Maldivian militant killed in Syrian suicide attack, claims online jihadist group

A Maldivian fighting in the Syrian civil war was killed today in a suicide attack against soldiers loyal to Bashar Al Assad, online Jihadist groups have claimed.

According to these sources the Maldivian man was identified as 44-year-old Abu Turab – a man reported to have a wife and children in the Maldives.

One picture posted by the group allegedly shows the man bidding farewell to other militants on top of a tanker which the group claims was loaded with 6 tons of explosives about to be driven into a target, killing all those inside.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) spokesperson said they were unaware of such an incident or of any Maldivians leaving to fight in Syria.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs said it has not had any such reports while the Maldives Police Service stated that such issues are handled by the MNDF until individuals are brought to the Maldives.

A second picture posted today shows the man identified as a Maldivian sitting around a gun with three other armed militants from America, Syria, and Central Asia.

According to online jihadi groups, Abu Turab was killed in a joint operation by Jabhat Al Nusra (with whom Turab was operating) and the Islamic Front, targeting soldiers loyal to Bashar Al Assad on Mount Arbain in the northwestern city of Edlib.

Abu Turab’s vehicle was one of four vehicles packed with explosives that was used in today’s attack.

The news was first broken on twitter by a group called Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) stating that a Maldivian had been “martyred in Syria in a martyrdom attack against the Nusayri [Shiah] soldiers of Bashar”.

According to the group, the Maldivian bomber entered Syria after a “long tiring journey” but remained fasting and spent months in the mountains before the attack. Turab, they said, asked a preacher named Sheikh Abu Burhan al-Suri to pray for him, upon which the Sheikh said he was no longer in need of such prayers.

BASM tweets were responded to by Sheikh Abu Sulayman al-Australi (an Australian preacher) who said that “Maldivians are some of the most courageous & well-mannered Mujahideen”.

According to BASM, Abu Sulayman is a member of the shariah council of Jabhat Al Nusra (Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Syria).

Within few hours the message was posted across local Islamist groups on the internet.

“Those who cheered their nation in that useless football tournament, will you not cheer the man from your nation who has just a few hours ago has been martyred in Syria blowing himself up in middle of the soldiers of Bashar?” A post in one Facebook group with nearly 3,400 members stated.

Turab’s final words, according to the group, were; “If one understands the true nature of this life, he would not feel happy to let out a single breathe except that he thanks Allah for it,” and “People really need to correct things, especially useless speaking.”

Maldivians in Syria

In October 2013 local media reported that two Maldivian men, aged 25 and 35 years, were apprehended from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on suspicion that they were leaving to join the Syrian civil war.

In a document published on their blog, BASM stated the members of their group had traveled to Syria through a transit country from numerous points of origin, noting that some of them were university students.

Their hope, according the document, is to establish an Islamic state which would ultimately “liberate the Islamic world” and establish the global Islamic caliphate.

“When we first came, we were met by an Islamic battalion of FSA [Free Syrian Army] who were guarding the borders and then we had to stay with them for a few days before we were able to move away from them to Ahrar al-Sham and after about a half month, we were able to move to our most desired group Al-Qaida of Sham, Jabhat a-Nusra which we found to be the best group in Syria and closest to the Salafi methodology,”  read the document.

This was reflected in their tweets which were critical of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) who disassociated themselves with Jabhat al Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) and have since fought each other frequently.

Minivan News has learned that BASM is a small but organised group with members situated in both Syria and the Maldives.

While no intent have so far been revealed of attacking local targets, BASM has criticised President Abdulla Yameen, describing his presidential win as “a victory for Jahiliyya [ignorance] over Jahiliyya” and has condemned the Maldives National Defence Force (MDNF) as “fighters in the devil’s path”.

They also criticised Shiah Muslims and claimed there are Maldivian Shiah Muslims whose growth should be “chopped off from its roots before it spreads”. Pamphlets against Alawites and Shiah Muslims have been distributed at local mosques.

BASM has also uploaded a number of religious lectures and songs to their Youtube page including ones from Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri and Maldivian members who are said to be fighting in Syria.

One video titled ‘The obligation of Jihad’ shows a masked man dressed in black holding a rifle preaching in the Dhivehi language. In the video, he says Muslim lands are being occupied and ruled by unbelievers from within and without, and any man who refuses to go to fight in such a situation will be punished in hell.

“The Maldives is even today being ruled by unbelievers, and if they are unbelievers we have to wage war against them,” says the preacher in the video – uploaded in December 2013.

Earlier this month Sri Lankan terrorism expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna suggested there were terror cells in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India which are a “severe threat” to the South Asia region.

He also claimed that a Sri Lankan national Zakir Hussein who was recently arrested in India was planning to target locations in the Maldives.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile claimed there is a prevalence of extremist ideologies within the Maldives security forces.


Maldives celebrates Ramazan with food, festivities, fasting, prayer

The Maldives has seen a flurry of activities in the lead up to the holy month of Ramadan, which began today (July 9) in the tropical island nation, with festivities and devout worship to continue throughout the month.

Ramadan marks month in which the Quran was revealed to mankind, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam and represents a form of worship to Allah.

During Ramadan, or Ramazan as the holy month is referred to in the Maldives, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

Maldivians throughout the 100 percent Sunni Muslim nation will abstain from eating, drinking and sexual activity from dawn until sunset throughout ‘roadha mas’ (fasting month).

The rituals during this holy month are intended remind those who follow Islam of their duty as a Muslim, by keeping them away from worldly temptations to tame the mind and instill determination.

Extensive cleaning, home repairs, as well as shopping for foodstuffs and other household supplies are common practice in preparation for Ramazan throughout the Maldives, as is hosting banquet celebrations, traditionally referred to as ‘maahefun’ parties, to welcome the coming of Ramazan and symbolically celebrate eating the last meal before ‘roadha mas’.

Family, friends, and neighbors come together to enjoy traditional food and music, while many celebrations have ‘boduberu’ performances, a combination of traditional singing, dancing and rhythmic drumming considered one of the most high-profile examples of Maldivian culture.

Maahefun block parties have been ongoing throughout Male’ neighborhoods, particularly over the last week, in addition to events hosted by political parties, businesses, schools and government offices.

Since the exact date Ramazan begins is derived each year from phases of the moon, moving backwards an average of 10 days every year, last night (July 8 ) the Islamic Affairs Ministry held a small conference to confirm the sighting of the new moon.

During a ceremony following the meeting, the Islamic Affairs Ministry declared that today (July 9) would mark the beginning of Ramazan in the Maldives, as well as some other Muslim countries where the new moon had been sighted.

Now that Ramazan has officially begun the flurry of parties and preparations have given way to calm and quiet during the day, particularly in Male’ where there is a noticeable lack of people on the roads in the typically overcrowded capital.

Working hours have been reduced to between 9:00am to 1:30pm, as per previous years, while cafes and restaurants have been permitted to remain open until 3:00am. In previous years, many eateries and other businesses were open 24 hours, however in October 2012, the Ministry of Economic Development revoked the 24 hour licensing permits issued to businesses across the country, citing concerns over national security.

The pace of daily life has slowed to accommodate the difficulties that arise from not eating or drinking, which can be quite challenging given the tropical equatorial climate in the Maldives.

Mosques are brimming with worshipers – in some cases they are overflowing with people who can be seen praying in the street – during the five regular prayer times which fall around 5am (fajr), 12pm (dhuhr), 3:30pm (asr), 6pm (maghrib), and 7pm (isha).

There is also an special tarawih (night prayer) that takes place during Ramazan; while the exact prayer time varies it always follows isha prayers.

Another optional prayer time in the middle of the night, around 2am, is referred to as ‘dhamu namaadhu’ (midnight prayer) in the Maldives. While it takes place throughout the year, there are more attendees during this holy month.

One of the most significant aspects of Ramazan is Laylat al-Qadr, the anniversary of the night the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, which falls on one of the last nights of roadha mas although the exact date is unknown. It is believed that an individual who prays with devout sincerity on this day will have all their past sins forgiven.

The spiritual oneness of island communities in the Maldives is palpable during Ramazan, especially when most of the community comes together to pray in the quiet, peaceful hours of the night, while the Imam’s Quran recitation can be heard echoing on the breeze.

While the religious significance and ritual practice of Ramazan makes this an extremely important month for Maldivians – and Muslims worldwide – it is also very festive.

Maldivians break fast as soon as the call to magrib prayers is heard in the evening, eating delicious traditional foods during ‘roadha villun’ (fast breaking). Dates and fresh juice – watermelon and young coconut are particularly popular – are followed by sweet and savory ‘hedhika’ (short eats).

Although the hedhika varies by household, a surprising variety of dishes can be derived from the basic ingredients of tuna, shredded coconut, chilies, onions, and flour. ‘Haaru’ (supper) is also taken sometime in the middle of the night, with many traditional dishes served during Ramazan.

This year a Male’ City Ramadan Fresh Market consisting of 24 stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables is being held in the capital’s Henviru ward, near the Artificial Beach. The market will be open daily from 8am until 1am until the end of the Eid holidays in mid-August.

Unfortunately, the increased demand during Ramazan also drives up food prices throughout the country each year.

The sundown to sunrise festivities are not limited to food. There is also an increase in evening sports events, such as football tournaments, as well as entertainment programs on TV, like the popular boduberu challenge that has been broadcast annually in recent years.

Given the importance of the holiday, President Mohamed Waheed issued a Ramazan greeting to the nation, noting that the holy month was an occasion to strengthen communal relations and an opportunity to restore peace and order in the society.


Blog crack-down “is just the beginning”, warns censored blogger

The website of controversial Maldivian blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed has been shut down by Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) on the order of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry made the request on the grounds that the site contained anti-Islamic material, a CAM statement read.

CAM Director Abdulla Nafeeg Pasha told Minivan News the Islamic Ministry has the power to regulate website content.

Pasha did not wish to comment on the procedures for closing down a website, but said “if the ministry tells us to shut it down, that’s what we do. We do not make the decision.”

Once closed, Pasha explained, a website can only be re-opened by order of the court.

Islamic Minister Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari had not returned calls at time of press, and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry Mohamed Didi had not responded to enquiries.

In a statement issued today Hilath defended his blog as an expression of his Sufi Muslim identity.

“I am a Sufi Muslim and there is nothing on my website that contradicts Sufi Islam. I suspect my website was reported by intolerant Sunni Muslims and Wahhabis,” he claimed.

Under the Maldivian constitution every Maldivian is a Sunni Muslim. The constitution also provides for freedom of expression, with Article 27 reading “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

New regulations published by the government in September, enforcing the 1994 Religious Unity Act, bans the media from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio “that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

“This also includes the broadcasting of material (on other religions) produced by others and recording of such programs by the local broadcaster, and broadcasting such material by the unilateral decision of the local broadcaster,” the regulations stipulate. Under the Act, the penalty for violation is 2-5 years imprisonment.

Hilath claimed he was being censored for expressing his version of Islam, and called for more freedom of interpretation within the faith.

“I call upon all concerned to amend the clause in the constitution which requires all Maldivians to be Sunni Muslims only,” his statement read.

“‘Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,’ and ‘There is no compulsion in religion’,” he said, quoting Qur’an 109:6 and 2:256.

Hilath believes the block of his website has a political edge. “If Sunni Muslims are the conservatives, then the Sufi Muslims are the liberals,” he told Minivan News. “I think this is a conservative attack on the site. They think if you’re not a Sunni, you’re an unbeliever.”

Hilath said he would approach the issue from its constitutional roots. “If I want to unlock my blog I will have to go to court, where they will say I’m an unbeliever which is illegal. So I will have fight the larger issue of the constitution,” he said.

The label of ‘unbeliever’ was tantamount to ‘enemy of the state’, he said, adding that bloggers such as himself were afraid of the consequences of being labelled as such. Hilath is one of only a few Maldivian bloggers who write under their own names.

In January 2009 the Islamic Ministry shut down several blogs for allegedly publishing anti-Islamic material. The action closely followed then-newly elected President Mohamed Nasheed’s statement that the Maldives would be a haven of free expression.

Hilath said he was ashamed of the government’s maintenance of its original declaration for a liberal democracy. “I know the President said this was a liberal democracy, but I am ashamed that the Islamic Ministry has assumed so much power,” he said. “I call upon the president to address this issue.”

A 2009 review endorsed by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication defined freedom of expression in the digital age as dependent on “neutral” networks “in the sense that the flow of content should not be influenced by financial, cultural or political reasons.”

“In particular, in the case of filtering, the origin of filtering lists and the underlying criteria and processes should be publicly available,” read the report.

The report made three recommendations for the Maldives:

1) To stop blocking websites as was done in March 2009;

2) If blocking is necessary, it should only be pursued following a favorable court decision;

3) To foster open discussions on internet regulation among citizens, government members, NGOs and international parties.

To Hilath’s knowledge, this is the first time a websites has been blocked since January 2009. He believes his website is part of a “bigger conservative fight against the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party” and is only the beginning of a new wave of censorship.

“This time I think the conservatives behind the Islamic Ministry think they can put pressure on the government to see all these things as anti-Islamic, like with the SAARC monument issue. More blogs will probably be blocked. I think this is just the beginning.”

The opposition to Hilath’s blog “is a minority of the population, but it’s very vocal and active,” he said. By contrast the younger generation, which composes approximately half of the Maldives population, may take a different view, he claimed.

“The younger generation is educated and enlightened about religion and freedom and Islamic principles. I think the majority will support my move. But few feel free to speak out,” he said.

Mohamed Nazeef, President of Maldives Media  Council (MMC), said he was not familiar with the blog in question. However he said that the media – even bloggers – were subject to the society it served.

“Even when you talk about democracy there are ethics, and you have to respect the prevailing culture of the country and the needs of its people. Even in the name of freedom there are boundaries. That’s why we have a media code of ethics.”

When asked whether a citizen’s blog could arguably represent or oppose the greater good, Nazeef explained that a balance between people and the law was important.

“The constitution must be respected because people are under the constitution. Nobody is above the law. If you want to do something that is not allowed you have to properly amend the law.”


Bahrain declares martial law as Saudi troops clash with Shia protesters

The King of Bahrain has declared martial law in the Gulf state after allowing 1000 troops from Saudi Arabia into the country to quell an uprising of Shia demonstrators.

Violent demonstrations in tiny Shia-majority country, ruled by a US-backed Sunni-elite, yesterday saw four shot dead, including two protesters, one Bahrani policemen, and a Saudi soldier.

A further six protesters were declared dead after troops overran the demonstrators camp this morning. Observers also observed an armoured personal carrier on the scene with the flag of the UAE.

A doctor spoken to by the UK’s Guardian newspaper said that Saudi troops were preventing staff from leaving the hospital where he worked.

“They are shooting at us, they are shooting,” he said. “Get help, get the international community to help.”

Media reported protesters outside the hospital as chanting “with our blood and our souls we will fight the mercenaries.”

Bahrain’s opposition Shia Wefaq party yesterday issued a statement condemning the arrival of Saudi troops as an assault on the country’s sovereignty.

“We consider the entry of Saudi Arabia or other Gulf forces into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” the party said.

Iran, a majority Shia country, waded into the burgeoning conflict when foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi asked Bahrain not to harm the Shia demonstrators. In response, Bahrain withdrew its ambassador from Tehran in protest.

An Iranian MP, Kazem Jalali, described the Saudi interference as a “criminal” attempt by the US and Saudi Arabia to repress peaceful anti-government protests, pointing to the recent visit of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to he gulf nation.

There were further signs that the escalating crisis in the 200 year-old monarchy could reignite an ongoing Sunni-Shia feud in the region, after the militant Shia Hezbollah group in Lebanon said that military action against demonstrations would disrupt Bahrain’s already fragile society – 70 percent of the population are Shia, but are largely underrepresented in senior government and political positions.

“Military intervention and the use of violence against a peaceful and popular movement will only complicate matters and eliminate chances of finding a solution,” Hezbollah said.

The UK embassy in the Bahraini capital of Manama closed its doors, while the US – which has substantial military assets in the kingdom, including the US Fifth fleet – ruled out military action.

The UK has closed its embassy in Manama, while the EU and the US have said there is “no military solution” to the crisis. The US maintains its Fifth Fleet in Manama’s port and has significant intelligence interests in the kingdom.

The Formula One grand prix, due to be held in Bahrain this year, has been postponed.