Maldivian authorities say they have no knowledge of any investigations of its nationals by Interpol regarding possible involvement in an alleged terrorist plot to attack players at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
Sub-Inspector Ahmed Ali of the Maldives Police Service told Minivan News that it had been given no information on any Maldivian nationals wanted for allegedly planning attacks on the World Cup. The only arrest police have confirmed to have made of late that was linked to terrorism was the arrest of local man Iqbal Mohamed over alleged involvement in an attack on the capital in 2007.
Mohamed was himself yesterday released by the country’s Criminal Court. Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed said the decision was made after an apparent “lack of information” supplied by police.
Today’s police comments were made as local paper Haveeru cited officials at Interpol, the international police organisation, as reportedly confirming that two Maldivian nationals suspected of involvement with Pakistani militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) were now wanted for planned attacks at the high-profile cricket tournament being held in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.
The report came 24 hours after prominent regional media outlets such as the Times of India claimed that Iqbal Mohamed, who had been arrested by police earlier this month on charges relating to a homemade explosive device attack in Male’ in 2007, was suspected of being part of an alleged terror plot at the cricket World Cup. LeT was implicated in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India.
Haveeru said that Interpol representatives had confirmed that two unidentified Maldivian nationals were now wanted alongside four Pakistanis and an Afghan for alleged involvement in plans to strike the tournament; claims it has said were based on “reliable” information.
The report claimed that Interpol’s information had been based on the interrogation of several terror suspects it had arrested, which it was now using to collaborate with officials from South Asian nations like the Maldives over the matter.
Sub inspector Ali said that although the Maldives Police Force was a member of Interpol, it has not been collaborating over the alleged terror investigations of Maldivian suspects or supplied with any information on the matter.
“A Maldivian (Iqbal Mohamed) was arrested a few weeks back, but we don’t have any new information since then [about these terrorism reports],” he said.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said allegations of Maldivian involvement in planning potential terrorist attacks during the 2011 World Cup was “old news” and that the Ministry had not been provided with details of any such investigations being carried out by Interpol.
“We really don’t have details about this. It is a matter for the police,” the spokesperson added.
Representatives from both the Pakistan Foreign Office and Interpol had not responded to Minivan News before going to press.
Interpol has not yet revealed to the media the identities of the two Maldivian suspects it is reportedly hunting, yet Iqbal Mohamed was yesterday identified by the Times of India as a “terrorist” suspect arrested who had been on his way to the Maldives from Karachi with “criminal intent”.
According to the report, Indian police authorities have already issued a general alert ahead of the tournament’s final match scheduled for April 2 in the city of Mumbai, while Australia was said to have last week updated a travel advisory for its citizens calling for a “high degree of caution” for anyone in the region during the event.
Speaking to Minivan News on 15 March, Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that Iqbal Mohamed had been arrested on arrival at Male’ International Airport from Pakistan on 10 March, after regional authorities had alerted their Maldivian counterparts of his movements.
The arrest, according to Shiyam, was made in connection to an attack in Male’ in 2007, where a device built from components such as a gas cylinder, a washing machine motor and a mobile phone exploded injuring 12 tourists – several seriously.
Shiyam told Minivan News at the time that although Iqbal was believed to have been in Pakistan during the Male’ attack, he had been wanted by police for questioning as part of their ongoing investigations into the 2007 incident over an alleged role in the plan.
The sub inspector claimed that the Maldives Police Service had been waiting for the Prosecutor General to present a case against the suspect ahead of any potential trial in the Maldives and had not been aware of any motivation for his return to the country.
“We really don’t know why has had travelled back to the Maldives, but we have now arrested him.”
However, Iqbal was confirmed to have been released from custody yesterday by the Maldives’ Criminal Court after his arrest on March 10.
Iqbal was himself the subject of a red notice issued by Interpol, which was said to have drawn police attention after Interpol’s Major Events Support Team (IMEST) operating in Sri Lanka during the Cricket World Cup identified the suspect as he was travelling through the country back to the Maldives.
According to Interpol, red notices are a system used to keep the 188 nations that make up its members informed of arrest warrants issued by judicial authorities. Although the notices are not formal arrest warrants, the organisation said that they are used to identify individuals wanted for crimes under a national jurisdiction.
Following Iqbal’s arrest, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that he did not believe the suspect’s return to the Maldives raised concerns about further potential attacks in the country.
He claimed that the country’s National Security Advisor had recently addressed the issue of religious fundamentalists after a request from the country’s Immigration Commissioner and found no additional concerns. Zuhair added that the advisor had concluded that there was not thought to be any terror cells operating within the Maldives and claimed there was no need to further heighten national security against such threats.