Afrasheem murder suspect’s departure to Syria under investigation

President Abdulla Yameen has ordered an investigation into how a suspect in the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was allowed to leave the Maldives in early January and travel to Syria.

“I have now ordered the police to investigate this. Azlif Rauf, who is said to have information on the murder, left the country while the case was ongoing,” Yameen said at a press conference at Muleeaage tonight.

“I want to raise the question as to why he was allowed to leave the country? Immigration officials and the defense minister who was in charge of immigration at the time must be accountable.”

Azlif is reported to have left the Maldives along with a suspect in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in the first week of January. His family claims he was killed in battle in May, and have publicised pictures of him in military fatigues carrying guns.

The police had forwarded accomplice to murder charges against Azlif to the Prosecutor General’s Office, but charges were never filed due to insufficient evidence.

At the time of Azlif’s departure, the criminal court told Minivan News it had not issued any order to withhold his passport, as there were no pending charges.

Azlif left the Maldives in the same week that the defense ministry was temporarily handed over to tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. Defence minister Mohamed Nazim was on leave at the time.

Soon after Nazim returned, the police raided his apartment and found a pistol and three bullets in a bedside drawer. He was dismissed from the cabinet and jailed in March on weapons smuggling charges.

President Yameen’s announcement comes after local media reported today that the police had brought back a Maldivian man from Malaysia last week, after his family reported that he was attempting to travel to Syria to join the civil war.

The police in January brought back four Maldivians from Malaysia on the same charges. The government has recently submitted to parliament an anti-terrorism bill that hands out a jail sentence of up to 20 years for Maldivians who leave the country with the intent of fighting in a foreign war.

Meanwhile, several opposition politicians and Yameen’s own home minister have accused the president of involvement in Afrasheem’s murder. Home minister Umar Naseer made the allegations after he lost the ruling party’s presidential primaries to Yameen in 2013. He retracted the allegations after assuming the cabinet portfolio.

Yameen in May vowed to file criminal charges against Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla over statements linking him with the murder. Imran is currently in police custody facing terrorism charges over an anti-government protest.

Reiterating concern over “unfounded allegations” tonight, Yameen censured journalists for “biased reporting,” claiming the media had failed to seek comments from the president’s spokesperson over the murder allegations.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is negotiating with the government for Nazim, Imran and former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release.

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Two attempted suicides reported on Saturday

Two cases of attempted suicide were reported in Malé and Meemu Atoll Muli today.

A woman in Malé stabbed herself in the stomach after her husband left to Syria, local media report. The 28-year-old woman was hospitalized at 1:30pm today and underwent a surgery, police said.

According to Haveeru, the woman’s husband left to Syria last week with a second wife. He was a suspect in the Sultan Park bombing of 2007.

Scores of Maldivians have left the country to fight with radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria. Some include women and children.

In Meemu Atoll Muli, a 26-year old man attempted to commit suicide at 12:40am after a quarrel with his family. When police officers broke down his door, he had already inflicted harm to some areas of his body, the police said.

Attempting to commit suicide is a class one misdemeanor in the new penal code and is punishable by up to a one year in prison.

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New bill sets jail term up to 20 years for ‘Jihad’

The Attorney General’s Office has overhauled a first draft of a draconian anti-terrorism bill and specified some 14 offences as acts of terror, including joining or attempting to leave the Maldives to join a war in a foreign country.

The new draft, submitted to the People’s Majlis on Monday, proposes a jail term of 17-20 years for joining a foreign war. Any individual caught attempting to leave the Maldives with the same intent could be jailed for 10-15 years.

The bill also permits extensive surveillance of terror suspects.

More than a hundred Maldivians are thought to have left the Maldives to fight with Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq. The two groups are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S.

The government has been struggling to stop the steady outflow of Maldivians joining Jihad.

A previous draft of the bill, obtained by Minivan News, granted the president the exclusive authority to declare groups as terrorist organisations. Acts of terror were previously loosely defined. Inciting violence at demonstrations, threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty, and promoting a particular political or religious ideology were considered terrorism.

The new bill, however, defines some 14 offences committed with the intent of unduly influencing the government, creating fear, or promoting ‘unlawful’ political and religious ideologies as terrorism.

These offences include murder, causing bodily harm, disappearances, kidnapping, damaging property, hijacking vehicles, endangering public health or security, damaging public infrastructure and suspending public services.

The president must consult with the national security council in designating groups as terror organisations. The list must be publicised within 15 days of the ratification of the law.

Using explosives, bullets or other weapons to cause harm, even if committed without the three motivations of terrorism, is an act of terror. This means gang violence will be considered terrorism. More than 30 people have died in gang violence over the past seven years.

Punishments range from 20-25 years for perpetrators. Planning an act of terror is punishable by 17-20 years in jail. Encouraging terrorism with direct or indirect statements is punishable by 10-15 years in jail.

Training to commit acts of terror, including learning how to use weapons or joining training camps, is punishable by 12-15 years in jail.

“We condemn terrorism. The government aims to mete out the harshest punishments for those who commit such crimes,” the AG office said in a statement.

The bill also criminalises possession of dangerous weapons, distributing publications of a terrorist organisation, and forming gangs or groups to commit acts of terror.

Fundamental rights, including the right to remain silent and access to a lawyer, can be restricted for terror suspects. Between 6-12 hours is provided to appoint a lawyer before interrogation. Meanwhile, any communications between a suspect and a lawyer for the first 96 hours after arrest must take place in the presence of a police officer.

The bill authorises the home minister to apply for a monitoring and control or ‘monicon’ order from the appellate High Court in order to tag, intercept communications and conduct surveillance on suspects.

Unlike the first draft, the new bill provides measures that the High Court must consider in issuing a monicon order and establishes some safeguards.

Judges must determine if there is sufficient evidence in a police’s intelligence report against a terror suspect and must determine if the monicon action desired is proportionate to the evidence. If the evidence is insufficient, the court must refrain from issuing the order, the bill states.

The minister does not have to inform the suspect and the court is not obliged to summon the suspect before issuing the order. However, the order must be presented to the suspect before it can be enforced.

The bill grants a suspect a 90-day period to appeal the monicon order at the High Court. The court is obliged to accept appeals of monicon orders and hold hearings.

Monicon orders last for a year and can be extended every year. Orders can be issued against minors.

The government can restrict a suspect’s place of residence, freedom of movement and monitor bank account transactions and order a suspect to undergo a rehabilitation programme under a monicon order.

If a suspect violates a monicon order, a court can jail or place them under house arrest for 18 months.

If the law is passed, the Anti- Terrorism Act of 1990 will be dissolved.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim were charged under the terrorism law over the military’s detention of a judge and sentenced to 13 years and 10 years in prison, respectively, in March.

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Police conduct random checks on flights bound to Turkey

The police have begun conducting random checks on passengers on board flights to Turkey in a bid to deter the growing numbers of Maldivians seeking to join radical Islamic movements in Syria and Iraq.

A police spokesperson said the police have been randomly questioning Maldivians en route to Turkey on different airlines for their reasons for flying to Turkey and their return dates.

The operation has been ongoing for more than 90 days.

The police declined to give additional details.

The government has drafted a new anti-terrorism bill that would criminalize the act of leaving the Maldives to participate in foreign wars.

The bill, however, also grant the president the exclusive authority to declare groups as terrorist organizations, and also criminalizes the promotion of certain political or religious ideology as a terrorist offense.

When reports of Maldivians joining in the Syrian civil-war and dying in battle first surfaced in local media, President Abdulla Yameen said he was not aware of Maldivian participation in foreign wars.

In December, home minister Umar Naseer acknowledged the problem of Maldivians fighting in foreign wars, but said only seven Maldivians were active in war. In January, the commissioner of police Hussain Waheed estimated the figure to be more than 50.

But the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party says the figure could be as high as 200.

Waheed said that police were monitoring the activities of militants and would reveal details of plans to prevent radicalisation at a later date. The MDP has said the government is doing little to counter radicalisation and prevent recruitment of would-be fighters.

Atleast seven Maldivians are reported to have died in Syria.

On May 31, newspaper Haveeru said two more Maldivians had been killed while fighting with the Islamic State.

Many would-be fighters migrate with their families and children. Several officers of the Department of Immigration are reported to have left the Maldives for jihad.

A UN report has raised concerns over an increase in fighters leaving the Maldives to join terrorist organisations including al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The expert report to the UN Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, said the flow of fighters globally “is higher than it has ever been historically”, increasing from a few thousand a decade ago to over 25,000 from more than 100 nations today.

The UN report, written by a UN panel monitoring sanctions against Al-Qaida, listed the Maldives, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago as countries from which numbers of fighters were increasing, while the highest number of foreign fighters come from Tunisia, Morocco, France and Russia.

Most fighters travel to Syria and Iraq, to fight primarily for the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra front.

A Facebook page had published, the obituary and pictures of Maldivian jihadi Azlif Rauf on May 24, who reportedly died in Syria in mid-May.

The former Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) officer is a suspect in the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in 2012. He reportedly left the Maldives in December with six members of the Kuda Henveiru gang.

He was under house arrest at the time.

 

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‘External actors’ supporting radical elements, says foreign minister

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has expressed concern with external actors providing support to radical elements in societies transitioning to democracy.

“Radicalism has no place in Islam,” Dunya declared at the 42nd session of the council of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Kuwait.

“Nonetheless, in every corner of our Ummah, faces of radicalism stare back at us. It is most distressing to the Maldives that external actors to continue to provide all forms of support to such radical elements, particularly in emerging democracies,” she said in an address delivered on Thursday.

Nearly a dozen Maldivian jihadis have reportedly died in Syria.

Since the first reports of Maldivians travelling for jihad surfaced last year, a steady stream of recruits have left the country, including couples and entire families. The government has not previously suggested that foreigners could be involved in recruiting locals.

In January, commissioner of police Hussein Waheed estimated over 50 Maldivians could be fighting in foreign civil wars, but the opposition says the figure could be as high as 200.

The government has since drafted a new terrorism law that criminalises participation in foreign wars.

Dunya meanwhile called for unity among Muslims in order “to rebuild the fallen bridges of tolerance.”

Islamic civilisation was once the standard bearer, “not only in science and innovation, but also in maintaining peace and promoting tolerance,” she said, and “tolerance was once the soft power of the Islamic Ummah.”

She also condemned “Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestine” on behalf of the government.

“The Maldives calls on countries around the world to support the state of Palestine and to recognise its sovereignty in Palestinian territories,” she said.

“Peace has to win over war in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Compassion has to be shown to the large number of Rohingya Muslims stranded in the open seas in South East Asia.”

Dunya said she was “heartened to see an increased number of women colleagues” in the OIC meeting.

“Around the world women continue to face hardships. Islam liberated women and elevated their status in society and family. And Muslim countries need to continue with, instead of constraining, the rights of women,” she said.

The democratic reform agenda launched in 2004 by her father, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, “has transformed the country into a vibrant multi-party democracy without compromising our Islamic values and heritage,” she continued.

“The government of President Yameen is determined to see through the reform process. Islamic civilisation brought revolutionary changes to the systems of governance,” she said.

“It recognised the dignity of the human. The OIC is ideally placed to reposition the Islamic Ummah in the global platform as the new-age House of Wisdom.”

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Facebook group publishes Maldivian jihadi Azlif’s obituary

A Facebook page has published today the obituary and pictures of Maldivian jihadi Azlif Rauf who reportedly died in Syria in mid-May.

“The purpose of this page isn’t, by any means, to spread any propaganda. The reason we have taken special measures about the case of Azlif (Rahimahullah) is because people continuously keep slandering and putting false allegations on him,” the newly created page Haqqu said.

The former Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) officer is a suspect in the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in 2012. He reportedly left the Maldives in December with six members of the Kuda Henveiru gang.

He was under house arrest at the time.

Azlif’s family was reportedly informed of his death on May 17, but there has been no independent verification of his death.

Opposition politicians have questioned whether he had in fact gone to Syria and suggested he may have fled the country to escape prosecution.

Haqqu, created on May 15, supports the Islamic State. It has published 11 pictures of Azlif. In some pictures he is wearing military clothing and posing with a rifle alone. In others, three other men who look to be Maldivian and other foreign fighters pose with him.

Azlif with friends in Syria

Azlif jihad

Haqqu is also the name of a website created in late 2014 which featured IS-related news in Dhivehi as well as translations of a sermon by IS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The website appears to be inaccessible now.

A Twitter account by the same name last tweeted in November 28 on currency in the Islamic State.

In the obituary, Haqqu said Azlif was born in Malé and joined the MNDF after completing secondary school.

“During these times in life, he was associated with gangs and gang fights. If it were to be described shortly, we would have to say that he had a stained past, but despite all of this, he was a great leader, a caring father, and a compassionate husband.”

Despite a life long journey on a strayed path, Allah showed him the true path in 2013, Haqqu said.

“He immediately sacrificed all his worldly happiness and dedicated himself, to gain knowledge about Islam.”

His new friends were “baffled by his dedication, and commitment,” but they appreciated him in the same way his old gang members did, Haqqu said.

Azlif left the Maldives in December “despite being under close watch from the Kufr [infidel] police.” Citing fellow fighters in Syria, Haqqu said Azlif’s new goal had been to kill as many non-Muslims as possible.

He was reportedly part of a 12-member platoon.

“His brothers there described him as a soft, and silent man, who struck, sharp and accurately at the right times, just like a snake.” He was shot in the hamstring and killed in a skirmish near an airport Quarius Airport in a region called Wilayat Al Halab.

A man called Abu Arsalaan who was reportedly with Azlif at the time of his death said that “he could make out Azlif (Rahimahuallah)’s face even though it was a dark night, due to the glow in his face.”

Azlif has three children, two girls and one boy.

In January, newspaper Haveeru said Azlif had attempted to take his daughters and then-pregnant wife with him, but was prevented by his wife’s family.

The majority of Facebook users who commented on the post left prayers for Azlif, saying they hoped Allah would accept Azlif as a martyr and would grant him eternity in heaven.

“A good example to those who have military training but do nothing to help the ummah,” one commenter said.

Others questioned the authenticity of the post. One pointed out the page had been created just before Azlif’s death was reported.

Haqqu said in reply: “The fact that this page was created soon before the martyrdom of Azlif (Rahimahullah) is merely a coincidence. We had one other page named Haqqu, but since at the time, the brothers were more focused on updating the Haqqu website, the page wasn’t up to date. You can search for yourself.”

The police were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

The police had forwarded terrorism charges against Azlif to the prosecutor general’s office over Afrasheem’s murder. But the PG had not filed charges at the court.

Hussain Humam Ahmed, now serving a life sentence over the murder, had said Azlif had planned the murder in October 2012. Humam later retracted the confession and claimed it had come under duress.

Nearly a dozen Maldivians are reported to have died in Syria. A majority reportedly fought with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra front.

The government is working on a new terrorism law to criminalise participation in foreign wars. The police in January said more than 50 Maldivians are in Syria, but the opposition says the figure could be as high as 200.

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Afrasheem murder suspect dead in Syria, claims family

A suspect in the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali, Azlif Rauf, has died while fighting in Syria, his family has claimed.

Azlif’s brother wrote on Facebook on Friday that he had “lived like a lion and died as a hero.” The family was reportedly informed of Azlif’s death on Thursday night by Maldivians in Syria.

Sources close to the family told Haveeru that the Maldivian jihadis had sent a photo of the dead ex-military officer.

However, there has been no independent verification of Azlif’s death and opposition politicians have questioned whether he had gone to Syria.

A police media official said the police do not have any information on the case. The police are not investigating any cases involving Azlif at present, the official said.

Reliable sources told Minivan News in January that Azlif left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang and crossed the border into Syria.

Azlif was under house arrest at the time and police had forwarded terrorism charges against him to the prosecutor general’s office in relation to Afrasheem’s murder. However, the PG office had not filed the case at court.

A counter-terrorism expert told Minivan News today on the condition of anonymity that the reports of Azlif’s death were “not convincing.”

In other cases where Maldivians had died in Syria, there was confirmation from credible independent sources as well as reports from jihadist media, the source noted.

The death of most Maldivian jihadis were reported by online group Bilad Al Sham Media, which describes itself as “Maldivians in Syria.” The group says it represents Maldivians fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra militant organisation.

The expert also questioned whether Azlif had been radicalised enough to leave for Syria.

Another possibility is that Azlif’s “associates here who wished to hide him” were spreading false reports of his death, the expert suggested.

Hussain Humam Ahmed, now serving a life sentence over the murder of Dr Afrasheem, had said Azlif had planned the murder in October 2012. Humam later retracted the confession and claimed it had come under duress.

Speaking at an opposition alliance rally on Thursday night, ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Didi alleged that Azlif is hiding in Malaysia. He further alleged that tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had facilitated Azlif’s departure while he was acting defence minister in early January.

After Humam alleged President Abdulla Yameen and Adeeb’s involvement in the murder last month, Adeeb accused the opposition of orchestrating the convict’s remarks in a “character assassination” attempt.

A senior police officer has meanwhile told Haveeru that Azlif is in Armenia while other sources claimed he was in Sri Lanka last week.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network (MDN) identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of a red car which may have been used in an abduction reported on the night Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw a man being forced into a red car at knifepoint in front of Rilwan’s apartment building around the time he would have reached home on August 8.

The report also suggested gang leaders had been exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison, saying that they openly supported the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and recruited jihadists for the war in Syria and Iraq.

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Government to stop flow of Maldivians joining jihad

The government is working on a new law to deter a growing number of Maldivians seeking to join radical Islamic movements in Iraq and Syria.

Home minister Umar Naseer told Haveeru the attorney general’s office had drafted legislation that would criminalize the act of leaving the Maldives to participate in foreign wars.

However, the attorney general’s office said only “discussions had been held on drafting a law.” Naseer was unavailable for comment as he is currently in Qatar for a UN congress on crime prevention and criminal justice.

The police chief in January said there are over 50 Maldivians fighting in foreign wars, but the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party estimates the number to be as high as 200.

At least seven have reportedly died while fighting in Syria in the past year.

Another seven Maldivians were arrested in Srilanka and Malaysia on the suspicion of attempting to travel to Syria for jihad, but were released in Malé as the law does not recognise the act as an offence.

Prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin welcomed the move, but said Maldivians going abroad to fight in foreign wars could be prosecuted in provisions in the new penal code.

The penal code was due to come into force on Monday, but the ruling party delayed it by three months claiming more time was needed to raise awareness on its provisions.

“I believe putting a stop Maldivians going abroad to fight is very important. The new penal code would be helpful in these kinds of cases,” Muhsin told Minivan News.

The new penal code criminalizes participation in a criminal organization and contributing money to such an organization.

A counter-terrorism expert, who wished to remain anonymous, welcomed the government’s plans, but cautioned: “As we have seen so many times, legislation alone does not always solve the problem. The government also needs to put together a cross-governmental plan of action to tackle the wider issue incorporating the aspect of prevention.”

The law must criminalize financing and membership of terrorist organizations, and recruiting members and training in such organizations, they said.

The Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed earlier this year said that the police are tracking individuals associated with foreign militant groups.

“We know who the foreign militants are. We are monitoring their activities. My hope is, I believe we will be able to monitor them to the extent they are not able to [present a threat] in the Maldives.”

Maldivians who have reportedly left the country for Syria include immigration officers, hospital workers, members of Malé’s criminal gangs, and entire families including infants.

Suspects in the murder of an MP and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist are also reported to have left for jihad.

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UN sees increase in Maldivian jihadists overseas

A UN report has raised concerns over an increase in fighters leaving the Maldives to join terrorist organisations including al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The expert report to the UN Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, said the flow of fighters globally “is higher than it has ever been historically”, increasing from a few thousand a decade ago to over 25,000 from more than 100 nations today.

The Maldives police chief Hussein Waheed in January estimated some 50 Maldivians are fighting in foreign wars, but the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party says the figure could be as high as 200.

Waheed’s comments came after reports of at least 13 Maldivians leaving for jihad surfaced in local media in early January. Since then, at least four more have traveled to the Middle East.

Some seven Maldivians are reported to have died in the past year during battle in Syria, according to local media.

Waheed said that police were monitoring the activities of militants and would reveal details of plans to prevent radicalisation at a later date. The MDP has said the government is doing little to counter radicalisation and prevent recruitment of would-be fighters.

The UN report, written by a UN panel monitoring sanctions against Al-Qaida, listed the Maldives, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago as countries from which numbers of fighters were increasing, while the highest number of foreign fighters come from Tunisia, Morocco, France and Russia.

Most fighters travel to Syria and Iraq, to fight primarily for the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra front.

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