The US State Department has reported there were no successful prosecutions of suspected terror suspects during 2011 in the Maldives, and raised wider concerns about the potential radicalisation of young people from the country in foreign madrassas.
According to the US government’s recently published “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011”, the Maldives was viewed to have “severely limited” legislation to prosecute alleged cases of terrorism and extremism in the country’s courts.
While the Maldives government said it was presently looking to address several security and terrorist threats, such as piracy and organised crime, through existing legislation and proposed legal amendments, it moved to deny any truth in claims Maldivian citizens were being radicalised at Pakistan-based madrassas.
President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the government was presently collecting information in regards to the issue of radicalisation in the country. He stressed active steps had been taken against permitting clearance for local students to study in any madrassas in the country.
“No Maldivians right now are being trained in Pakistani madrassas. Steps are being taken to ensure this with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and authorities in Pakistan,” he said. “We will not issue visas to go there in this regard. So to say that such a threat exists is definitely not true.”
In addressing other key threats to the nation, Abbas claimed that the incursion of pirates from Somalia into the Maldives’ territories on two reported occasions, as well as human trafficking resulting from organised crime were seen as “particular dangers”.
“The threat we currently face from pirates and traffickers is being dealt with via existing legislation, as well as some new amendments that have presently been proposed in parliament,” he said.
Abbas said the new government had not opted to make any drastic changes to existing counter-terror policy enacted under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.
“We will not be making a 180 degree reversal on the last government’s stance,” he said, adding that a focus on further legislation would be sought under President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
US State Department view
According to the US State Department, the American government was partnering with Maldivian counterparts in attempts to “strengthen” law enforcement in the Indian Ocean nation. The US was also said to back establishing community outreach schemes based around countering terrorist ideologies, as the state department stressed alleged radicalism remained a concern in the Maldives.
“The government believes that hundreds of young Maldivians attended madrassas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and was concerned that these students were bringing home radical ideology,” stated the report. Two Maldivians, in separate instances in March and October, were arrested in Sri Lanka on charges linked to terrorism. Their cases were pending at year’s end.”
One of the suspects, Mohamed Ameen, was released from police custody in May ths year by the criminal court after it did not issue an extension to his detention period.
Local media reported that the suspect was released by the court “on the condition that he not get involved in any further terrorist activities, and not leave the country.”
Beyond legislation, the report also pointed to the signing of an agreement signed with Malaysia-based IT group Nexbis to install a new border control system with an integrated database in an effort to try and combat human trafficking into the country.
“However, alleged corruption concerns and subsequent legal proceedings made it unclear when the system would be installed,” the report stated.
The Maldives was last month included on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for a third year in a row.
The US State Department added that the Maldives, during 2011, had become a partner in its Antiterrorism Assistance programme focused on training in areas such as “counterterrorism leadership”, as well as regional cooperation with other authorities.
The report also noted the Maldives inclusion in the regional Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, where it had been submitting annual updates on its work.
“Maldives underwent a mutual evaluation conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the final evaluation report was adopted by the members in July 2011. Maldivian law does not criminalize money laundering apart from a small provision in the Drugs Act. The Maldives Financial Intelligence Unit took the lead in drafting an Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism act with assistance from the IMF,” the report stated.
“The draft bill was sent to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2010 and was sent back to the Maldives Police Services and the prosecutor general for review and comment. In July 2011, Maldives Financial Transactions Reporting came into effect, which aims to safeguard Maldives financial and payment systems from being used to promote acts of terrorism and money laundering, and to protect financial services and products from being used to conceal the proceeds of crime.”
According to the state department, the UN 1267/1989 and 1988 consolidated lists detailing individuals or entities with associations to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida had also been sent to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MMA was said to have instructed banks creditors to then take acton on the matter with a set time frame, according to the report.
As part of the US State Department’s findings during 2011, recognition was also given to efforts made by the Maldives government to pursue intiatives and mechanisms designed to counter “violent extremism”.
“The Ministry of Islamic Affairs implemented a programme designed to mobilise religious and social leaders to work against all forms of violence in society, including religious extremism that leads to violence,” stated the report. “The Ministry conducted over 15 seminars and workshops for religious leaders, educators, and local government officials. Several of these workshops included participants from across the country.
Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said in June that he was seeking to counter the “ideological problems” of extremism in the country.
Shaheem claimed that the threat of home-grown terrorism was a key issue needing to be addressed in the Maldives – something he alleged the previous government under former President Nasheed had neglected to assist with through funding.
“The previous government did not give us the budget we needed to run programmes to address these issues,” he said at the time. “There are problems here with extremism and terrorism, these are idealogical problems that need to be targeted through religious awareness campaigns.”
Shaheem himself previously served under the Nasheed government as Islamic State Minister before resigning in December 2010 over differences of opinion with the administration over issues such as claims it was strengthening links with Israel.
However, the now opposition Maldvian Democratic Party (MDP) – to which Nasheed remains the current presidential candidate – was sceptical of the commitments of religious figures attached to the Waheed administration. It contends the government came to power on February 7 in a “coup d’etat”.
Party Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that with the MDP failing to recognise the legitimacy of the current government, the same was true for ministerial appointments like Sheikh Shaheem.
Ghafoor also alleged that issues such as Islamic fundamentalism were a well established tool used during the 30 year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pit different factions in the country against each other, something he believed was once again happening with the present government.
“I see Shaheem as a just a little cog inserted into the larger machine of Gayoom’s political control,” he said.