Media reports say a former cleric of Malé’s Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and his wife have become the latest Maldivians to travel to Syria for jihad.
Police have told media it is investigating reports that Zameer Farooq, from Gaafu Alifu Kanduhulhudhoo, and his wife have travelled to Turkey via Dubai in order to enter ISIS-held territory.
With Haveeru reporting a group of six having departed last week, as well as a dozen more said to have gone at the start of January, the exact numbers of Maldivians abroad for jihad is unclear.
Police Commissioner Hussein Waheed last month estimated that around 50 Maldivians were working with foreign rebel groups.
Media reports today say that Farooq had been investigated by police in relation to a robbery just days before travelling to Turkey on January 29, though police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of publication.
The group said to have left in early January included Azlif Rauf – a suspect in the murder of MP and moderate Islamic scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali, an individual arrested over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, a man arrested for issuing a death threat, a man classified by the police as a dangerous criminal, and three men with criminal records.
Waheed has acknowledged the difficulty in tracking individuals intending to travel for jihad, though it was recently reported that four would-be jihadis were apprehended in Malaysia in January, while three were apprehended in Sri Lanka in November.
Haveeru reported that those returned last month were released after their passports had been seized by authorities.
Commissioner Waheed has said that police are working with the Islamic ministry and relevant government departments to prevent radicalisation , though he said the variety of people travelling for jihad made it hard to target the most vulnerable groups.
Those leaving the country for Islamic State-held territories have included couples and even entire families since the first Maldivian jihadis were reported early last year.
“We know who the foreign militants are,” Waheed told media last month. “We are monitoring their activities. My hope is, I believe we will be able to monitor them to the extent they are unable to [present a threat] in the Maldives.”
A UN report obtained by the UK’s Guardian has noted foreign jihadists are travelling to Syria and Iraq on “an unprecedented scale”, with 15,000 people reported to have travelled to the region from more than 80 countries.
In November, a jihadist group called Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) – which describes itself as ‘Maldivians in Syria’ – revealed that a fifth Maldivian had died in Syria.
Two months earlier, a protest march took place in the capital, Malé, with around 200 participants bearing the IS flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.
The march followed a statement from foreign minister Dunya Maumoon condemning “the crimes committed against innocent civilians” by ISIS.
Defending the government’s stance on extremism and ISIS, Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told the Majlis late last year that “Maldives will not allow Maldivians to go and fight in foreign wars”.
“We do not support their [ISIS] extremist policies. We have repeatedly appealed to our beloved youth to refrain from falling prey to these ideologies,” he said.
*Original headline changed from ‘IGMH Cleric’ after concern about potentially misleading issues regarding translation of the word ‘Mudhimu’ – meaning an official who gives out the call to prayer.
(PHOTO: March for Shariah, Malé, September 2014)
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