Indian press report growing concerns over possible terrorist base in Maldives

Concerns that Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba are seeking to establish a ‘sleeper cell’ in the Maldives have re-risen following reports in the Indian media.

The Times of India reported yesterday that India has quickened its efforts to formalise the counter-terrorism partnership between the two countries.

Quoting Indian intelligence sources, the Times reported that India “has noted with concern the sharp increase in the number of visitor from the Maldives to Pakistan, where they spend a lot of time travelling around the country for purposes which are unclear but suspicious.”

The isolation and strategic location of the Maldives make it a tempting target for groups such as Lashkar, which India has identified as responsible for the attacks in Mumbai on 26 November 2008, in which gunmen entered the city by sea and killed at least 173 people and wounded 308.

Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Shihab travelled to India in early February to meet his counterpart P Chidambaram, in order to draw up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries that was to be signed in April.

State Minister for Home Affairs Adil Saleem said today Shihab was in Delhi but the trip was on the invitation of the World Bank regarding unrelated matters.

A spokesman for the Indian High Commission said defence agreements between India and the Maldives were “a continuous arrangement” and not specific to a particular incident or group.

He acknowledged that there was “support for fundamentalist groups” in the Maldives but would not speculate on who those groups were or defence arrangements between the two countries. He noted that no agreements had progressed since the minister’s last visit to India in February.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem noted that the Maldives and India performed intelligence sharing “very well”.

“India is very concerned about this group Lashkar-e-Taiba; I think all the countries in this region need to be vigilant,” Naseem said, emphasising the importance of “close cooperation with our regional neighbours.”

In a letter sent to the Indian parliament on Tuesday, India’s State Minister for Home Affairs Ajay Maken wrote that “available inputs indicate that Pakistan-based terrorist groups, primarily the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are making concerted efforts to organise terrorist attacks in various parts of the country, including iconic institutions, prominent industrial installations and tourist locations among others.”

In order to do so, he noted, the group was making concerted efforts to develop links with other countries in the region, including the Maldives.

Other prominent groups posing a threat included Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM), Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Al Badr, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), Khalistan Commando force, International Sikh Youth federation (ISYF), United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and Communist party of India (Maoist),” Maken noted.