Leaked cable from 2008 reveals US concerns about Maldivian national’s “unspecified links to al-Qaida”

United States diplomats expressed concern back in October 2008 regarding the activities of “al-Qaida associates” in the Maldives.

In a leaked cable prepared by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the US reveals that the Maldives Police Service investigated and monitored the activities of Yoosuf Izadhy, Easa Ali, and Hasnain Abdullah Hameedh, the former of whom was believed to be in contact with a militant group in Waziristan with “unspecified links to al-Qaida.”

“Izadhy was clandestinely working to recruit others into his organisation, specifically seeking individuals who had undergone basic terrorism training in Pakistan,” the cable read, adding that Izadhy “planned to create a terrorist group in the Maldives with the assistance of the Waziristan-based group.”

In addition, the cable said that “Hameedh was in close contact with a number of individuals who had undergone training in Pakistan, including individuals who were members of Jamaat-ul Muslimeen and completed basic and advanced training by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT) in Pakistan. They followed the ideology of Abu Easa.”

Izadhy was among the nine Maldivians that Defence Minister Ameen Faisal said in April 2009 were “arrested with weapons” near the Pakistani-Afghan border. Two men were arrested in Waziristan, the religiously conservative mountain region of northwest Pakistan.

In addition to Ali Shafeeq, 25, of R.Kandholhudhoo, who was arrested for alleged involvement in the Sultans Park bombing in 2007 but later cleared of all charges and released, those arrested included: Yoosuf Izadhy, 38, of M.Nicosia in Male’, Ahmed Ashraf, 31, of Hdh.Vaikaradhoo; Abdullah Sameer, 38, of Sh. Lhaimagu; Ali Faiz, 31, of Hdh.Vaikaradhoo; Moosa Yoosuf, 30, of L.Kalhaidhoo; Yoosuf Mohammed, 52, L.Kalhaidhoo; Mohammad Zuhree, 28, of Gdh. Dhaandhoo; and Arif Ahmed, whose details were unavailable.

The Defence Minister told press at the time that all nine of these individuals had travelled on three separate flights to Pakistan between February 27 and the March 1, 2009.

In Feburary 2010, the Maldivian government repatriated the nine Maldivian nationals held in Pakistan, who had been arrested by Pakistani authorities following a military raid on several armed groups.

No charges were filed against the men, and they were released to their families. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Shaheed emphasised at the time that the nine men had not been formally charged and stressed that “the types of activities they are alleged to have been involved in, while illegal, do not necessarily fall under terrorism.”

The role of the Foreign Ministry, Dr Shaheed said, was to “repatriate Maldivians when it is in the national interest to do so” and “not to mix that up with judgements of character”.

President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News there had originally been 12 Maldivians arrested in Pakistan “but three died while they were being transported between facilities”

Reports the group were carrying weapons were “conflicting”, he said.

Sleeper cell

Concerns about plans by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to establish a ‘sleeper cell’ in the Maldives periodically surface in the Indian media – the group is believed to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008. The attacks saw gunmen enter the city by sea before going on to kill at least 173 people and leave 308 wounded. President Mohamed Nasheed has since downplayed the claims.

While the cable describes the “operational aspirations” of Izadhy, Easa , and Hameedh as “unclear”, “past reporting suggests Maldivian extremists have demonstrated interest in actively participating in global jihadi activities by attempting to arrange travel and terrorist training in Pakistan.”

“While many Maldivian participants of extremist online forums aimed to ultimately fight Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, mid-October 2007 debrief information following the September 29 bombing in Male’ that targeted tourists indicates at least two of the operatives participated in the attack in exchange for travel from the islands after the operation and arranged study at a madrassa in Pakistan.”

The Maldivian government has repeatedly expressed concern about Maldivian nationals travelling to Pakistan for free ‘Islamic education’ at unmonitored madrassas.

The leaked cable further mentions “recruitment activity” in May 2008 for a Kashmiri offshoot of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba by a Maldivian national Ahmed Zaki.  The document refers to reports from 2006 detailing linkages between Maldivians belonging to a UK-based extremist group called Jama-ah-tul-Muslimeen (JTM) and an “anti-American Islamic extremist online forum called Tibyan Publications.”

“JTM is an extremist group based in the UK set up to follow an extremist ideology known as Takfiir that actively encourages violent jihad and supports criminality against apostate states,” the cable notes.

The US has stated that it will not comment on the specific contents of the 250,000 diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.