The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is publicly claiming to have received an anonymous letter warning of a supposed terrorist attack against the Maldives.
DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf said he received the letter at around 8:30pm on Saturday evening, signed by “someone who loves their country”, purporting to have information regarding an attack later this month and detailing a list of targets, including the past and current President, senior officials, MPs from both parties, Criminal Court judges and foreign diplomats.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday afternoon, DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer said the party had yesterday “learned of the plot [concerning] a foreign group planning to attack the Maldives”, while People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen – chair of the National Security Committee – confirmed there would be a meeting on Monday.
Umar went on to reveal the supposed ‘hit list’, which included President Mohamed Nasheed, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, Yameen, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, DRP MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ali Waheed and Mahlouf, former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, former Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, and himself.
Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) media coordinator Major Abdul Raheem confirmed that Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Jaleel had been verbally informed of the letter, and an investigation was underway.
“There is no information as to the origin [of the letter], but we are taking it seriously and looking into the matter,” he said.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police “are not saying anything officially.”
Mahlouf acknowledged the “odd” choice of targets for a supposed foreign terrorist group, but noted that the letter had asked him to pass the information to the concerned authorities. It was written in Dhivehi, he noted.
“I don’t know if it is true or false or a trick to threaten us. Still, it’s a letter I take very seriously,” he said. “In 1988 there was talk that the then defence minister received information about the attempted coup, but action was not taken because it was not thought to be serious.”
“Even when I first read [the letter] I thought it was a joke, but I discussed with my fellow MPs and decided to send it to the police,” he said. “I called Gasim and he said he had also received a note.”
Mahlouf said the DRP MPs had further decided to publicise the threats in the media “because we believe some people would try to frame the opposition as being involved in this. Also if there is an attack planned, [the attackers] may not go ahead because of the publicity.”
The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government wished to thank the DRP MPs for bringing the threats to the government’s attention, and said he believed “there might be some truth” to the claims as the MNDF had said they were “not isolated to one source.”
“It coincides with the importation of a stun gun and other security [events] by a Maldivian individual,” Zuhair observed.
Maldives Customs stopped two men aged 20 and 25 with a stun gun and nine masks from the midnight Sri Lankan Airlines flight. The 3,800 watt stun gun was found on the 20-year-old.
In past weeks, customs officials found five 3-feet long swords in a general cargo shipment at the Male’ commercial harbour, while on August 9, customs seized 250 toy guns guns and handed them over to the MNDF for investigation.
Zuhair added that he did not subscribe to the “theory of others” that the publicising of the letter was an attempt at political gain, but that rather its release showed the opposition “is trying to gain the confidence of the government following conclusion of the interim period.”
However, regarding the threats in the letter sent to Mahlouf, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said he had “never heard anything more ridiculous in my entire life.”
“Obviously there’s a madman on the loose. But why wasn’t the information shared just with police? It doesn’t require scaremongering. My concern is that this is scaremongering, and that is not very helpful.”
Dr Shaheed further observed that “the collective wisdom of the ages is that one shouldn’t cry wolf if there is no wolf, and if there is a wolf, the concerned authorities should be allowed to make a swift, sharp and discreet investigation. Terrorists may be mad, but there is method to their madness.”
The concept of a military coup remains a sensitive subject in the Maldives, following an attempt by 80 armed mercenaries of the Sri Lankan People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to overthrow the Maldives government in 1988.
The plot was foiled when Indian paratroopers arrived less than 12 hours later on request by then-President Gayoom. 19 people died in the fighting, along with several hostages.
More recently the government has expressed concern at rising levels of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives, culminating in the 2007 bomb attack in Sultans Park that injured 12 tourists, and an armed stand-off between islanders from Himandhoo in North Ari Atoll and police who were attempting to close the unsanctioned Dhar al Khuir mosque. Footage from a video taken inside the mosque prior to the police raid would later appear in an Al Qaeda recruitment video.
Last week, two of the three men sentenced to 15 years prison for the Sultans’ Park bombing, Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah, had their sentences commuted to suspended sentences by the government under the new Clemency Act, with accompanying promises that they would be “well observed”.
The bomb attack near the Sultan Park was the first such incident to occur in the Maldives and received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the tourism industry.