A Sri Lankan national arrested in Chennai on April 29 on terrorism charges was also targeting locations in the Maldives, terrorism expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna has told the New Indian Express (NIE).
The Tamil Nadu Police arrested Zakir Hussein, 37 years, in Chennai on suspicion of acting as an operative for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and planning attacks on diplomatic missions including the US consulate in Chennai. The police are now investigating if Hussein was involved in bomb blasts at the Chennai Central Railway Station on May 2. The twin blasts killed one woman and injured 14 people.
Gunaratna, who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said Zakir Hussein was planning to launch attacks on locations in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.
Further, terror cells similar to Hussein’s are active in all three countries and pose a “severe threat” to the South Asia region, Rohan said. He declined to reveal further details, but told the NIE terror groups in the region are harder to track now as they are “becoming autonomous and developing a life of their own.”
According to NIE, Gunaratna predicts terrorists and extremists organisations will expand rapidly and become more active across South Asia due to the reduced US military presence in Afghanistan.
“It is, therefore, of critical importance for India, Lanka, and the Maldives to have a joint approach towards terrorism,” Gunaratna was quoted as saying. Considering the connections, Hussain’s arrest is “very significant” for the region, he added.
Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General’s Office has confirmed receiving a case involving a Maldivian man who produced home-made weapons.
According to Haveeru, the weapons were discovered in a police raid in September 2013 in connection to reports of a person preparing to join the Syrian civil war.
Hand guns, sniper rifles and mines were discovered during the raid, but the man accused of producing these weapons has no connections to religious extremists, Haveeru said. The PG office declined to comment on the matter.
Social media groups have cropped up to recruit Maldivians for the civil war in Syria, while pamphlets against Alawites and Shiah Muslims have been found at local mosques. Local NGOs led a humanitarian fund-raising campaign dubbed ‘Help Syria Through Winter’ in January and raised US$39,294 in three weeks.
Links to global terrorism
In 2007, Maldives witnessed its first terror attack when a home-made IED was detonated remotely at the Sultan Park, a popular tourist attraction in Malé. Twelve tourists were injured in the attack.
Prior to the attack, the Indian State police in 2005 arrested a Maldivian named Ibrahim Asif who tried to procure arms from Kerala to use it in the Maldives. He was suspected to be member of a UK-based Islamist group with a “dormant unit” in the Maldives.
In May 2009, Ali Jaleel, who is suspected of links with Sultan Park attack suspects, died in a suicide attack at the ISI headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistani government suspect the Taliban to be behind the attack which left 30 people dead and 300 injured. It was later revealed that Jaleel also had connections with the Al Qaida.
Just a month before Jaleel’s attack, nine Maldivians were arrested by Pakistani security forces in the Wazaristan region for suspected involvement with militants. One of the nine was a suspect in the Sultan Park case. All nine of them were later repatriated and released by the Maldivian government.
The same year, former President Mohamed Nasheed told the CNN IBN in an interview that local religious extremists were being recruited by foreign groups particularly in Pakistan, where Ali Jaleel was also recruited.
Nasheed’s VP Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan also expressed similar concerns, but on assuming power in February 2012, Waheed’s administration denied existence of religious extremism in the country.
In late 2010, a leaked diplomatic cable revealed US diplomats were concerned of activities of “al-Qaida associates” in the Maldives in 2008 and alleged that Maldivians participate in online recruitment forums to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US State Department’s 2013 “Country Report on Terrorism” stated that Maldivian authorities believed that funds are being raised locally to support terrorism abroad.