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.
'Govt's must make it a criminal offence for any person to leave his home country with intention to participate in another countries war.'
— Umar Naseer (@UmarNaseerPPM) April 13, 2015
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.