Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz has claimed that the murder of MP for Ungoofaaru constituency Dr Afrasheem Ali was a well planned murder worth MVR 4 million (US$260,000).
In a press conference held on Tuesday to brief the media about the high profile murder case, Riyaz stated that the new revelations came made amidst several difficult challenges for police investigators.
The commissioner claimed that the investigation team included consultants from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and 80 police officers including forensic, multimedia and legal experts. He added that this was the first case that had been worked on by such a large criminal investigation team.
In a presentation shown during the press conference, Riyaz claimed that 11 suspects were initially arrested, however three had now been released. He added that about 200 items had been analysed as evidence, including forensic and digital evidence, which he claimed was enough to prosecute the prime suspects.
“Over 500 hours of CCTV footage have been analysed, more than a hundred people have been interviewed and about 13,000 phone call recordings have been analysed out of which 12,000 were from one single tower,” Riyaz said.
Afrasheem’s movements right before the murder
The commissioner claimed that Afrasheem was last seen alive inside the premises of the state broadcaster, Television Maldives (TVM). The presentation suggested that Afrasheem was seen leaving the premises in his car around 11:04pm, according to the nearby CCTV camera footage.
Afrasheem left the station after participating in a religious TV program called “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Life), with Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Qubad Aboobakuru.
In his last words, aired on the show, Afrasheem said that he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.
Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed was quoted in local media as saying that the Islamic Ministry had not forced Afrasheem to offer a public apology for anything during his last television appearance and disputed that there was any religious motivation in the death of the moderate scholar.
Photo snaps taken from several CCTV cameras suggested that he had passed the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) building, the Bank of Maldives (BML) building and Raalhugandu Area, all of which are located in the outermost road of Male, Boduthakurufaanu Magu, police claimed.
Afrasheem had parked his car just a few metres from his residence and had entered it at about approximately 12:04am, police said. The murder occurred just a few minutes later, police alleged.
Afrasheem’s body was discovered by his wife at the bottom of the stairs of their apartment building shortly after midnight.
According to the presentation, the first few police officers arrived at the scene at about 1:30am, exactly one and a half hour later. A second police jeep arrived soon afterwards.
Riyaz stated that following the report of the incident, all police officers patrolling in the capital were brought to alert and were ordered to focus on finding anyone that was acting suspiciously.
Minivan News journalists on the night of the incident observed that police officers in Specialist Operations (SO) uniform entering several coffee shops including Sea House Café’, however no one was seen being arrested.
The Police Commissioner claimed that the first suspect was arrested at 1:55am, just 20 minutes after the incident was reported.
Police also revealed the identities of two suspects arrested in connection with the murder case: Hussen Humaam Ahmed and Ali Shaan, while a 17 year-old minor was also arrested on suspicion of assisting the murder.
Commissioner Riyaz expressed confidence in prosecuting the suspects stating that the police had “enough evidence” to prove all of them guilty. He added that the cases of the suspects would be sent to the Prosecutor General (PG)’s office by the end of this week.
“Political motive behind the murder” – Commissioner of Police
Commissioner of Police alleged that sum of MVR 4 million (US$260,000) was to be paid for the murder of the MP, which he alleged involved a political motive.
“This is an act of terrorism and the people behind this are politicians,” Riyaz claimed.
He alleged that two suspects had been arrested for supposedly financing of the murder, but declined to reveal their identities claiming that the investigation was still ongoing.
He also said that police had concluded the first part of the investigation which involved identifying who had been directly involved in murdering the MP, and how it was carried out.
“We have been able to establish who did this. We have been able to establish how this happened. The next thing is to find out who was behind this,” he said.
The commissioner also dismissed the rumours that the murder was linked to religious fundamentalists, stating “no evidence has been gathered suggesting that this murder was carried out for a religious motive.”
He further claimed that the findings of the investigation were based on fact and solid evidence and not were intended to create political leverage against the political rivals of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Riyaz claimed that the prime suspects involved in the murder were from a local gang named ‘Kuda Henveiru’ (Little Henveiru-ward), whose members had previously been involved in several criminal activities.
“The findings reveal that a dangerous trend of ‘killing for money’ is growing within our society. I call upon businessmen and politicians to not to pay money to young people to conduct criminal activities for their benefit,” he said.
Riyaz added that new cases of criminal activities were being revealed through the investigation and that such cases would be dealt with firmly.
Despite repeated questions from journalists as to what the “political motive” involved, Riyaz at first responded stating that he could not go into the details of the case, but later said that police were able comprehend a picture out of its findings but said this needed to be “verified”.
Riyaz called on parliament members to not to hesitate in giving more powers to the police and said that such vast powers were required to curb growing criminal activities within Maldivian society.
“I know that members of the parliament are hesitant to grant more powers to the police because of the political views they hold. But we need stricter laws to stop such acts from happening. Hesitance to grant more powers isn’t a solution for police discrepancies. Powers should be granted and at the same time they can establish a proper accountability mechanism,” he said.
The commissioner said that police would have “zero tolerance” towards criminals and would utilise all powers and resources at hand in preventing crimes.
“That means, we will not allow a drunkard to freely wander around the street. Police officers will question suspicious people on the road and they have been given the order to stop and search anyone who they feel is suspected of being a criminal or carrying out a crime,” he said.
He added that special measures have been taken and orders have been given to SO officers to do “crime patrolling” throughout the capital city 24 hours a day.
Riyaz also expressed concern over former President Mohamed Nasheed’s latest remarks in which the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate suggested that Afrasheem’s were foreigners and had fled the country after committing the crime.
“We have no evidence that suggesting the murder was carried out by foreigners. It is really concerning when such remarks are made for political gain,” Riyaz said.
High profile murder
MP Afrasheem was brutally stabbed to death on the night of October 1, outside his home.
Local media reports suggested that the MP was stabbed four times in the back of the head and a chunk of his skull was missing, and that he also suffered stab wounds to the chest and neck. The MP was rushed to ADK hospital where he was pronounced dead.
He was buried shortly before 5:00pm the following day at the Asahara cemetery in Male’.
Thousands gathered for the funeral prayers which took place in the Islamic Centre. The prayers were led by former President and leader of Afrasheem’s party, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Initially, four suspects were arrested by police in connection to the murder and the Criminal Court extended the detention period of the arrestees by an additional 15 days.
However, a female suspect arrested – Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activist Mariyam Naifa – was given a conditional release on October 21 while the detention of the remaining two suspects were extended for another 15 days.
Another suspect was also arrested later in November, after police claimed he was wearing the same coloured shirt as someone caught on CCTV footage near the area where Afrasheem was murdered.
Dr Afrasheem was elected to parliament in 2009 as a member of the then-opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP). Following the opposition’s split, Afrasheem sided with the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and faded into the political background.
Widely considered an Islamic moderate, Dr Afrasheem took outspoken and controversial positions on issues such as the permissibility of playing music, and praying next to the deceased.