Raajje TV arsonists caught on CCTV without masks

New CCTV footage of the arson attack that destroyed opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV’s offices shows several of the six arsonists without masks, and implicates an additional six men in the arson attack.

CCTV footage aired by Raajje TV on Sunday (October 13) shows the six assailants who set fire to Raajje TV parking in front of the station’s headquarters. The men arrive on motorbikes with masks. However, one of them takes off his mask and then puts it back on before he enters the buildings.

The Maldives Police Services has also released CCTV footage showing two men donning masks on Ameer Ahmed Street, a few blocks away from Raajje TV offices, shortly before the fire at the station’s offices.

Raajje TV News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed told Minivan News he had received reports that police have arrested two men in the case. Police would not confirm arrests, but said they have begun a manhunt for the men caught on CCTV. Police have not released any information on the identity of the assailants.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have condemned the police for failure to defend the station despite Raajje TV’s repeated requests for police protection, and the forwarding of a specific threat the previous evening.

The station returned to air the same day on donated equipment and has begun broadcasting a report providing further details of the arson attack. According to the report, shortly before arsonists entered Raajje TV, an additional six masked men broke the glass front door of the Sri Lankan Airlines offices next door.

CCTV footage shows the six men using the elevators in the building to check the name boards on every single floor of the building. Meanwhile, people gather on the pavement outside and start to take photos of the broken glass.

Raajje TV believes the six men were trying to locate the station’s second studios.

“We believe [they] were attempting to torch both of Raajje TV’s studios. However, they were unable to torch the second studio because they could not locate it,” the station said.

Unable to find the Raajje TV offices, five of the six get on motorcycles and drive away, while the other gets into a car parked in front of the building, the station said.

Meanwhile, at Raajje TV’s offices, five men doused the station’s control room and live electronics in petrol as the sixth man held the security guard hostage. One of the masked attackers poured a trail of petrol out the door as the others retreated downstairs. He lit the trail, creating a fiery explosion that briefly engulfed him. He stumbled down the stairs, just as fireball inside in the office exploded the door of the station off its hinges. Further footage shows a massive explosion of fire in the control room of the station.

According to Raajje TV, after torching the offices the men beat the security guard, covered him in gasoline and left him on the ground floor of the building. Five of the six then get on motorbikes, accidentally leaving behind the man who was burnt in the explosion. One of the motorbikes comes back a few minutes later to retrieve him, Raajje TV alleged.

Crew on the airport ferry – docked opposite the station – told Raajje TV they had attempted to call the police since the doors of Sri Lankan Airlines offices was shattered, but police had not answered the 119 emergency number.

Other witnesses told Raajje TV they ran to a police vehicle parked 200 feet away from the station’s office on seeing the assailants leave. The police then took action, the source said.

Raajje TV believes a total of 12 men were involved in the attack. Of the 12, four went to Hulhumalé after the attack, four went to a picnic island in Meemu atoll, and four went to Ellaidhoo Island Resort, the station said.

Speaking to Minivan News, Raajje TV’s News Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed said the station had suffered over a million US dollars in damages, and is currently functioning on donated equipment. The station is still unable to cover live events.

“Our staff are our biggest asset, not the equipment that was burnt. They have to put in double the effort to produce news. I’m very proud of them,” Asward said.

Raajje TV has opened up a bank account for donations at Bank of Maldives (BML). Deposits can be made to BML Account no. 7704 700410 001. Asward said the station had received approximately US$10,000 in public donations as of today.

The station has alleged police and government involvement in the arson attack, namely Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Adheeb has denied the allegations and said they “politically motivated, biased, baseless claims.”

“Targeting political rivals will only impede efforts at finding the real culprits,” Adheeb told Minivan News.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 7 released a statement criticising what it called police failure to defend the station.

“This criminal act is a direct blow to freedom of information and we deplore the attitude of the police, who failed to do what was necessary to prevent the attack although the head of TV station requested protection a few hours before it took place,” the statement said.

Speaking to the press the following day, Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz said the police had been unable to station officers at Raajje TV as many were being utilised at the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests following a Supreme Court order to suspend presidential elections.

“Our human resources are too limited to have police stationed there. So we get the police to check the area when they are out on patrol,” he said.

Raajje TV has increasingly come under attack since the controversial transfer of February 7, 2012. The station’s reporters have been assaulted and arrested, while the station has suffered several sabotage attempts.

In July 2012, the police and the President’s Office had said it would not cooperate with the TV station, blocking the station from President’s Office’s press conferences and police protection at protests.The Civil Court has since ruled that the police and president’s office’s decisions to ostracize the station were unconstitutional.

In August 2012, critical cables in the station’s control room were cut, terminating the station’s broadcast. Several Raajje TV journalists have also reported arbitrary arrests and assaults. In February 2013, men wielding iron rods on motorbikes assaulted Asward leaving him with near near-fatal head injuries.

According to Raajje TV, the station has an audience of at least 95,000 people, one of the largest shares of Maldivian media.

New CCTV footage Raajje TV aired of the assailant’s arrival at the building

CCTV footage aired by the Maldives Police Services

Raajje TV report on arson attack (In Dhivehi)

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Artur brothers “direct threat to national security”: MP Fahmy

Parliament passed an extraordinary motion today (April 2) expressing concern that cabinet ministers’ connections to the Artur brothers posed a “direct threat to national security”.

Police meanwhile revealed they became aware of the Artur brothers presence in the Maldives in January, and launched an investigation to determine if they had been conducting any illegal activities in the country.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News police had contacted “relevant government authorities” in January to inform them of the Artur brothers’ links to drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets, dealings with senior government officials and other serious crimes in Kenya.

He was reluctant to share any further details given that “this is still an open case under investigation”.

Minivan News understands that relevant authorities, including the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Ministry of Home Affairs, and the President’s Office were officially informed in January of the presence of the Artur brothers, even as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb signed a letter seeking residency permits for the pair.

Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali told local media that Artur Sargasyan left the Maldives on Sunday (March 31). Sargasyan first entered the Maldives on a tourist visa in August 2012 and returned again in October, Ali said. Sargasyan’s associate is still in the Maldives at a resort in Male’ Atoll, Ali told local media.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adheeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim emerged on social media over the weekend, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumale’ between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adheeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Meanwhile the Artur’s US$6000 bill at the Club Faru resort – recently taken over by the government-owned Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) – was paid by a ”top official of the resort management”, according to Haveeru.

Picking up the story today, Kenyan media reported that the brothers’ practice of publicly ingratiating themselves with senior government officials appeared not to have changed.

“The Arturs’ mode of operation where they show up in the company of top and well-connected government leaders appears to have been replicated in the Maldives. Their presence in the Maldives comes days after ousted leader Mohammed Nasheed expressed fear over his life,” reported Kenya’s Daily Nation publication.

Parliament concerned about connections with cabinet ministers

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy submitted the motion to parliament to raise concerns about the Artur brothers’ presence in the country and their possible connections with Nazim and Adheeb.

“The Artur brothers are a direct threat to national security since they are – true to their old style and from the experiences of other countries – directly linked to the top government officials including Mr Mohamed Nazim who is both the Defense Minister and the acting Transport Minister, as well as Mr Ahmed Adheeb who is the Tourism Minister,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

“These are the most crucial government ministries with which the Artur brothers are looking to have special links to achieve their objectives,” he contended.

Fahmy said the Artur brothers were believed to have carried out “all sorts of serious illegal activities internationally” and that the Maldives “is incapable of handling these notorious conmen from Armenia. They are capable of taking local criminal gangs to different heights.”

Fahmy explained that immigration laws do not permit entry into the Maldives if the visitor is “even suspected” of being involved in human smuggling or trafficking; may be [considered] a national threat, or otherwise may commit crimes against the state.”

“Given all these facts – and that the Artur brothers are  world-infamous for carrying out criminal activities of this sort – they were allowed into the country and seen publicly with top government officials,” Fahmy added, alleging that the pair have three meetings with Adheeb and Nazim on Hulhumale’ and on Club Faru.

National security concerns politicised

While the extraordinary motion passed with 27 votes in favour to 10 against,  most MPs from non-MDP parties “were not in favor of this serious issue”, Fahmy claimed.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security will “seriously look into the matter”, however because it is not an MDP-majority committee, Fahmy believes said it would not be easy for the opposition to hold Nazim and Adheeb accountable.

“You could see how much the Artur brothers have penetrated into the parliament from the number of no votes for this motion today,” he claimed.

During today’s parliamentary debate the MDP was accused of being connected with the Artur brothers by MPs, who claimed the Maldivian shareholder in a company registered by the brothers was affiliated with the party.

Ismail Waseem of H. Ever Chance was listed as holding a 3 percent share in ‘Artur Brothers World Connections’, registered in the Maldives in October 2012.

Waseem’s share was subsequently transferred to Abdulla Shaffath of H. Ever Peace on November 25.

“No member holding a position in the party has anything to do with the Artur brothers,” Fahmy claimed. “Instead President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik, or his top government officials, are known to have been directly involved with them. It is this coup-government that has brought those conmen into this country,” Fahmy said.

Today’s parliamentary session was prolonged for an additional hour due to the extraordinary motion submitted.

Denials

Defense Minister Nazim and Tourism Minister Adheeb have meanwhile denied any involvement with infamous pair of Armenian brothers.

“I came to know about them after the rumours started spreading on social media networks. But no country had informed of us anything officially,” local media reported Nazim as saying.

“To my knowledge those two men have left the Maldives,” he said.

Adheeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the Piston Cup event, but bemoaned to Haveeru how “information about this issue is being spread by the media rather negatively. I have no links with them.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Adheeb reiterated that he had no personal links with the Artur brothers, whom he said had now left the country on his recommendation.

According to Adheeb, the Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Adheeb said he “advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left.”

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