Six Maldivians reported as latest to travel for jihad, taking one-year-old infant

A group of six Maldivians have travelled to Turkey to join the Syrian civil war, local media have reported.

The six Maldivians include three men, two women and a one-year-old infant, Haveeru, Sun, Vaguthu and CNM have reported. The six reportedly left the Maldives in December.

A police spokesperson said the case is under investigation.

Last month, Home Minister Umar Naseer reported that there are more than seven Maldivians fighting in foreign civil wars.

In November, a jihadist media group called Bilad Al Sham Media – which describes itself as ‘Maldivians in Syria’ – revealed that a fifth Maldivian had died in Syria.

Earlier that 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 travelling to militant organisation Islamic State-held (IS) territories.

Naseer told the People’s Majlis that police were monitoring persons with extremist religious views and were constantly watching alleged recruitment efforts. He insisted 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.

The police have stopped individuals attempting to leave the Maldives with the intention of joining civil wars through court orders.

“And the passports of some people have been withheld for a period determined by the court,” he continued, adding that Maldivian jihadis have also been brought back to the country with help from foreign law enforcement agencies.

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, said the minister.

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, he said, while a strategic action plan is also being implemented to combat religious extremism, which involves 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.

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.”

Related to this story

More than seven Maldivians fighting in foreign civil wars, reveals home minister

Islamic minister defends government policy on extremism

Police detain Maldivian jihadis caught in Sri Lanka

Police arrest Imam of unauthorised independent prayer congregation

Islamic Minister advises Maldivians against participating in foreign wars


Police detain Maldivian jihadis caught in Sri Lanka

Police have confirmed that three Maldivians have been arrested in Sri Lanka after being discovered attempting to travel to fight in the Syrian civil war.

Two men, aged 25 and 23-years-old, and a woman aged 18-years-old, have been returned to the Maldives after being detained by Sri Lankan police on November 4.

The three – all from the same, unnamed, island – travelled to Sri Lanka on one-way tickets and were arrested as a result of a tip off from Maldivian police. They told Sri Lankan authorities that they were travelling to Turkey for medical purposes.

Today’s news is the latest in a series of reports of Maldivians journeying to ISIS-held territories for the purpose of Jihad. Reports of Maldivians being killed while fighting in Syria first emerged in March this year, with the latest reports involving married couples and even a family of four all heading to the Islamic state.

A UN report obtained by the UK’s Guardian newspaper last week, noted that foreign jihadists were now travelling to Syria and Iraq on “an unprecedented scale”.

15,000 people were reported to have travelled to the region from more than 80 countries. Although the report did not name the countries, the Guardian mentioned the Maldives as one of the “unlikely” places from which ISIS supporters have emerged.

The UK government last month said it was aware of ISIS supporters in the Maldives. The leaked UN report noted that more than 500 British citizens had travelled to the region since 2011.

A protest march took place in the Maldives capital, Malé, in September, with around 200 participants bearing the ISIS flag and calling for the implementation of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.

The surge in support for the ISIS –  the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – has led nations around the world to seek measures to prevent their citizens being recruited to the organisation which is accused of mass atrocities and war crimes by the UN.

Maldivian police told Minivan News today that they were unable to say if, and on what charges, the individuals were to be prosecuted. The President’s Office explained that, while the issue should not be seen as purely Maldivian problem, all Maldivian citizens are bound by the country’s laws, regardless of where they are.

Police today appealed to the public to report any incidences of people going to jihad, assuring that reports will be made confidential and informers protected.

Today’s police statement reported that the woman arrested on Tuesday had married one of her fellow detainees out of court in March this year, when she was aged just 17-years-old.

The Family Court announced in April that it will not register marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement, noting that this contravened the Family Act.

Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.

Government ministers have advised Maldivians against travelling abroad for jihad, with Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed saying that those seeking to take part in the conflict must not be punished, but offered rehabilitation and guidance.

Although President Abdulla Yameen has yet to speak publicly on the issue, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon has condemned ISIS for violating the principles of Islam.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has meanwhile criticised the authorities’ response to the issue, with former President Mohamed Nasheed suggesting that President Yameen could do more to counter the growing threat of extremism.

“President Yameen feels he can deal with the Islamist threat later but first he wants to consolidate power,” Nasheed told the UK’s Independent newspaper in September.

“He has the Islamists with him and he can’t do away with them. He would deny that but I don’t see the government taking any measures against the Isis flag being displayed on the street and all the indoctrination going on.”


Turkish training will strengthen police, says Commissioner Riyaz

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has hailed a new agreement between the Turkish Government and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) as providing the means to strengthen the institution.

Returning from an official trip to Turkey last week, Riyaz posted a video statement online revealing the full details of the memorandum of understanding with Turkish police.

“They have agreed to give us 5 slots in a degree programme in a security studies course, as well as 2 slots in a masters programme, scheduled to start in their Police Academy next month,” he explained.

The police commissioner also revealed that the MPS will, in future, be offered instruction in policing corruption, drugs, and serious organised crime.

“We have also asked for assistance with obtaining police electronics, computers, vehicles and infrastructure. They appeared positive and said they will respond to proposals on a case by case, project by project basis,” he continued.

The Turkish government has reportedly been offering similar training and assistance to a number of countries this year, including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Albania, Mongolia, Palestine, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan.

Riyaz’s announcement of the deal’s specifics follows criticisms by former President Mohamed Nasheed over what he believes is a lack of police reform following the publication of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report last year.

Speaking at the opening of a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) campaign outlet in Male’ yesterday (August 19), Nasheed reportedly told supporters that he had failed to see any police reform, despite his acceptance of the CoNI report being based solely on this feature.

The report, designed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Nasheed’s controversial resignation on February 7, 2012, urged changes to the country’s judiciary, legislature, certain independent institutions, and the police service.

Nasheed and the ousted MDP have maintained that the former president’s resignation took place under duress during a police and military mutiny, and that the ensuing government of Dr Mohamed Waheed is illegitimate.

Whilst ruling the transfer of power not to have been a coup, the commission recommended “immediate steps be taken to provide assistance and encouragement…with a view to their increased effectiveness and general performance in the service of the common good and public interest.”

Commissioner Riyaz, appointed immediately after Nasheed’s controversial resignation, has been condemned by the MDP for his alleged role in the former president’s exit from office.

Despite his misgivings over the police’s progress towards addressing the CoNI report’s recommendations, Nasheed struck a conciliatory tone towards police, urging cooperation from his supporters.

“During this period, I urge all members of this party to smile at police officers, to care for them, to cooperate with them and trust them,” he said.

Local media also reported Nasheed as expressing his wish to address each police officer individually in his attempts to press ahead with reforming the institution.

“I believe that Maldives cannot have stability without reforming the police service,” said Nasheed.

Riyaz last month said he would not follow any unconstitutional orders, following a leaked document purported to be the MDP’s plans for introducing decentralised security services in the event of victory in next month’s presidential poll. The document was disowned by Nasheed’s party.


Maldives police sign MOU with Turkish counterparts

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Turkish National Police during his official visit to Turkey.

Alongside Director General of the Turkish National Police, Mehmet Kiliclar, Riyaz signed the Security Cooperation Agreement in order to strengthen the institutional relationship between Turkey and the Maldives.

“The Security Cooperation Agreement will provide important training opportunities for officers of the Maldives Police Service in diverse areas including the combating of transnational organised crime, human trafficking and narcotics abuse and trafficking,” read a statement on the Maldives Police Service (MPS) website.

Writing from Ankara on his personal Twitter feed, Riyaz also mentioned a meeting with the Turkish International Academy against Drugs & Organised Crime, stating that the organisation has assured the MPS support and assistance.

The MPS delegation will be in Turkey until Saturday.


MMPRC targets Turkish tourism potential at regional travel fair

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) last week participated in the 2013 Eastern Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Fair (EMITT) as part of attempts to boost the destination’s reputation in emerging markets like Turkey.

Some 27 representatives from the country’s tourism industry took part in the event, which ran from January 24 to January 27, according to the MMPRC.

Despite having attended the show on numerous occasions before, the promotion board stated that huge growth potential was anticipated in the number of tourists from Turkey coming to the country – particularly with Turkish Airlines recently commencing five weekly services between Istanbul and Male’.

Citing official Tourism Ministry figures, the MMPRC said that 5,416 visitors from Turkey arrived in the Maldives during 2012, a 19.2 percent when compared to the same period the previous year

In December 2012 alone, the official figures indicated 802 Turkish nationals had travelled to the country, a 188.5 percent boost over the same period in 2011. Despite this growth, Turkey was found to account for 0.6 percent of the country’s tourism market in 2012.


Government seeking $150 million loan for Male’ – Hulhule’ bridge

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has said the government is seeking a $150 million loan for the construction of a bridge between the islands of Male’ and Hulhule’, local media has reported.

Jihad was reported as saying that he will be travelling to Turkey, along with Housing Minister Dr Ahmed Muizzu and senior Finance Ministry officials to continue discussions with Turkey’s Exim bank to obtain the loan.

“We are presently in discussion with Turkey’s Exim bank to obtain a $150 million loan for this project. The decision has been made to travel to Turkey for this purpose, but the loan is not yet confirmed,” Jihad was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

“This is a very important project. We have detailed plans, which we will present to them.”

According to local media, the decision to build the bridge was made in December 2011 in order to find a solution to the problem of congestion in Male’.


Turkish Airlines to fly to Maldives

Turkish Airlines has announced the launch of a scheduled service to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) from November 24, 2012.

The Airbus A330 will serve Male’ five times weekly, connecting the Maldives to the airline’s hub at Istanbul Ataturk airport.

CEO of GMR Male International Airport, Andrew Harrison, said service was the first ever between the two countries.

“Turkish Airlines gives our tourists, business travelers and cargo options for connectivity to Male’ from all over the world via Turkish Airlines extremely well connected hub at Istanbul. This is very good news for tourism in both countries and we are pleased that passengers travelling with Turkish Airlines to the Maldives will be able to experience the true essence of Maldivian hospitality and the natural beauty of this amazing country,” Harrison said.

“The launch of scheduled services also means that Maldivians can take advantage of direct flights to Turkey and beyond on Turkish Airlines and other Star Alliance partners.”


Turkish navy talks piracy challenges during inaugural Maldives visit

The Turkish navy concluded its first ever official visit to the Maldives last week during a patrol of the Indian Ocean it is conducting as part of a NATO-led anti-piracy initiative to try and deter potential attacks in and around the region’s territorial waters.

A spokesperson said that the three day visit by the naval ship TCG Giresun to the Maldives, which concluded on May 3, was not linked to any specific threat or incident of piracy within the country’s territorial waters.

He said it was instead linked to a wider NATO programme targeting concerns about pirate attacks spreading beyond the horn of Africa into territories around the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

“We are trying to promote understanding to fight piracy, so one way to do this is to visit ports like Male’,” said the spokesperson. “The attacks of the pirates have widened into the Indian Ocean with one of the last incidents occurring approximately 250 nautical miles away from the shores of Male’, so NATO has widened the number of ports we are to visit to include Indian Ocean destinations like Mumbai and Male’.

Experts suggest that a growing number of Somali pirates are moving deeper into the Indian Ocean as they come under increased pressure from international task-forces designed to try and limit piracy around the horn of Africa. As a result of this movement, maritime security has become a notable security concern for the Maldives, even around the country’s secluded resort properties.

In March this year, a family were suspected of being kidnapped by Somali pirates after having set sail from the Maldives towards the Arabian sea, although the kidnapping was confirmed by security officials to have occurred outside of Maldivian waters.

Major Abdul Raheem of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) said at the time that security officials in the country had not received any information concerning the kidnappings or any other kind of “terrorist activities” occurring recently within the territorial waters of the Maldives.

Raheem added that Maldivian authorities would not therefore be reviewing maritime security measures or safety advice for sailing sailing in and out of the country on top of measures and international cooperation already in place during the alleged kidnappings.

The Turkish navy says that during 2011 alone, it plans to send between three to four frigates to patrol the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea as part of its commitments to try and protect Turkish and international merchant vessels from potential pirate attacks.

“We plan to conduct operations to protect merchant vessels,” said a spokesperson for the TCG Giresun. “During this deployment we will visit Aksaz Aqaba, Jidde, Al Hudeyde, Doha, Dubai, Mascat, Karachi and Mumbai.”

In previous patrols conducted by the TCG Giresun in the Gulf of Aden, the Turkish navy spokesperson claimed that the ship’s crew had apprehended 14 suspected pirates and a stash of weapons on a Yemeni dhow vessel along with seven local fishermen that were also being held on the ship.

In instances where suspected pirates were caught, the navy spokesperson said that the Turkish authorities were not able to try or incarcerate any of the individuals themselves.

“They are not our captives as we are operating under United Nations resolutions and currently there is not an established court to judge [alleged] pirates that have been captured. So we attempt to disrupt and deter them [from piracy], we take their weapons and drop the equipment into the sea,” he said.

“We take all their equipments and then return [the suspects] to the Somali coast. Some countries have special [legislative] agreements, such as Kenya and the Seychelles. These agreements relate only between [these nations] and not internationally, so they capture the alleged pirates and then take them to Kenya or to the Seychelles to be judged.”

The spokesperson claimed that a present a number of suspected pirates from Somalia were currently being returned to their native coast.

To try and counteract the challenges of detaining suspected pirates, the UN security council last month voted in favour of forming an international court – supported by a host of potential new laws – that would focus specifically on working to combat the spread of piracy.


Lale School teacher and deputy flee Maldives

The Deputy Principal of Lale Youth International School Suleiman Atayev has fled the country, along with the computer studies teacher Yunus Yildiz.

Both staff members left seperately on flights on Sunday and Monday evening, and did not inform the school they were leaving.

Managing Director of Biz Atoll Abdulla Jameel, the Maldivian company responsible for the school which operates it under agreement with a group of Turkish businessmen after acquiring it from the former government, confirmed the unannounced departure of the two staff members.

“It is true. We have no idea why they left. We recently brought some changes to management and demoted the deputy principal [Atayev] to a teacher. I have no idea why the computer teacher left,” he said.

Minivan News understands that the pair were also implicated as suspects in the assault case facing Akar, after school staff testified against him.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said while Akar’s case was before court, there was “no specific evidence” to hold the two other staff members in the Maldives.

Akar’s passport was confiscated by police at immigration when he attempted to flee the country in May, shortly after Minivan News published an investigative report containing allegations by parents and staff members against him. He attempted to flee a second time and was detained in police custody.

An assistant principal also fled the country in January after Minivan first published allegations of child abuse raised by parents.

Atayev, who announced himself acting principal following Serkan’s detention by police, previously told Minivan News he was confident charges against the former principal would be proven false.

He was also very critical of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) investigation into the school: “They are refusing to tell us the nature of the complaints they are investigating. They are supposed be about human rights but they are not respecting ours,” he told Minivan News in May.

Shiyam said today that police were aware that the HRCM report “contains a lot of information against the school.”

“It has been a difficult investigation for us because of [a lack] of people coming forward to give evidence. We are still investigating,” he said.

Among nearly 50 recommendations, HRCM’s report recommended “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”

HRCM also recommended that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Biz Atoll, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.”

Deputy Education Minister Shifa Mohamed said the Education Ministry was under the impression that Suleiman Atayev was still the school’s acting principal, however Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer said the Ministry was not required to be aware of the “hiring or firing of staff by school management.”

“I understand two deputy principals have been terminated – one local, the other expat,” he said.

Jameel confirmed that Turkish national Mohamed Akis Erdogan has taken over as principal of Lale, while Maldivian Moosa Rasheed has been appointed as deputy principal.

“The school is much better now,” he promised.

Dr Nazeer said he had met Erdogan on several occasions and had found him to be “educated and academic”.

“He has an undergraduate degree, a masters and a teaching diploma,” Dr Nazeer said, “the type of qualifications we require for the position of a principal.”

He said he was unable to comment on the validity of Erdogan’s qualifications, and had requested Biz Atoll validate them with the Maldives Accreditation Board (MAB).

He would not comment on whether the departure of so many senior staff members this year raised questions about Biz Atoll’s hiring practices, but noted that “when the school was given to Biz Atoll, I am not sure the previous government made the financial and other checks that needed to be done before handing over a school. Now, based on our criteria for public-private partnerships, I wouldn’t say these requirements had been checked.”

The Ministry was constrained by the “relatively simple contract, which had no minimum standards or a termination clause,” he said. “The Ministry has now amended the contract [to include these].”

The contract, together with the HRCM report, have been forward to the Attorney General’s office by the Education Ministry, which expects to receive an answer by next week as to whether the government can withdraw the school from Biz Atoll.

Minivan News investigated the school in May, after parents and staff members aired concerns that the school was a ‘cardboard’ front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, whereby Turkish businesses would allegedly make tax-free charitable donations through the company funding the schools in tax-friendly countries, and reclaim the funds through disproportionately high wages paid to local staff ‘in’ on the scheme.

One staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff, while a parent claimed to have spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that his business donated money to the school because under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.

Another teacher told Minivan News that “Turkish teachers escort Turkish businessmen around the school on a weekly basis, and regularly make trips to Turkey. We certainly couldn’t afford to go to Turkey on our salaries, and this is a school that can’t even afford clocks or light bulbs.”

“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested.

The school, which was provided to Biz Atoll free by the government, reportedly receives 50 percent of its funding from a group of Turkish businessmen who pour charity funds into schools in several developing countries, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia. Minivan News understands the new principal has arrived from a school belonging to the group in India.

Overshadowing repeated controversies over the school’s management is the issue of capacity. The school, which Minivan News understands was built to accommodate almost 1000 grade school students, currently has an enrolment of 98, not including the preschool.

“That is a major concern for us and we have raised it three or four times,” Dr Nazeer said. The government intends to build many homes and flats in Hulhumale and if every flat has 2-3 kids, we anticipate that the population of children [on the island] will double or even triple. So we need to better utilise the schools [on Hulhumale].”