Information gathered by Minivan News strongly suggests that journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was abducted in the early hours of August 8 in Hulhumalé.
Two eyewitnesses in Hulhumalé have reported seeing a man in dark clothes being forced into a vehicle at knifepoint outside Rilwan’s apartment at around 2am.
CCTV footage of the Malé ferry terminal obtained earlier by Minivan News shows Rilwan entering the waiting area at 12:44am wearing a black shirt, rather than turquoise, as had previously been reported.
A tweet from Rilwan’s account @moyameeha at 1:02am implies he was on the one o’clock ferry, suggesting he would have reached his apartment between 1:30am and 2am on August 8. Another man who claimed to have sat next to Rilwan on the ferry has also been positively identified on CCTV footage, entering the waiting area at 12:54am.
Neighbours claim to have heard screaming before seeing a man being forced into a vehicle. From a balcony 20 feet away they reported seeing a tall thin man holding his right hand over the captive’s mouth from behind.
The thin man was then seen to drop something before the car sped off, its door still open. One observer subsequently went down to the street and found the weapon before alerting police, who took statements and confiscated the weapon.
Further statements were taken from the witnesses after Rilwan’s family reported his disappearance on August 13. Minivan News understands that no other persons have been reported missing from Hulhumalé.
Minivan News has consulted with police regarding the disclosure of this information for fear of hindering the ongoing investigation. It is released now only after its appearance in other media.
Further analysis of CCTV footage from the Malé ferry terminal – conducted with security experts with experience in counter-terrorism – also shows a number of men who appear to be tracking Rilwan’s movements before boarding the same 1:00am ferry.
The experts also alleged an “unholy alliance” between gangs and religious radicals, as evident by a number of abductions in June. Two men were briefly held and accused of being ‘secularists’.
Blogger and journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed had his throat slit in 2012 by a similar group after publicly calling for religious tolerance. He narrowly survived, and fled the country seeking asylum abroad. His attackers were never prosecuted and remain at large. The security experts informed Minivan News that Rilwan was also considered a target.
Hulhumalé – the location for the government’s ambitious youth-city ‘mega-project’ – has become attractive to radical groups due to its low levels of policing in comparison to the crowded capital island across the channel, they explained.
Residents of the Hulhumalé suburb interviewed during Minivan’s investigation reported an atmosphere of fear, with little trust in the police’s ability to protect them from the radical groups said to be increasingly common on the island.
The security experts suggested that many within the security forces had indeed themselves become radicalised – a claim previously made by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
On Friday (August 15), members of Rilwan’s family received phone calls and were also approached outside a mosque with anonymous warnings to call off the search efforts of around 30 friends and relatives.
The International Federation of Journalists, the Progressive Party of Maldives, and the MDP have all called on the government to speed up its investigations, with the MDP demonstrating outside the UN for greater pressure on the government.
President Abdulla Yameen’s Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government is “deeply saddened and concerned” over Rilwan’s disappearance, while police continue to appeal for public assistance in the search.
Minivan News is grateful for all the police’s efforts and urges the public to work closely to coordinate search efforts with the Maldives Police Service.
Images of the suspicious individuals has not been included, in accordance with the police’s wishes