The vast majority of Maldivians jihadists fighting in Syria are former officers of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), former President Mohamed Nasheed has claimed, warning of the rise of Islamic extremism in the Maldives.
In an interview with the Independent newspaper in the UK during a visit to London, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) president claimed that up to 200 Maldivians were presently fighting in Syria and Iraq.
“Radical Islam is getting very, very strong in the Maldives. Their strength in the military and in the police is very significant,” the opposition leader was quoted as saying in a story that appeared online today.
“They have people in strategic positions within both. Of the 200 people who have gone to jihad, the vast majority are ex-military. What’s happening is they are taking people in for training and they will go away [to fight abroad]. They are using the Maldives military to train their people.”
In May, the MDP claimed that extremist ideologies were prevalent in the security services and that most militants traveling abroad were ex-police and military officers.
The Ministry of Defence and National Security dismissed the allegations at the time as both “baseless and untrue” and intended to “discredit and disparage” the military.
Condemning the MDP’s statement, the defence ministry called upon the opposition party to “stop spreading misinformation in ways that could confuse the public”.
At least four Maldivians have reportedly been killed in the Syrian civil war.
Nasheed meanwhile blamed an influx of Saudi Arabian funds for the conservative turn of Maldivian society in recent years and suggested that President Abdulla Yameen might tacitly encourage radicalism.
“President Yameen feels he can deal with the Islamist threat later but first he wants to consolidate power,” Nasheed explained.
“He has the Islamists with him and he can’t do away with them. He would deny that but I don’t see the government taking any measures against the Isis flag being displayed on the street and all the indoctrination going on. They have allowed the military to grow beards.”
“They are very short-sighted. Their thinking is that Islam has a lot of support and you can whip up more [political] support with religion.”
Nasheed warned that the government’s position was untenable.
“If you look at how at how Mosul fell – the top brass ran away because Isis had already infiltrated the rank and file,” Nasheed said.
“I have a feeling that our police and military are already taken. Eventually the Islamists will create havoc in the Maldives. I have no doubt about it.”
However, there was no direct threat to tourists who visit the Maldives, Nasheed said, as the extremists did not want to draw attention to a fertile recruiting ground.
“The government wants the money out of tourism. Everybody wants the money out of that. How the tourists behave on their uninhabited islands is nothing to do with us apparently,” he said.
“They are not worried about the hypocrisy of it. Not all worried – they think it’s very clever, and it is. They have two tracks going. You have your money on one track and then you have religion on another track. They think they have found an excellent model.”
Nasheed also suggested that people were afraid to speak out due to death threats and intimidation.
“They are afraid to talk about it because the minute you mention Isis you get death threats,” he said.
On September 5, a protest march took took place in Malé with participants bearing the Islamic State’s (IS) flag calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.
‘We want the laws of the Quran, not the green book [Maldivian constitution]’, ‘Islam will eradicate secularism’, ‘No democracy, we want just Islam’, and ‘Shariah will dominate the world’, read some of the placards carried by protesters.
In late August, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon condemned “the crimes committed against innocent civilians by the organisation which identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Dunya’s remarks followed Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the ISIS would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.
“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on August 24.
The MDP, however, promptly put out a statement questioning Shaheem’s sincerity, suggesting that the words had not been backed up with concrete action by the government.
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.
A new site called Haqqu (truth) and Twitter account meanwhile sprang up recently featuring IS-related news as well as Dhivehi translations of a sermon by self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other IS publications.