The government is unable to stop gang activities because it employs gangs for its purposes, former President Mohamed Nasheed has alleged.
Speaking to reporters yesterday prior to departing for the UK to attend the Conservative Party conference, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader said the government had the power and resources to clamp down on gangs, but was unable to do so because senior officials have used gangs.
“I am not necessarily saying that senior government ministers used gangs to make [missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed] Rilwan disappear or torch the MDP [office] or sent [death threats via] texts,” Nasheed explained.
“But senior government officials are using gangs for many other things.”
Nasheed’s remarks came after the main opposition party’s office was set on fire Thursday night (September 25) following two consecutive nights of vandalism and numerous death threats sent to the party’s MPs as well as journalists.
Earlier on Thursday, a machete knife was buried in the door of the Minivan News building after a known gangster – clearly identifiable on CCTV footage – removed the security camera.
Several journalist were also sent a text message warning them not to cover “the incidents happening in Malé now.”
“This is a war between the laadheenee [secular or irreligious] MDP mob and religious people. We advise the media not to come in the middle of this. We won’t hesitate to kill you,” read the threat.
Nasheed meanwhile suggested that radicalised gangs were behind the recent “atrocities” in the capital, noting that extremist religious indoctrination of youth was a relatively recent phenomenon in the Maldives.
“In my view, one of the most important reasons the government has to think deeply about this is because certain people are instilling their interpretation of Islam in the hearts of the boys in these gangs,” he contended.
The opposition leader claimed that many young men from criminal gangs were seen in a protest march held in Malé on September 5 with participants bearing the militant organisation Islamic State (IS) flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Sharia.
Of the approximately 150 participants, Nasheed claimed most were “active in gangs.”
“So youth in gangs are turning to ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] ideology. That activities of ISIS are happening in the Maldives is becoming very clear to us. And while this is happening, the government is unable to stop gang activities,” he said.
The government’s inaction posed a serious danger to the security of the country, he added.
A Facebook page called Islamic State in Maldives promoting IS in the country was discovered last month, which shared photos of protests calling for a ban on Israeli tourists where protesters carried the IS flag.
Moreover, a new site called Haqqu and Twitter account sprang up recently featuring IS-related news and publications in Dhivehi as well as translations of a sermon by self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The site was most recently updated this morning with the news of a Saudi Arabian pilot who allegedly refused to participate in military operations against IS.
Extremism in police and military
Nasheed also reiterated his claim that there were IS supporters or sympathisers in the police and military.
Earlier this month, Nasheed told the Independent newspaper in the UK that the vast majority of Maldivians fighting in Syria and Iraq were ex-military.
“Radical Islam is getting very, very strong in the Maldives. Their strength in the military and in the police is very significant. They have people in strategic positions within both,” he alleged.
Following the MDP’s claim in May that extremist ideologies were prevalent in the security services, the defence ministry dismissed the allegations as both “baseless and untrue” and intended to “discredit and disparage” the military.
The Maldives Police Service (MPS) meanwhile issued a press release on September 18 condemning Nasheed’s allegations.
While police estimated that about 24 persons with links to militant jihadist organisations might be active in the Maldives, MPS insisted that none of them were police officers.
“And the police leadership has always been working to ensure that such people are not formed within the police,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, asked about the party’s response to attacks on its office, Nasheed said ensuring safety and security of all Maldivian citizens was the responsibility of the state.
“The MDP could form its own militia or paramilitary, but that’s not the path we want for the Maldives. If we are forced to protect and defend ourselves, we have reached a very tragic state,” he said.