Terror attack in Maldives

Published : 11 May 2021 09:25 PM | Updated : 12 May 2021 12:34 AM

Shantanu Mukharji

There was a near deadly terror attack when the Speaker of the Parliament of Maldives (Majlis ) and first democratically elected President, Mohamed Nasheed (53) narrowly survived by a bomb blast on May 6 near his home in capital Male. He was saved by intensive surgery and timely medical help at a hospital performing a lifesaving procedure. Nasheed’s bodyguards too received serious bomb injuries needing medical contingency. Similar blast had occurred long back targeting a speed boat in this tiny Indian Ocean nation in 2007.

This May 6, terror assault on Mohamed Nasheed has always been officially described as an incident of terror by the investigating authorities probing the happening. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or faith has termed the attack on Nasheed as premeditated to what he claimed was an attack to kill the popular politician of Maldives. 

Shaheed is a Nasheed confidante and former Foreign Minister of Maldives. It would appear by the acerbic reactions of the Maldivian leaders, academics and others of significance that ISIS or Al Qaeda linked ultras are complicit in this dastardly act drawing condemnation from all quarters. There is no feeble argument in support of this theory or suspicion. 

When ISIS under Al Baghdadi was peaking in its macabre activities in Syria, an estimated over 250-300 fighters from Maldives, had gone from Maldives to fight alongside the armed cadres. The number is hugely disproportionate to the roughly 3 million population then. 

Analysts fail to pinpoint the exact reason for this high rate of radicalisation in such a small tourist friendly Indian Ocean attractive destination known for its serene beauty and allied attractions. Maldives has been intermittently turbulent with political instabilities seeing coups too. In the mid 80s, mercenaries from Sri Lanka had staged a coup and dislodged President Gayyoom, who was a friend of India. However, through a decisive military intervention by India. 

Gayyoom could be restored. It’s possible that political vacuum and in the absence of a sound leadership, the space was usurped by the religious extremists leading to a slew of terror attacks preceding high octane religious indoctrination.

Maldives is thought to be a highly radicalised island active on religious lines and was always being eyed by countries like Saudi Arabia for the spread of Wahhabism. 

A few years ago, Saudi Arabia had even indicated buying up a couple of atolls in pursuit of their religious ideology. This may be of academic interest only but what has been more worrisome is the profound impact ISIS has caused in the Maldivian social fabric. Hate preacher of other religions, Dr Zakir Naik had visited Maldives a decade ago and through his blistering hate speeches, he sowed the seeds of religious discord pushing the country further towards communalisation.

Importantly, one Ahmed Ameen, a Maldivian national was identified as the key representative of ISIS responsible for recruitment of youth for further  Islamisation of the country. He, in a very calibrated fashion, jacked up a number of ISIS sympathisers in Maldives. 

Crucially, in the April 2021 issue of Sawt al-Hind a newsletter published at ISIS behest, had given a call for terror attacks on the Maldivian soul in the month of Ramadan. This shows the desperation of the religious extremists to wreak havoc in furtherance of their imposition of a medieval mindset. It would appear pertinent to point out here that last year there was a terror attack in a school laboratory. 

The emerging pattern would indicate that the terrorists have a clear cut blueprint to execute, they have perhaps infiltrated a section of the establishment or security agencies to accomplish their mission, the intelligence set up is either penetrated or compromised to a large extent requiring to close the gaps without any delay.

Now that ex-President Nasheed has been targeted barely a week ago, his providential escape from the jaws of death, give the Maldivian authorities sufficient breathing space to revamp its intelligence system, collaborate with neighbouring countries to address the terror linked challenges. 

The home-grown terrorists, with external support from undesirable quarters, need to be thoroughly identified and marginalised or neutralised as geo politically and strategically Maldives is situated at a critical location and can not afford to be a theatre of terror related violent activities. 

As pointed out previously in these very columns, South Asian turf remains vulnerable today due to prevailing combustible situation in Afghanistan due to most recent deadly blasts claiming numerous lives, there is a lull in Pakistan, a couple of highly threatening terror groups in South Asia still trying to come to terms from the April 21 Easter attacks carried out by Islamic extremists. 

The scene is grim and Maldives shouldn’t be allowed to act as a flashpoint of terror activities. The extent of the desperation is noticed from the Nasheed being attacked during the holy period of Ramadan with scant respect for the pious religion.

Shantanu Mukharji is a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius