Arrests underline threat to western coast from terrorists using Indian Ocean islands as staging posts
In the wake of the Sultan Park bombing, 10 key suspects escaped to Pakistan
Growing numbers of Maldives nationals have been drawn to Pakistan-based Islamist groups
NEW DELHI: Nine Maldives-based jihadists have been held in Pakistan’s troubled Waziristan province — sparking renewed concern about the use of the Indian Ocean islands as staging-posts for attacks against India’s western coast.
Maldives Minister of Defence and National Security Ameen Faisal told Malé-based journalists that the nine men had been arrested in the troubled Waziristan region of north-western Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border.
Large swathes of lawless Waziristan are controlled by Taliban insurgents, while Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda is also known to maintain a significant presence in the region.
Eight of the men were identified as Yoosuf Izadhy, 38, of Nicosia in the Malé atoll; Ahmed Ashraf, 31, of Vaikaradhoo; Abdullah Sameer, 38, of Lhaimagu; Ali Faiz, 31, of Vaikaradhoo; Moosa Yoosuf, 30, of Kalhaidhoo; Yoosuf Mohammed, 52, also of Kalhaidhoo; Mohammad Zuhree, 28, of Dhaandhoo; Ali Shafeeq, 25, of Kandholhudhoo and Arif Ahmed, whose personal details have not been released.
Pakistani authorities are reported to have held six of the men in raids on March 11, and six more men on March 12. No details were made available, though, on which jihadist group the men were involved with, and who had arranged for their recruitment in the Maldives.
Malé-based newspaper Minivan News reported that at least one of the men had earlier been held on suspicion of having participated in the September 2007 bombing of Malé’s Sultan Park, which left 12 tourists injured. However, Shafeeq was later cleared of all charges and released.
Concerns about the use of the Maldives by Islamist terror groups has been mounting since 2006, when evidence emerged that Dhaka-based Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Faisal Haroon had explored plans to use the islands as a logistical base.
In the wake of the Sultan Park bombing, 10 key suspects escaped to Pakistan, where they were thought to be sheltered by elements linked to the Lashkar. Maldives authorities are now preparing the trial of one of the fugitive suspects, who was arrested on his return to Malé in January. Three who failed to secure their escape were sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2007.
Growing numbers of Maldives nationals have been drawn to Pakistan-based Islamist groups in recent years. Many were recruited by the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s charitable front, the Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq, which carried out extensive relief operations in the southern atolls after the 2005 tsunami.
For example, Mohammed Faseehu, from the Laam atoll island of Dhanbidhoo, and Shifahu Abdul Wahid, of Dhiffushi island in Kaaf atoll, were reported killed in Jammu and Kashmir in January 2007. Both men had travelled to Pakistan to study at the Jamia Salafiyya. Speaking to journalists last month, Maldives Human Rights Commission president Ahmed said several similar complaints about the death of Maldives nationals had been received.
Investigators also found Ali Shameem and Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, held in 2007 for their role in the Sultan Park bombing, had also been planning to join the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. Another Maldives national, Ibrahim Asif, was arrested in Kerala in April 2005, after attempting to source weapons from Thiruvananthapuram. And, in 2006, Male residents Ali Jaleel, Fatimah Nasreen, and Aishath Raushan were arrested for preparing to go to Pakistan to receive jihad training.
During his December 2008 visit to New Delhi, Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed had expressed concern about security in the Indian Ocean.
“You have sealed our borders [with Pakistan]”, he said, “but you have pushed terrorists into the Indian Ocean.” President Nasheed referred to the dangers of organised crime operations in the high seas, and warned that “pirates could be recruited into terrorist cells.”
Noting that upwards of 40 Maldives nationals were known to be studying in Pakistani seminaries controlled by jihadist groups, President Nasheed also called for greater Indian educational assistance.