Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam has warned of a rising risk of terrorist attack in the Maldives, during a joint local and US military inauguration to establish a level of alerts for terrorism in the country.
Shiyam cautioned against assuming the country was completely safe from terrorist attacks simply based on the fact that no major terrorist activities have been uncovered in the country to date, warning there was an increased risk of terrorist attacks stemming from “religious extremism and political turmoil.”
He added that while messages encouraging such activities are circulating via social media, these focused mainly against a certain group of people, or to encourage youth to partake in activities of ‘jihad’.
“Some [Maldivian] youth have already joined up with terrorist organisations. They are now travelling to various war zones and locations and enrolling in a number of terrorist training camps. Although some of these youth have managed to travel back to this country, the whereabouts of others remain unknown. This is a warning sign of how terrorism is spreading across our country,” Major General Shiyam stated.
He stated that it is immensely important for the security forces to be well-trained in counter-terrorism measures and to ensure the forces remain ready to respond should such an incident occur.
Speaking of the necessity to identify the challenges faced in counter-terrorism operations, Major General Shiyam emphasised the importance of reviewing and revising the country’s counter-terrorism policies.
Shiyam stated that terrorism is a danger that presents itself in many different forms, including but not limited to incidents which arise through political or social activities.
“Regardless of how these dangers come forth to us, ultimately the result is the same: that is the destruction of our nation’s social fabric,” Major General Shiyam said.
Increased pressure in 2012 to conform to stricter form of Islam: US
The US State Department’s 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom notes that, especially following the February 7 controversial transfer of power, there has been an increased pressure in the Maldives to conform to a “stricter interpretation of Islamic practices.”
The report highlighted that there have been increased reports of religious freedom abuses. Concerns were also raised over government restriction of religious freedom.
“There was an increasing use of religion in political rhetoric, which led to derogatory statements about Christianity and Judaism, and harassment of citizens calling for a more tolerant interpretation of Islam. Anti-Semitic rhetoric among conservative parties continued,” the report said.
The report also referred to statements made by President Waheed, who came to office following last year’s transfer of power.
“During the year, President Waheed warned the nation that foreign parties were attempting to influence the country’s ideology and promote secularism; he urged citizens to resist these impulses,” the report read.
The report further pointed out incidences of societal harassment and abuse targeted towards citizens, especially women, who do not conform to strict, narrow guidelines seen to acceptable in Islam.
No religious freedom, SOFA agreement: Islamic Minister
Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed has meanwhile said that the Maldives will not grant religious freedom following the release of the US State Department’s report, and further declared that he will not allow the government to sign the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States.
“Religious freedom cannot be granted in the Maldives, Insha Allah [God willing]. The Constitution of the Maldives itself restricts such a thing from being permitted, nor do our citizens want such a thing. It is the responsibility of our citizens to safeguard our military interests and Insha Allah they will uphold that,” Shaheem is quoted as saying in local media.
Furthermore, “There is no way that the SOFA agreement can be signed, allowing foreign forces to stay on our land. Nor can we allow them to make the Maldives a destination in which to refuel their ships,” Shaheem said.
“The reason is, the US might attempt to use the Maldives as a centre when they are attacking another Muslim state. There is no way we will let that happen,” he said, asserting that he “will not compromise on the matter at all”.
A leaked draft of a proposed SOFA with between the Maldives and the US “incorporates the principal provisions and necessary authorisations for the temporary presence and activities of United States forces in the Republic of Maldives and, in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors in the Republic of Maldives.”
Under the proposed 10 year agreement outlined in the draft, the Maldives would “furnish, without charge” to the United States unspecified “Agreed Facilities and Areas”, and “such other facilities and areas in the territory and territorial seas of the Republic of Maldives as may be provided by the Republic of Maldives in the future.”
“The Republic of the Maldives authorises United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities with Agreed Facilities and Areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense or control, including the right to undertake new construction works and make alterations and improvements,” the document states.
The US would be authorised to “control entry” to areas provided for its “exclusive use”, and would be permitted to operate its own telecommunications system and use the radio spectrum “free of cost to the United States”.
The US would also be granted access to and use of “aerial ports, sea ports and agreed facilities for transit, support and related activities; bunkering of ships, refueling of aircraft, maintenance of vessels, aircraft, vehicles and equipment, accommodation of personnel, communications, ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities.”
Former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, told the Press Trust of India that the agreement referred to joint military exercises and not a future base-building endeavor.
“We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives,” Blake said, echoing an earlier statement from the US Embassy in Colombo.
“As I said, we have exercise programs very frequently and we anticipate that those would continue. But we do not anticipate any permanent military presence. Absolutely no bases of any kind,” Blake said.
“I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new uptake in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence. It would just be to support our ongoing activities,” he said.