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.


Comment: We think violence is okay

This government clearly has every kind of trouble imaginable when it comes to the religious front. We have extremists, conservatives, suspected missionaries, Taliban freedom fighters, Afghan parliamentarians, jihadists, and zealots of every denomination. So what is the government doing about it?

This government is led by some of the most liberal minds in the country. But that is to their detriment. They cannot make liberal policies because they will be attacked for it. They are constantly threatened, warned, and then shunned by the conservative community. The only reason Adhaalath tolerates MDP is because MDP has fundamentalists like Fareed, and Adhaalath is getting their own ministry as a result of that tolerance.

But that does not seem to be enough. So now, the only way to get these people (meaning conservatives and not just Adhaalath) on our side seems to be to ensure that there is no doubt as to the fact that we will not unduly prosecute them – even if justice demands it.


When the Himandhoo residents attacked the police with knives, batons, and rocks they crossed the line. They chose violence. We cannot tolerate violence in any form. If they had blocked entry and sat in front of the mosque in non-violent protest, then this would be a different story. But that was not the case.

I’ve written about the human rights which must be afforded prisoners and today I want to remind everyone that these rights apply to our police officers as well. We all know members of the armed services, and we know them to be diligent, caring and disciplined citizens. And though there are institutional problems, they deserve to have the support of the people for working towards the lawful protection of the nation. When the Himandhoo residents attacked them, they crossed the line.

Mr President, I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for you, but this is not something that members of the liberal community can find acceptable. Even though we understand the reasons for it, there needs to be more due process, if for no other reason than to honor the policemen who were forced to go up against them.

How can the Himandhoo residents just be released again? These are residents from an island which has been heavily influenced by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the largest terrorist group in our region. They constantly violate human rights, create a repressive environment, and allow child abuse in the form of underage marriage. They actually picked up arms against the government in defense of a radical and conservative ideology. Will a simple workshop convince them of the error of their ways? No.

Violence is okay

Instead we will send a message to the conservative community that their actions were okay. That it was understandable. I mean, they were only defending a mosque right? Only defending their holy place. So it is okay right? No. It is not okay. They blocked entry and threatened other Muslims. The police could have easily taken off their shoes and entered the premises in a respectful manner, but instead the Himandhoo residents chose violent confrontation.

Many specific mosques are becoming places that are forbidden to many of us now. Even in Male’ – many mosques are hostile to certain people praying in them and all forbid women from the main spaces. One of the first moves the Islamic Ministry made was to shut down all women’s mosques. And where was the backlash?

Those of us who do nothing are sending the message that this kind of action is okay. And this message is being spearheaded by government policy. Recently we released nine Maldivians who were arrested on the Waziristan-Afghanistan border.

When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was questioned about this, Shaheed said that “if we release anybody, it is because our laws require them to be released.” So then why were these people repatriated in the first place without any accompanying documentation of charges? If they have not been tried or convicted, then why are they not formally charged before being released? Why did Shaheed allow them to be brought to the Maldives without any investigation in their actions or collaboration with the Pakistani government? Why did he not seek information about the three Maldivians who died in Pakistani custody? And finally, why did he pass the buck to the Maldivian Police Service saying that the Maldives Police Service had determined that “the best thing to do was to release them to their families and put them under surveillance”, while their activities abroad were investigated?

So do the Police now have an international investigative unit? Do they have the money and capacity to pull off this kind of investigation? No. These people are the rest of our problem now. That we are repatriating our would-be jihadists is apparently of no concern. That Lashkar-e-Taiba is active in Himandhoo (and anywhere else in Maldives) is also apparently no big deal.

Against extremism

Though appeasement does seem to be rampant, at least we have been making some headway against fundamentalism. The rapidly formalised defense agreement with India was aimed at protecting our boarders from terrorism. The Maldives was a focus because Lashkar-e-Tabia, who was responsible for the Mumbai Terrorist attacks, as well as being linked to the Sultan Park Bombing and Himandhoo, is obviously active in our country. We have also objected, very mildly, to having Afghans come for official negotiations without informing the government beforehand.

All in all, we release violent jihadists and the Himandhoo residents. With Shaheem, from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, on the delegation who visited them, it’s quite obvious that this is a religious issue and not just a matter of the previous government “treating them unfairly.” It is an active policy of appeasement towards the conservative religious community. But toward what end? Maybe it is because there are so many of them that we can no longer stand against them. Maybe we are finally giving in to the threats and warnings. Maybe it is just so we have a little bit of support and cooperation. Or maybe it is so they don’t blow up the Holiday Inn once it finally gets issued its liquor license.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


President offers clemency to Himandhoo protesters

Senior members of the Maldivian government yesterday met with 16 people arrested and sentenced for a violent protest against police at Himandhoo in North Ari Atoll in 2007, to discuss a reduction in their sentences under new clemency laws.

The inmates, currently imprisoned at Maafushi on sentences ranging from nine to 11 years, donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque on 6 October 2007. Police and soldiers were searching for suspects in the Maldives’ first Islamic terror investigation following a bomb blast in Sultan Park that injured 12 tourists.

The president’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef, together with Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, Legal Affairs Secretary Hisaan Hussain and State Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Saeed Ali Shaheem travelled to Maafushi jail to meet with the inmates to inform them that the president had made the decision to lessen their sentences.

Afeef said the government was unconvinced the group had received a fair trial under the former government, “and we don’t want anyone to undergo punishment for which they are not deserving.”

A still from the video found on an Al Qaeda forum that contained footage of inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque of Himandhoo moments before it was raided by police.
A still from the video found on an Al Qaeda forum that contained footage of inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque of Himandhoo moments before it was raided by police.

“The president wanted the inmates to know that people were going to criticise him over the decision, and for them to understand that their behaviour must be in line with the views of society when they are released,” Afeef said.

The conditions of their release had yet to be set, Afeef added. “That will come when the president gives the order,” he said, emphasising that “the government doesn’t take these decisions blindly. It studies the information and consults intelligence services, police and security forces.”

The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the main reason leading to the stand off with police was not the terrorism investigation but the fact “they had started praying in their own mosque and their own homes”, an action not in line with the former government’s “single state Islam”.

“This government is against all froms of extremism religous or otherwise,” he said, claiming that the government’s “pluralist” approach and tolerance of other factions and preachers had led to better insight into the institutions operating in the Maldives.

“The president has always said that the way to avoid fundamentalism is more democracy,” Zuhair said, noting that “people join groups with good intentions.”

Pakistan dead

Earlier this week the government repatriated the remaining four of nine Maldivian nationals detained in Pakistan for alleged militant activities on the Pakistan border. The detainees were returned to their families as the Pakistan government placed no conditions on their release, although Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed announced yesterday the men would be kept under surveillance and their activities abroad investigated.

Zuhair also revealed that three other Maldivians, believed to have been part of the group, were killed while they were being transferred between facilities several weeks after their arrest following the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

“I believe they were being transferred from a facility when their convoy came under attack and the vehicle they were in hit a landmine,” Zuhair said.

“We had unconfirmed reports that they were the leaders of the Maldivian group, which may have been linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) currently waging war in Kashmir.”

Zuhair emphasised that the nine men who had returned had not been charged and were “innocent until proven guilty.”

“The political culture in the Maldives has changed,” he said. “Whereas before if the government was suspicious about someone they would be arrested and questioned, now people are innocent until proven guilty.

“I believe the government is keeping a close watch on these people,” he added.


Maldives to strengthen defence links with India amid rising terror concerns

The Maldives will formalise its counter-terrorism agreements with India after renewed fears that Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is trying to establish a base in remote parts of the Maldives.

The LeT was implicated in the terror attacks in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 in which gunmen entered the city by sea and killed at least 173 people and wounded 308. It is considered a terrorist organisation by India, the United States, the UK and Russia.

Covering the story today, Indian newspaper The Economic Times noted that Sultan Park bomber Moosa Inas was linked to the LeT and had travelled to Kerala before the bombings, a popular recruiting ground for the group.

Indian news portal today quoted Indian intelligence bureau sources as saying that the LeT “has nearly 1,000 operatives active in the Maldives”, and that there was no way the group’s operations “can be curbed unless there is very good intelligence sharing with the Maldives.”

The intelligence sources claimed that in the last three months “there has been an increase in LeT activites in the Maldives, and several persons from [the LeT’s] Kerala group have slipped into the country and are busy setting up operations there.”

India could ill-afford a slip in its Maldives policy, given the “extreme aggression” of the LeT group, the sources told Rediff.

The notion of a thousand LeT operatives active in the Maldives “may be an exaggeration”, said the Maldivian president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair, “but there may be some truth in it.”

Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Shihab is currently in India meeting his counterpart P Chidambaram to draw up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries that will be signed in April.

First Secretary at the Indian High Commission to the Maldives, Naryan Swamy, said the agreement would formalise existing arrangements with the Maldives but the details would have to wait until Shihab returned.

Zuhair said the MoU was “very important because it gives notice that the Maldives will not allow terrorist operations here.”

“The Maldives is very important to India’s security – the Mumbai bombers attacked via sea,” Zuhair said. “The sea is India’s vulnerable underbelly because there are so many entry points, and the Maldives can be very helpful with that because every day we have 1,500 fishing vessels sometimes 70-100 kilometres out to sea. If they see any suspicious vessels they can coordinate the information through various centres in the Maldives.”

The system appeared to work, Zuhair said, because after the president’s speeches following the Mumbai bombing several poaching vessels were apprehended based on information from fishing boats.

India was already assisting the Maldives to establish a chain of coastal radars stations across the country’s atolls, he said, which will be networked with India’s own radar network.

Zuhair acknowledged that such defence cooperation might “concern” countries like China, but he noted that “of all our neighbours India is the natural country of choice to assist the Maldives.”

Last week Al Jazeera reported that a group seven fighters linked to the Taliban met in the Maldives with Afghan MPs to discuss an ambitious peace plan whereby Taliban soldiers would be paid to put down their arms. Al Jazeera’s report claimed the fighters chose the Maldives as the venue for the talks because it was “the only place they felt safe.”

Zuhair emphasised that the Maldives “will not allow terrorists to operate in the country and put the Maldives’ and our neighbours’ peace and security at risk.