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Islamic radicalism is turning Maldives into a Terrorism Haven instead of a Tourism Haven

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The first picture that comes to your mind when you think of Maldives is the beautiful white pristine beaches engulfed with mesmerizing blue water with wonderfully crafted villas radiating an aura of opulence and serendipity. But that is not the real face of Maldives it is merely a makeup put on to attract tourists.

The potent cocktail of rising surrender to Islamic radicalism with the tacit support of powerful political leaders in Maldives, a population dependent on narcotics, and the surmounting China-laid debt trap is turning Maldives into a Terrorism haven instead of a Tourism haven.

According to the statistics, over 17 lakh tourists visited the island nation in 2023, of which the maximum were Indians (2,09,198) followed by Russians (2,09,146) and Chinese (1,87,118). The number of Indian visitors to Maldives was more than 2.4 lakh in 2022 and over 2.11 lakh in 2021. The Maldives was also one of the few countries open for international tourists during the pandemic and nearly 63,000 Indians visited that country during that period.

From 2018 onwards, Maldives has witnessed 37 terrorism-related incidents according to the data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In fact, on August 22, 2022, Alo Solih, Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Government of Maldives was attacked with a knife and injured when he was traveling on his scooter in the capital city of Male. Mohammed Jameel, who attacked Solih, reportedly chanted some verses from the Quran and then carried out his attack. The video of the dastardly attack shared on social media showed the brutality and diabolic nature of the terrorist who was wearing a shirt bearing the logo of the Islamic State. It is important to note that Mohamed Jameel, who attacked Minister Ali Solih, had earlier been arrested for disrupting a Friday congregation at the King Salman Mosque in July 2022, but was released.

The attack on August 22, 2022, was not the first against a political leader in the Maldives. On May 6, 2021, former President of Maldives and Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed faced a threat to his life and was grievously injured when terrorists orchestrated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast outside his home in Male. Reportedly, three of his bodyguards and two innocent bystanders – one a Maldivian and one British national were also injured in the explosion.

Since 2019, security forces have arrested around 72 terror suspects and sympathizers. The arrests have stemmed the plans to carry out terror attacks in Maldives so far. There were 12 terror-related incidents in 2020, 17 in 2021, and five in 2022 but none in 2023.

On November 14, 2022, reportedly 14 locals from Maldives were arrested for suspected links to the Islamic State in a joint-counter terrorism operation conducted by Maldivian Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force. Information shared by the joint-counter terrorism team to the media stated that a large quantity of explosives were recovered from the homes of some of the suspects. The suspects planned to target the National Police College and an Indian establishment frequented by Indians in the Addu area in Maldives. The intent investigations revealed was to carry out a terror attack causing massive casualties in collaboration with the Islamic State.

The attack planned on the Indian establishment which was thwarted is not the first time that Islamic radicals targeted the Indian community in the Maldives. Six months earlier, on June 21, 2022, on the occasion of International Yoga Day, an angry mob of over 150 Islamic radicals entered the Galolhu National Stadium in Male forcibly and disrupted the yoga event organized by the Indian High Commission and Maldivian Ministry of Youth. The violent mob of Islamic radicals attacked the participants who ran for their lives. They ransacked food stalls and reportedly vandalized whatever they could lay their hands on. The mob of Islamic radicals also brandished placards stating that yoga was against the tenets of Islam.

In the US Department Treasury communique released on July 31, 2023, it stated: The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated key leaders and financial facilitators of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaida in the Maldives, including 20 ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), and Al-Qa’ida operatives. OFAC also designated 29 companies associated with the individuals sanctioned today, who include leaders of Maldives-based terrorist-affiliated criminal gangs and associates of key ISIS-K recruiter Mohamad Ameen who was designated by OFAC in 2019. Several of the individuals being designated today have also planned or carried out attacks that targeted journalists and local authorities.

Treasury Designates Leaders and Financial Facilitators of ISIS and al-Qa’ida Cel

Terrorism has overshadowed tourism in the Maldives because the Maldivian government is soft on dealing with the potential threat that Islamic radicals pose to the nation and its people. The truth is that the current Maldivian government does not want to acknowledge that the Islamic radicals are threatening the traditional Maldivian way of life. Women who did not wear headscarves have been violently attacked, alongside people of different religious faiths Buddhists, Hindus, and even moderate Sunnis and Sufis of the Islamic faith. Such is the influence of Islamic radicalism that Maldivian youth are joining terror groups such as ISIS, ISIS-K, and Al-Qaida. From 2014 to 2018, more people departed from the Maldives to join the Islamic State than from any other country.

US Treasury Department Sanctioned List from Maldives

The Islamic radical ideologies of Salafism and Wahhabism have not just penetrated the minds of the youth of the Maldives but also shockingly some in the security forces, who play a crucial part in the recruitment of the youth from the nation to ISIS. Also important are the Sheikhs (religious preachers) licensed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs who spread their extremist views freely and propagate radical thoughts under the tacit silence of the law enforcement authorities and turning of a blind eye by the Maldivian government. One cannot also deny the hand of Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI because many Maldivians are influenced by what is happening in the neighboring countries and around the world. Some opt to go to Pakistan, study in madrasas, and reportedly come back with extreme and radical religious ideas. In fact, besides Al-Qaida and ISIS-K, the Pakistan-sponsored terror group Lashkar-E-Toiba also has a strong presence in Maldives and is seen as a safe hide-out for terrorists and a fertile hunting ground for younger recruits among women and men.

Even a local Islamic organization Jamiyyath Salaf poses as an NGO working for the upliftment of the believers of Islam but is a propagator of radicalized Islamic teachings and promoter of Islamic Jihad. In fact, since 2009, Jamiyyath Salaf through its website Rajjeislam has been radicalizing the youth of Maldives to take up arms and wage jihad against enemies of Islam. Reportedly in 2011, the website started to share emotionally disturbing graphic videos and pictures of wounded Muslims in Syria which created an urge in the Maldivian youth to defend the honor of the oppressed by any means. It is important to note that several leaders of Jamiyyath Salaf (JS) have on social media and publically encouraged the youth of Maldives to take up jihad. JS president, Abdullah Bin Janab, in May 2012 had stated on social media: The bearing of oppression by Syrian Muslims is a radiant of Islamic Jihad. Oppressive tyrants could be ceased upon Jihad.” However, JS has denied all links with Islamic terror groups but the data in GoaChronicle possession indicate that JS is the face of Islamic radicalism in the Maldives. In 2019, JS was being investigated by the government of Maldives on allegations of supporting and encouraging terrorism in the country. Presidential Commission Investigating Murders and Enforced Disappearances’s report on MP and religious scholar Dr. Afrasheem’s murder revealed that an extremist religious organization (referring to JS) was behind the murder of the former MP.

According to official law enforcement figures, 250 people traveled to Syria to fight and 432 more attempted but terrorism watchers indicate that the law enforcement figures are dumbed down. Reportedly, the general belief in the intelligence circles is that 1 in 2000 Maldivian fought for ISIS in Syria and Afghanistan.

Maldives is not a tourism haven but a terrorism haven with a rising problem of unemployment that will further push terrorism and drugs in the Maldivian society unfortunately for the people of Maldives, the government has little interest in dealing with Islamic radicals because some political leaders are known to fund the Islamic radicalism for their political interests. It is precisely the reason that a Buddhist state like Maldives turned into an Islamic nation.

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