Online jihadists threaten Sean Paul with death ahead of New Year’s concert

A video has appeared online threatening dancehall singer Sean Paul with death should he visit the Maldives for a New Year’s Eve concert.

“‘Sean Paul’!!! If you visit the Maldives, the world will see your burnt and blood drenched dead body,” read cards held by a cloaked figure in the video posted on Youtube late last night (December 25).

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, has responded to the threat this afternoon, stating in a tweet that the concert will go ahead as planned. Meanwhile Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has that that both bringing foreigners to perform new year’s concerts, and the issuing of death threats were both “unacceptable”.

Adeeb informed media late last month that the Jamaican artist would be appearing in a free concert in the capital Malé as part of the government’s tourism promotion efforts.

Last night’s video bears the logo of ‘Bilad Al Sham Media’ (BASM) group – an organisation which claims to consist of Maldivian jihadis based in Syria and the Maldives.

Through social media, the group has reported the deaths of five Maldivians in the Syrian civil war this year, as well as taunting the police’s efforts to locate its members.

BASM has, however, posted a statement on its official Facebook page distancing itself from the video.

“We suspect that the video was released by MDP supporters/secularists or other such anti Islamic elements who have been pushing hard to potray [sic] a threat to the Maldives which in reality does not exist, and their mouth piece Minivan News is also pushing the same lies and has been the first to report on this video.”

BASM did, however condemn the concert as “filthy” and “part of the ideological attack being waged by the kuffar and their allies on the Muslim youth to take them further from their Deen.”

Minivan News was the first outlet to report on the story in English, after a number of outlets had published news of the video in Dhivehi.

“It is for all Muslim to jihad in the name of Allah. Hence disbelievers like ‘Sean Paul’, who are like the worst of devil’s advocates, deserve nothing but death!” continued yesterday’s video threat.

“‘Sean Paul’ who is joining from abroad in the celebration of year-end 2014, end [sic] the beginning of 2015, is a major disbeliever,” came the message, printed on cards in Dhivehi, with English subtitles.

The figure, whose face and hands are covered sits in front of a black flag which has become synonymous with the Islamic State militant group, ISIS.

“We will not welcome or tolerate the destruction of such cunning men anymore.”

“Even the government will not be excused for bringing such cunning disbeliever to our soil, because our beloved nation is 100% Muslim!”

Tourism minister Adeeb has condemned the video, saying that the government would not give in to threats.

The last major western artist to perform in the capital was Irish singer Chris De Burgh in 2012. Prior to this, a concert featuring R&B singer Akon in 2010 was cancelled, with the event’s managers citing technical and security concerns.

In the run-up to the scheduled Akon concert, the Islamic minister Dr Shaheem reported receiving a number of complaints about the explicit content of the singer’s lyrics.

Today, Shaheem has commented on the threat via twitter, saying: “Bringing foreigners to hold shows coinciding with the New Year is unacceptable. Issuing death threats is also unacceptable.”

“Lessons have to be learnt from the past of those who committed acts challenging the Muslim culture,” read a second tweet.

Yesterday’s Youtube message suggested that Maldivian society was being led to destruction through “beautiful painted pictures, songs and entertainment”, decrying what it saw as the celebration of western festivals such as New Year and Valentine’s Day.

“Mixing such festivities into our culture will result in a destructive future for the Maldives and our beloved children.”

Earlier this week, the religious Adhaalath Party was reported as urging Maldivians to avoid celebrating Christmas.

November and December have traditionally represented the high season for the Maldives’ dominant tourism industry, with tourists celebrating Christmas and New Year in the archipelago’s 109 single island resorts, on which the country’s Shariah-based laws do not apply.

The online threat concluded by suggesting that those who saw the group’s actions as “extremism” are demonstrating the weakness of their faith.

Concern regarding religious extremism in the country has grown this year, with a number of Maldivians reported to have travelled to IS held territory – sometimes with family members.

Despite the government’s condemnation of the Islamic State’s atrocities, around 200 individuals marched through the capital in September, brandishing black IS-style flags and calling for the implementation of full Shariah law in the Indian Ocean nation.

Authorities arrested unauthorised Imam Hussain Thowfiq in October before sentencing him to two years in prison for leading extremist anti-government sermons in Malé’s Dharumavantha mosque.

Prior to this, former police officers and opposition politicians had questioned the capacity and desire or authorities to prosecute such activities.

Police spokesmen reported that they were investigating the video, but had found “nothing authentic”, urging calm.

*Article updated at 7:58pm to incorporate comments from police and statement from Bilad Al Sham Media.

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Police defiant in the face of taunts from jihadi group

The Maldives Police Service is investigating remarks made by Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) in response to its investigation into the jihadist group.

“Whether threats are issued from within the Maldives or from outside, the police will remain confident in fulfilling our legal obligations,” police told CNM.

Responding to police attempts to locate the group, which recently reported the deaths of two Maldivians in Syria, a post on BASM’s Facebook page said they could be found at the Jabhat al-Nusra base in Idlib, northwestern Syria.

“Now lets see whether they can bring us back,” read the post.

“We will throw out the map and you shall go step by step just the way we want until you land in that pit of doom which you are headed to right now.”

Meanwhile, a former senior police officer questioned both the capacity and the desire or authorities to prosecute such activities.

The former officer pointed to the lack of comprehensive anti-terror laws in the country, as well as questioning the decision to have controversial Sheikh Adam Shameem speak at the police’s recent master parade.

“For the police to invite these people validates the accusations made by some that police and the security services are quite supportive of extremist elements and extremism in general,” said the former officer.

The jihadist BASM group’s members have claimed to be fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra – the Al Qaeda-affiliated group designated as a terrorist organisation by the UN and a number of leading western countries since its creation in 2012.

Investigations into the two men reported by BASM as having been killed – identified as Hassan Shifaz and Ali Adam from Malé and Shaviyani Feydhoo, respectively – also brought criticism from the group.

“When the Maldivian Police heard of the Maldivians being martyred in Syria, those half female creatures made sure they go enter upon their houses and question their women,” said BASM.

“If the Maldivian Police are investigating about us, then let them know that we too are investigating.”

“We cannot have another Sultan Park”

The former senior police officer, who spoke with Minivan News on condition of anonymity, suggested that current events represented the mismanagement of several governments.

“This situation has been getting bigger and bigger everyday since the incidents in Sultan Park and Himandhoo island.”

Twelve tourists were among those injured in the September 2007 blast, which was followed by violent confrontations between authorities and a radical congregation on the island of Himandhoo during the police investigation.

In addition to “fast tracked” legislation, the source called for more serious efforts to analyse the root causes for the radicalisation of Maldivians – a problem he argues can no longer be denied.

“Our terrorism act  – the legislation we have on terrorism, is from 1990 I think – is really irrelevant to the new age of violent extremist acts.”

“I think just mere investigation into something that has already happened will not do any good. There has to be some serious efforts to analyse this problem – what actually causes this problem.”

“In 2012 the government denied that Maldivians were involved in any level in violent extremism. Now the very people involved in it are very openly admitting to it,” he explained.

Identifying those involved in the financing, recruitment, and transportation of Maldivian extremists is relatively simple, he explained, while the preventive aspect is more difficult.

The officer believed that the neglect of the problem could perhaps be explained by preoccupation with the country’s turbulent domestic politics – suggesting that Sheikh Shameem’s “provocative” invitation to the Martyr’s Day parade may have been another symptom of this.

“The police have become very politicised, they make everything political,” the source told Minivan News today.

“Because someone whom they do not support – someone whom they hate – had openly claimed that Maldives is faced with this problem with violent extremism, people don’t like it.”

Sheikh Shameem told officers they should always possess the will to be martyred when defending the people and the nation. He also recently prayed for the acceptance of the martyrdom of Maldivians killed in Syria.

Shameem first came to public attention following his ‘mega-lecture’ ‘Andalus‘ last year, which was interrupted by authorities for violating state broadcaster’s guideline.

Last month, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) suggested that extremist ideologies were prevalent within the security services – accusations described as “baseless and untrue” by the MNDF.

The MDP also condemned Shameem’s ‘Andalus’ lecture last year, accusing him of inciting hatred in order to sway the electorate.


Comment: Does this government support Maldivian jihadists in Syria?

In the last week two Maldivians died in the Syrian conflict. About twenty more are fighting in the war. The news was brought to local papers by a group calling itself Bilad Al Sham Media, which insists furiously that it is run by a group of Maldivians based ‘in Syria, not in the Maldives’.

Bilad Al Sham refers to what is known as Greater Syria, currently the main attraction for the world’s jihadis who are lured to the conflict by what many believe is a divine promise that jihad there ‘will set the stage for the emergence of the true Islamic state’.

According to the Lebanon-based newspaper Al-Akhbar, the various nationalities currently fighting in Syria—Lebanese, Jordanians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Tunisians, Libyans, Saudis, Yemenis, Afghans and Pakistanis—are divided among many factions and schools of thought.

Three among them espouse the most hardline takfiri ideology – al-Qaeda’s Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Doura Fighting Group, and the Jabhat al-Nusra li-Bilad al-Sham. The Bilad Al Sham Media group, which appears to have been set up for the purpose of publicising the activities of Maldivian ‘jihadis’, has confirmed that the Maldivians are with Jabhat al-Nusra, the deadliest of the three.

Al-Nusra first announced its existence in January 2012, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2013 and in April 2014, started its own weapons factory. To remove any doubt about Maldivian fighters being affiliated with Jabhat Al-Nusra, Bilad Al Sham Media posted an Al-Nusra issued identity card which it says belonged to the second Maldivian who died in the conflict. Affiliation with Al-Nusra is a matter of great pride for them.

Bilad Al Sham Media has a strong online presence—it has a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a YouTube channel, and a blog. The group is making full use of all the platforms to bring detailed news of their activities in Syria to the Maldivian public. According to its Facebook page discussions with followers, the decision to go public was not made lightly. It was aware that being out in the open could mean that future jihadists would find it more difficult to leave the country and join others in Syria as authorities crack-down on them. But, in the end, it decided that the gains of going public — calling others to ‘Jihad’ and attracting them to their cause — far out-weighed the potential harm.

Bilad Al Sham Media appears to have been spot on in its calculations – they have got a far bigger response from their followers and wanna-be jihadis than from the government. Whereas the glorification of their ‘martyrdom’ has increased with the publicity, the government response has been virtually non-existent.

Maldivian jihadists, it appears, have nothing to fear from this government. In fact, the government appears to be tacitly condoning the whole enterprise if not actively encouraging it.

Bilad Al Sham Media warned the police not to investigate them, and instructed the Islamic Ministry to stay out of it.

Government’s response

The Islamic Ministry is following the instructions to a tee. Minister Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed responded to news of the Maldivian suicide bomber by saying that while he personally disapproved of Maldivians fighting in wars abroad, the Islamic Ministry itself had nothing to say on the matter.

President Yameen, meanwhile, has come out with a statement that makes suicide bombing in Syria sound similar to a minor transgression such as throwing some rubbish on the streets of Singapore where there are strict regulations against such behaviour.

Yameen said that the government had always urged Maldivians to maintain discipline abroad, adding that the responsibility for any crime wilfully committed by an individual must be borne by the individual himself.

Bilad Al Sham Media has made it clear that Maldivians in Syria are well trained fighters killing in the name of God – not ‘a family of Maldivians’ who, while travelling abroad, have somehow found themselves in a bit of a kerfuffle in Syria, as Yameen appears to suggest.

The rest of the president’s utterances on the subject, offering financial assistance to the fighters if they have found themselves stuck in Syria, smacks of someone who is totally ignorant of the phenomenon of violent radicalisation or is having a private laugh about it.

Does the government’s astonishingly blasé attitude to one of the most pressing security concerns in the world today stem from ignorance, or is it calculated? Is the government deliberately turning a blind eye to the radicalistion—both violent and non-violent—of Maldivians? Does it consider the ‘jihadists’ to be engaged in a Holy War to protect Islam?

Its actions, or lack of them, since the news broke certainly suggests this to be the case.

Most people were still reeling from the shocking news of the Maldivians killing and being killed in Syria when the national Martyr’s Day rolled around on Friday, 30 May. The death of the second Maldivian had been announced only three days before. Bilad Al Sham Media was busy putting out statements promoting their deaths as martyrdom, a jihad for Islam, when Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon addressed the nation on the occasion of Martyr’s Day.

Shockingly, in all the talk of martyrdom, she had nothing to say about the Maldivians dying in Syria. Still conspicuously not remarking on the Syrian ‘jihadis’, she defined martyrdom as ‘loss of one’s life from an attack by the enemy in a jihadi war being fought for religion and for the country’s freedom’. She later said, ‘if we were to lose our lives during a sincere effort to protect our country’s sovereignty, that death will without a doubt be martyrdom.’


There was no such clarification of whether or not the government considers those killing themselves and others in Syria fits into her definition of martyrs for religion.

Other government officials were even more vague. Here is, for example, Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s tweet to mark the occasion:

Which martyrs is he speaking of? The Maldivians ones of days long gone who died fighting for the country’s freedom, or the self-proclaimed jihadis killing and being killed in Syria?

Never the sort to waste an occasion for nationalistic rhetoric, on Saturday evening the government held an official ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day. As Chief Guest, Home Minister Umar Naseer added to the ambiguity. He focused on the changed nature of modern warfare, saying that days of fighting with swords and guns are long gone.

Today’s war, he said, is ideological – what is under attack are ‘how people think of their countries, and their religion.’ There was no mention of whether or not he, or the government, considers Maldivian ‘jihadis’ fighting in the Syrian war as soldiers in that ideological war.

Added to this recurring ambiguity is total inaction. Although it is the Maldives Police Service (MPS) which has a dedicated counter-terrorism department, recent media reports have quoted the police as saying Maldives National Defence Force is responsible. In this case, however, the buck seems to have been passed to MPS.

Bilad Al Sham Media, which has warned the police that probing into their activities is anti-Islamic, is right not to be too concerned. The MPS was unable to identify Justice Abdulla Hameed from the leaked sex videos despite his identity being obvious to the naked eye. And, it was only in last October that the MPS Counter-terrorism chief flew to London with a ballot box for the presidential election and disappeared only to be found when he posted pictures of himself at an Arsenal football match.

In addition to the cluelessness, it is not just Bilad Al Sham Media that is warning police that investigating their ‘jihad’ is anti-Islamic.

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They were recently told the same thing by hardline Salafi preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim (of Andalus fameselected by the government to address the police on the occasion of Martyr’s Day. What he had to say to the police is not the least bit surprising. He recast national heroes of history in today’s Islamist terms— ‘Mujahedin who had martyred for Islam’ and the country.

He said all police should always be determined to become a martyr, and took pains to tell the force just what a glorious position Islam has for martyrs. Nothing, of course, was said about it being wrong to blow themselves up, and kill others, in the name of Islam in the Islamists’ ‘Holy War.’

The government’s non-action, its sanguine reaction to the news of Maldivians fighting in Syria, its complete lack of any counter-extremism or counter-radicalisation initiatives, its failure to state its position on whether or not it regards the Maldivian fighters who died in Syria as martyrs or not, and its sanctioning of an Islamist preacher to glorify martyrdom to the Maldives Police Service all combine to make a very loud statement — this government tacitly supports Maldivians fighting and killing themselves in the ‘Holy War’ to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

Interesting, given that the jihadists themselves have little respect for it – and we have already had some experience of what Islamists do to governments they have no respect for.

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