Police have confirmed that three Maldivians have been arrested in Sri Lanka after being discovered attempting to travel to fight in the Syrian civil war.
Two men, aged 25 and 23-years-old, and a woman aged 18-years-old, have been returned to the Maldives after being detained by Sri Lankan police on November 4.
The three – all from the same, unnamed, island – travelled to Sri Lanka on one-way tickets and were arrested as a result of a tip off from Maldivian police. They told Sri Lankan authorities that they were travelling to Turkey for medical purposes.
Today’s news is the latest in a series of reports of Maldivians journeying to ISIS-held territories for the purpose of Jihad. Reports of Maldivians being killed while fighting in Syria first emerged in March this year, with the latest reports involving married couples and even a family of four all heading to the Islamic state.
A UN report obtained by the UK’s Guardian newspaper last week, noted that foreign jihadists were now travelling to Syria and Iraq on “an unprecedented scale”.
15,000 people were reported to have travelled to the region from more than 80 countries. Although the report did not name the countries, the Guardian mentioned the Maldives as one of the “unlikely” places from which ISIS supporters have emerged.
The UK government last month said it was aware of ISIS supporters in the Maldives. The leaked UN report noted that more than 500 British citizens had travelled to the region since 2011.
A protest march took place in the Maldives capital, Malé, in September, with around 200 participants bearing the ISIS flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.
The surge in support for the ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – has led nations around the world to seek measures to prevent their citizens being recruited to the organisation which is accused of mass atrocities and war crimes by the UN.
Maldivian police told Minivan News today that they were unable to say if, and on what charges, the individuals were to be prosecuted. The President’s Office explained that, while the issue should not be seen as purely Maldivian problem, all Maldivian citizens are bound by the country’s laws, regardless of where they are.
Police today appealed to the public to report any incidences of people going to jihad, assuring that reports will be made confidential and informers protected.
Today’s police statement reported that the woman arrested on Tuesday had married one of her fellow detainees out of court in March this year, when she was aged just 17-years-old.
The Family Court announced in April that it will not register marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement, noting that this contravened the Family Act.
Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.
Government ministers have advised Maldivians against travelling abroad for jihad, with Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed saying that those seeking to take part in the conflict must not be punished, but offered rehabilitation and guidance.
Although President Abdulla Yameen has yet to speak publicly on the issue, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon has condemned ISIS for violating the principles of Islam.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has meanwhile criticised the authorities’ response to the issue, with former President Mohamed Nasheed suggesting that President Yameen could do more to counter the growing threat of extremism.
“President Yameen feels he can deal with the Islamist threat later but first he wants to consolidate power,” Nasheed told the UK’s Independent newspaper in September.
“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.”