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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Dr Muizzu must handover Mumbai 26/11 Terror Suspects sheltered in Maldives

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The President of Maldives, Dr. Mohammed Muizzu’s administration faces a critical test in addressing the legacy of terrorism within the Maldives.

During his visit to India for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Mohamed Muizzu must take a decisive stand on addressing the threat posed by LeT and ISIS operatives in Maldives. The increasing presence of these terror groups not only endangers India but also destabilizes the entire Indian Ocean Region.

To demonstrate his commitment to combating terrorism, President Muizzu should prioritize the extradition of Mumbai 26/11 terror suspects Mohammed Ziliyan and Ali Aashama, who are reportedly sheltered in the Maldives. Handing over these individuals would signify a significant step in enhancing regional security and strengthening bilateral ties between India and Maldives. Furthermore, a robust crackdown on terror networks operating within Maldivian territory is essential to ensure long-term stability and peace in the region.

Dr. Muizzu is linked to an Islamic radical organisation Jamiyyath Salaf. Jamiyyath Salaf, an organization with deep-rooted ties to Islamic radicalism, has been instrumental in the indoctrination and recruitment of extremists within Maldives. Notably, Ibrahim Mohammed, who trained at a LeT camp in Pakistan, and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed, President of Jamiyyath Salaf, are brothers of the first lady, Dr. Muizzu’s wife. These connections cast a shadow on the new administration’s potential approach to counter-terrorism.

So far, India, the US, and the world have been aware that David Headley was the reconnaissance man for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). After receiving instructions in late 2005 to conduct surveillance in India, Headley made five extended trips to Mumbai in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008, each time making videotapes of various potential targets, including those attacked on 26/11. However, David Headley was not the only reconnaissance man for the LeT. After 15 years, GoaChronicle tracked the truth of the second reconnaissance man.

LeT had also commissioned a Maldivian youth, Mohamed Ziliyan, to visit India and undertake reconnaissance, particularly in Mumbai and Bengaluru, providing the terror outfit with videos, photographs, and observations of places of interest.

Mohamed Ziliyan (son of Ahmed Ibrahim), whose Maldivian National Identity Number is A071311, went to Yemen via Colombo with the assistance of his family after he was suspected of being part of the uprising in Maldives in 2005. His name even appeared on the ‘Wanted List’ of Maldives Police. In Yemen, he met with LeT and left for Pakistan with them, where he was trained by LeT and agreed to work as a paid agent. His first assignment was to travel to India and provide reconnaissance on places of interest to LeT. He was provided with a mini-pocket camera and money for travel.

Ziliyan visited several locations in Mumbai as instructed by LeT. He took pictures and made observations of these locations, which included the Taj Hotel, Trident, hospitals, railway stations, Nariman House, some offices of foreign delegates, and shopping complexes. His photos and observations were used in planning the terrorist attacks on several locations in Mumbai.

Ziliyan’s father had several friends at different levels of society in India and was fluent in local languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, and Gujarati. Mohamed Ziliyan spent some years in India studying in Bengaluru.

Sources in the intelligence circle in the Maldives have told GoaChronicle that Mohamed Ziliyan was related to a powerful politician in the Maldivian government at that time. The truth about the role of Maldivians in the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks was confirmed by former President of Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, in an interview with an Indian media house. Nasheed acknowledged the serious issue with Islamist radicals in Maldives, mentioning that several Maldivians trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan were involved in the Mumbai attacks.

LeT terror modules connected with Maldives and India first surfaced in 2007, after the Male Sultan Park blast. An arrested terror operative connected with this blast revealed links between terror groups in Kerala and Maldives. India’s Intelligence Bureau has also tracked the operation of a Jaish-e-Mohammad module in Thiruvananthapuram in 2010, which had a direct link to the Maldives.

The reconnaissance man behind the 2005 IISC Bengaluru terror attack was Ali Aashama, aka Ali Sham, a Maldivian but then no one in the Indian authorities focused on the probability of a Maldivian LeT module because the focus was Pakistan. His role was revealed by Salahuddin Ahmed, an accused in the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks. Ali Aashama conducted reconnaissance for the Bengaluru attack and provided details to the gunmen. He also played a role in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks by procuring weapons and components for IEDs.

In September of last year, the arrest of Mohammed Shahnawaz, Arshad Warsi, and Mohammed Rizwan Ashraf by the Delhi Special Cell marked a critical development in India’s ongoing fight against terrorism. Shahnawaz, identified as an ISIS operative, was part of a sophisticated network that leveraged modern communication platforms, particularly the Telegram channel named Caged Parrot, to recruit and coordinate terror activities. This arrest has brought to light the increasingly alarming presence of terror sleeper cells originating from the Maldives and operating within India.

The capture of Shahnawaz was a significant breakthrough for Indian security agencies. Intelligence reports revealed that Shahnawaz and his associates used Caged Parrot to recruit and radicalize individuals, orchestrating a clandestine network that spanned across borders. This method of communication, exploiting the anonymity and encryption of Telegram, highlights the evolving strategies of terror organizations in the digital age.

Shahnawaz during interrogation revealed that the Maldivian woman told him that she was campaigning to raise funds for the women in the Al-Hawal (ISIS refugee detention center) refugee camp on the Syria-Iraq border. While the initial conversation with the woman revolved around raising funds for the refugee camp and Shahnawaz donated Rs 1.40 lakh through Google Pay using an accomplice teacher from Kerala in two tranches; the relationship further intensified over the weeks and later discussions focused on the expansion of ISIS in India, the role Shahnawaz could play in spreading the message of ISIS in India and also planning ‘Islamic Jihad’ within the country.

Shahnawaz introduced two of his friends – Arshad Warsi and Mohammad Rizwaz Ashraf, who were also engineers to this ISIS cell operating in India. All three were indoctrinated by the Maldivian woman, her brother another Maldivian ISIS operative. All three engineers turned ISIS operatives. They were also introduced to other ISIS operatives in India and internationally. Together, a team of ISIS operatives put into action a plan of a terror attack at Akshardham Temple in New Delhi, Ayodhya, and Chabad House in Mumbai which included Shahnawaz, Ashraf, and Warsi.

Whether Dr. Mohammed Muizzu, the current President of Maldives, will hand over Mumbai 26/11 terrorists currently sheltered in Maldives and crack down on LeT and ISIS operatives remains uncertain. This decision largely depends on his administration’s stance on international cooperation, counter-terrorism policies, and the influence of political and social factors within the Maldives.

While there have been indications of political patronage for some terror operatives in the past, a decisive stance from the Maldivian government could significantly bolster regional security efforts. However, without explicit statements or actions from President Muizzu’s administration, it is difficult to predict definitively what steps will be taken, especially with the links of the Maldivian President with Jamiyyath Salaf.

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