All quiet in the archipelago?

Maldives established general regulations and a regulation on rehabilitation and reintegration under the Antiterrorism Act (ATA) and passed a Prohibition on Chemical Weapons.

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President Dr Mohamed Muizzu [The President's Office, Republic of Maldives]

Maldives recorded no terrorism-linked fatality in 2023, as in the preceding five years. The abduction and killing of blogger Yameen Rasheed by a local affiliate of Al-Qaeda on April 23, 2017, was the last terrorism related killing in the country. There have, however, been at least nine terrorist attacks since the Rasheed killing, including three in 2019, four in 2020 and one each in 2021 and 2022.

The last terrorism-linked incident of violence in the Maldives was reported on August 22, 2022, when the then Maldivian Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Ali Solih, was attacked with a knife and injured when he was traveling on his scooter in the Hulhumale area of capital Male. The attacker, who came and stood in front of the Minister’s scooter, chanted some verses from the Quran and subsequently launched the attack. The video of the incident over social media shows the attacker making several failed attempts to slit the Minister’s throat, but could only slash a portion of his left arm. The Minister managed to save his life by running away. The attacker, Mohamed Jameel, who was arrested soon after the incident, was wearing a shirt bearing the logo of the Islamic State (IS).

There was no incident of arrest of a terrorist in the country in 2023, as against 26 in 2022.

Nevertheless, the shadow of Islamist terror continues to lurk over Maldives. On November 8, 2023, the Criminal Court slapped Mohamed Ameen, who is believed to be the leader of Maldivian faction of the IS, with a prison sentence of 27 years on two charges related to terrorism. State prosecutors accused Ameen of being the leader of a terrorist organisation and for conspiracy to carry out an act of terrorism. He was found to have recruited and sent Maldivians to fight in the civil war in Syria, conspired to recruit Maldivians to fight for the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-KP) in Afghanistan, after the Syrian conflict ended, and propagating an extremist religious ideology.

Ameen was the first Maldivian to be listed as a terrorist by the United States, in 2019.

On July 31, 2023, the US Department of the Treasury issued a list of 20 Maldivian individuals and 29 companies that are believed to have ties with IS, IS-KP and Al-Qaeda, and have been funding their terrorist activities in the Maldives, and had applied sanctions against them. Following the sanction, US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller disclosed that the aim of these designations was to deter and disrupt financial and other forms of support for terrorist activities within the Maldives. Miller stated, “The United States is steadfast in its commitment to counter the threats posed by these terrorist support networks, both locally and internationally, and to ensure they are deprived of funding and resources for carrying out attacks.”

The targeted individuals and entities have been linked to Mohamad Ameen. Some of the designated individuals were involved in planning and executing attacks against journalists and local authorities.

Further according to latest US Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2022, published on November 30, 2023,

Maldives established general regulations and a regulation on rehabilitation and reintegration under the Antiterrorism Act (ATA) and passed a Prohibition on Chemical Weapons. There were no significant changes to law enforcement capacity. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), including the marines and coast guard, and Maldives Police Service (MPS) remained jointly responsible for CT response. The MNDF conducted multiple cooperative engagements with U.S. forces focused on CT operations and enhancing maritime security capabilities to increase domain awareness and security…

The illegal narcotics trade is rampant in Maldives. A report, Maldives, by the Global Organised Crime Index, published on September 26, 2023, noted that the Maldives remained a “strategic transit country” for heroin trafficking, with foreign criminal networks based in Pakistan controlling a large portion of the trade. Heroin is sourced from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran and then transported to the Maldives and other nearby islands using the sea route. The Maldives also has its own considerable local supply and consumption market for heroin. The cocaine trade is also present in the Maldives, primarily as a transit country to Thailand and the Philippines. As earlier, Pakistan’s role was demonstrated in the April 3, 2022, incident, in which two Pakistani nationals who smuggled drugs into the Maldives were arrested at Velana International Airport. Ahmed Ali (32) and Moimina Gulfam (20), were arrested after drugs were found in their bags and hidden inside their bodies.  2023 also witnessed several cases related with Narcotics seizure in maldives, from Pakistani nationals. For instance, on October 7, 2023, Heroin weighing a total of 4.72 kilograms was seized from a Pakistani national, in Male. Earlier on June 5, 2023, a Pakistani national travelling from Faisalabad (Pakistan) was arrested in Male along with 10.14 kilograms of heroin.

Criminal gangs have also been involved with terrorist organisations. In July 2023, the US Department of the Treasury observed that Ahmed Alif Rauf (Alif), Mohamed Inthif Rauf (Inthif), and Ibrahim Aleef Rauf (Ibrahim) led the IS-aligned, Maldives-based criminal gang Kuda Henveyru. The Kuda Henveyru gang has attempted to fundraise for Maldivian IS and has carried out organized large-scale robberies to generate finances. Alif, Inthif, and Ibrahim played a critical role in obtaining funding to support IS’s activities abroad as well. Specifically, Alif used Kuda Henveyru to recruit and radicalize young men, who were then sent to conflict zones. In addition, Maldives-based companies – Street Investments Pvt. Ltd; Street Motor Services; and White Beach Watersports Pvt. Ltd. – were owned or controlled by Alif. Maldives-based companies Baum Pvt. Ltd. and Maroc International Pvt. Ltd. were owned or controlled by Inthif.

The results of the Presidential election of 2023 have been vital for the archipelago nation. On September 30, 2023, Malé City Mayor and People’s National Congress (PNC) candidate Mohamed Muizzu, won 54.06 per cent of vote, defeating the incumbent, Ibrahim Solih, to become President. Muizzu led an ‘India Out’ campaign in the run-up to the presidential elections. His party, PNC, had a tie-up with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by former President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Muizzu is considered to be a protégé of Gayoom. Gayoom’s Presidency (2013-18) had been marked by a surge in extremist mobilization in the country, as well as the migration of over 250 Maldivians to Iraq and Syria, to join the Islamic State. Muizzu’s, flagship ‘India Out’ campaign also ties up with China, which had always been looking to make inroads in the region. Recognizing the opportunity, China has capitalised on the situation, pushing several infrastructure and connectivity projects, including the Male-Thilafushi project, under its broader ‘string of pearls’ plan.

The coming months will be crucial for Maldives. Though the country has not recorded any terrorism related incident in the recent past, the underlying danger of radicalization cannot be denied. The strong Islamist and anti-India sentiments of the current political dispensation are, moreover, likely to provide fertile ground for various radical Islamist organisations working from Pakistan to restore their activities in the Maldives. Maldives has a history of falling prey to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Taiba, as had happened in the wake of the Tsunami in 2004. Domestic extremist formations and their criminal gang affiliates are also likely to find the political environment under the present regime easier to operate within.

Sanchita Bhattacharya

Sanchita Bhattacharya is a Research Fellow at Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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