More than seven Maldivians are currently fighting in foreign civil wars, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer revealed at the People’s Majlis today.
Responding to a query during minister’s question time from former police commissioner and Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz about the ministry’s efforts to prevent Maldivians joining civil wars in foreign nations, Naseer said police were monitoring persons with extremist religious views.
“In such cases, persons attempting to leave abroad with the intention of joining civil wars have been stopped with court orders and prohibited from leaving,” he said.
“And the passports of some people have been withheld for a period determined by the court.”
Maldivian jihadis have also been brought back to the country with help from foreign law enforcement agencies, he added.
However, police faced difficulties in proving guilt at court of persons intending to join foreign civil wars, he continued, suggesting that the evidentiary standard should be lowered for terrorism cases.
Police were also working with the Islamic ministry to provide religious counselling and advice to discourage Maldivians from flying overseas to fight in civil wars, Naseer said.
Efforts were meanwhile underway to establish an efficient mechanism for taking action based on intelligence information, Naseer said.
While neighbouring countries provide assistance in returning Maldivians intending to travel for jihad, Naseer said the government was unable to bring back Maldivians who have made their way into Syria.
The government is studying a recently-approved UN security council resolution on foreign terrorist fighters, Naseer said, and would comply with obligations.
A strategic action plan is also being implemented to combat religious extremism, he added, which involved prevention of radical views in public schools.
Asked about efforts to prevent recruitment in the country, Naseer said the government has banned independent prayer congregations across the country.
Naseer denied claims by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik that Maldivian students who went to Sudan through the Islamic ministry in 2012 are involved in violent conflicts.
He also denied MDP MP Abdul Bari Abdulla’s allegation that government ministers were involved in a “network” for recruiting Maldivian jihadis with help from foreign terrorist organisations.
Police intelligence officers were constantly monitoring alleged recruitment efforts, Naseer said, insisting that foreign terrorist organisations or religious extremists would not be able to interfere in domestic affairs.
“The number of Maldivians participating in foreign wars would be proportionately much lower than large European nations,” he said.
Last month, a jihadist media group called Bilad al-Sham – which describes itself as ‘Maldivians in Syria’ – revealed that a fifth Maldivian had died in Syria.
Earlier in the month, Sri Lankan police detained three Maldivians who were allegedly preparing to travel to Syria through Turkey.
The three – two men aged 23 and 25, and a woman aged 18 – were from the island of Madduvari in Raa atoll and were released from custody upon being brought back to the Maldives.
The incident followed reports of a couple from Fuvahmulah and a family of four from Meedhoo in Raa atoll traveling to militant organisation Islamic State-held (IS) territories to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq.
A UN report obtained by the UK’s Guardian newspaper earlier this month observed that foreign jihadists were now travelling to Syria and Iraq on “an unprecedented scale”.
The report mentioned the Maldives as one of the “unlikely” places from which IS supporters have emerged.
Meanwhile, a protest march took place in the capital, Malé, in September, with around 200 participants bearing the IS flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.
In late August, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon issued a press statement condemning “the crimes committed against innocent civilians by the organisation which identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Dunya’s remarks followed Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the ISIS would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.
“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on August 24.
Shaheem had also appealed for Maldivians to refrain from participating in foreign wars and has recently defended the government’s record on extremism before the Majlis.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however, promptly put out a statement questioning Shaheem’s sincerity, suggesting that the words had not been backed up with concrete action by the government.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has claimed that up to 200 Maldivians are on jihad, alleging that a vast majority of them are ex-military – a claim vehemently denied by the security services.
“Radical Islam is getting very very strong in the Maldives, their strength in the military and in the police is very significant. They have people in strategic positions within both,” Nasheed said in an interview with UK’s Independent newspaper.
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