaries, that means people do not support him

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  14. It would have been justified if MAG was a Saddam or a Gaddhafi. He wasn't that bad. We still needed major changes, yes. But this lot successfully convinced the nation that perhaps MAG was not the worst.

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  15. That was one harrowing read.

    The man has blood on his hands and claims to not regret it. He should be behind bars, not giving interviews.

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  16. To all above persons. I will say this. Revolutions are what brings about the downfall of a country. But seldom a hero rises, that challenge this thought that is harboured in the minds of many historians.

    Surely Anni is one such gladiator.

    Aha! Sorry for sounding so poetic.. lol
    Anyway, hate these shits.

    My opinion may concur with everything tsk tsk says until unless he goes against what I believes to be true, which is our flat dhombe Anni. Hehe~

    Not really, I am a true believer in him. He's bringing development through out Maldives. From what I hear, after Addu, there are plans of a link through ferry to india from another island [forgot name -.-].

    As far as the above mentioned person in this article is concerned, he is a douche bag. We can see world over that no good has ever come to a nation seeking or given aid in a local revolutionary act. Take Irag for example. Take Palastine- fragments of countries they once were.

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  17. Hell is better a place to rot than in the Qayoom’s created Hell of so called banana republic with those mentally retried citizen of that banana republic.

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  18. Dunno how many guys in this page had actually witnessed the shootout from what is now the jumuhooree square. All i can say is this. If the 'mercenaries' had any intention of spilling blood, they could have a blood bath in minutes. there were so many ppl in that square throughout that day. those who were killed that day were mostly ppl who tried to snatch weopons from the LTTE guys, and those who didn't follow their orders, like to clear the way or to stop when they asked to stop. To my knowledge, they did not kill any local person on cold blood.

    So despite what Luthfee is accused of, he actually led a remarkable campaign which somehow went wrong. Had he won he would have won every medal for democracy and possibly a nobel peace price by now!!

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  19. i don't believe this, this is a bit too much, going this far to prove that u are part of this government. i always relied on minivan for unbiased stories, guess not any more, most of us voted for ANNI, but there is absolutely no need for u to make a luthfee the hero, it was one of the dreadful day of life. SHAME of u for pulling this off

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  20. Mr Luthufee You are think that you are living because Mr Abdul Gayoom. If the day LTTE catch the power You are not live today. You having ties with tiger. any time it turn back to You.You are the Biggest foolish in your country.

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  21. Ammatey, John P. You need help. 'Psychotic' comes to my mind when I read your comments.

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  22. actually John is right! Even if Luthfee had won in his campaign, its unlikely LTTE tigers would have any part in government. Because it would not even fit in their ideology. They are after a home for tamils in srilanka, not anywhere else.

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  23. Like Zeena said, Terrorism has no justification. And like A very shocked maldivian said, Luthufee has to appologize to the Maldivian people.

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  24. Luthfee! You are a terrorist and garbage. No body who has speck of humanity in their hearts will praise this Monster. Imagine , How many wife you widowed? How many Children you orphaned? How many family lost their sole bread winner? .How many Children lost their father? Their father's love forever. You still justify you action and you still have remorse. True Maldivians will not forget and forgive your.

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  25. Gayoom is the Killer Not Luthufee. Gayoom killed 112 Lives in Prison of Maldives.Present coup was Gayooms, Not Dr Waheed.

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  26. A beautiful Nation distroyed by the dictator Gayoo. Still he is the person behind Present coup.Gayoom is the real culprit who labeled Luthufee as he call
    terrorist, but he is not.Look how many smal Gayoom are ther with him.If they really love people of Maldives, all this idiots will go away and give way to dimocrecy.

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  27. Why did Gayyoom pardon the death sentence? Not even his lapdog will buy that it was out of Mercy! Bad attempt Luthfee. No justification. Not even a little bit ok. You only succeeded in giving the Gayyoom regime more legitimacy and glory.

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