Male, May 13 (Maldives Financial Review): Almost 14 years ago, on 29 September 2007, the Maldives experienced its first terror attack in recent times, when a home made IED exploded in the Sultan Park of the capital Malé. Twelve tourists were injured, and it was swiftly established by the authorities as an act of terror stemming from extremist elements within society. A total of 16 were charged with terrorism. Yet, only three were convicted; and sentenced for 15 years in prison. One of them, Moosa Inaz, from the island of Kalhaidhoo in Laamu Atoll, in the south of Maldives, managed to escape from prison on three occasions. The other two were released on parole on 25 July 2010, three years after the incident. Once, while being brought to Malé for medical reasons, one detainee fled with the help of a group of radical thinking activists; later traveling to Syria.
The Maldives Police Service also issued a red notice for 10 suspects involved in the Sultan Park bombing, who were believed to have fled the country. One of them, Mohamed Iqbal, returned home in March 2011, and was immediately arrested. Yet Iqbal was swiftly released by the Criminal Court on 25 March 2011.
Also among the suspects is Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, from the island of Gan in Laamu Atoll. He was arrested at the airport in August 2012, on his return from abroad, also to be released soon.
Both Inaz and Latheef were again arrested in July 2020, following another terror attack where a Police speedboat was set ablaze in Gan, Laamu Atoll. They were found to have links to the Islamic State, according to Police media briefings last year.
In September 2019, the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) included Mohamed Ameen from the Maldives in their list of terrorists — the first time a Maldivian citizen was listed in this database. Unsurprisingly, he is also one of the 10 wanted under the red notice issued for the Sultan Park bombing. He had fled to neighbouring Sri Lanka, and was arrested in Sri Lanka and brought back to the Maldives in 2012. Ameen was held for a mere two months and then released.
On 23 October 2019, Ameen was arrested by Maldivian authorities again, and charged under new amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act, that made it an offence to be affiliated with any terrorism organisation. On 15 December 2019, the Court remanded him in custody until trial. Yet, on 3 February 2021, the Criminal Court reviewed its previous ruling, and released Ameen to house arrest on the grounds that the state had failed to provide him with proper medical care while in prison. The state appealed the case at the High Court, and on 25 February, the lower court ruling was annulled and he was taken back into custody.
Terror activities emboldened through extremist thought have been on the rise in the Maldives, and state institutions have repeatedly failed to address the issue effectively in all administrations in the past 14 years since the first incident at Sultan Park. Since then, in 2009 a Maldivian national has been involved in a suicide attack in Pakistan. Since 2012, Maldivians have been reported to have taken part in ‘jihad’ in Syria. In October 2012, parliament member and religious scholar, Dr. Afrashim Ali was ruthlessly murdered near the stairwell of his residence. In 2014, Maldivian journalist, Ahmed Rilwan was abducted in Hulhumalé. The same year, a group of Islamic State (IS) supporters held a demonstration in the streets of Malé with IS flags. In 2017 a prominent reform activist and blogger, Yamin Rasheed was murdered in a manner similar to Dr. Afrashim Ali, as he was entering his home late at night.
The families of both Rilwan and Rasheed have not received justice, as the cases have not been properly investigated, and as a result, the real perpetrators have not been brought to justice. President Solih and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in their 2018 presidential campaign, promised the families, and the Maldivian people, that his administration will deliver justice on these crimes. The Solih Administration’s first order of business upon inauguration, was to form a Presidential Commission to investigate such murders and disappearances. In 2019, the parliament passed a law providing a clear legal mandate to the commission. Yet even now the perpetrators responsible have not been brought to justice. Further, those charged with bringing the perpetrators to justice seem equally unanswerable.
In July 2020, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed said that the presidential commissions were ineffective and needed to be dissolved, as they had become a drain on state resources without achieving their purpose. In November 2020, President Solih admitted that he himself believed the work of the commissions were slower than expected.
In the past 10 to 14 years, it has been claimed that justice was delayed, or obstructed, because the state machinery needed for this was still not in place since the new constitution was ratified — the required laws were not in place, discord existed between the executive, parliament and judiciary, and the right capacities seem lacking in the institutions.
Since 2019, however, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) led coalition government has had the required majority in the parliament. The parliament with its better oversight of the judiciary, and new found influence, has the power to usher in the promised judicial reforms. While new laws have been ratified, independent commissions have also been set up with the required legal mandates. Capacity of law enforcement has also been increased over time.
Coming back to the events of 6 May 2021, Speaker Nasheed’s life was the target of an IED attack. The Speaker was in critical condition undergoing life saving surgery and barely escaped with his life. The intelligence departments have said that they had no prior knowledge of the planned attack. CCTV footage of the area just before the incident showed that he was not adequately protected at the time the explosion had occurred — although actions in the aftermath might definitely have contributed in the eventual saving of his life. Yet there has been no responsibility taken at higher levels of the administration or the defence services for the initial failings. The pattern again seems to be similar to what has happened before; the results of which are not lost on the nation.
Given the current state of affairs some hard questions may be in order. Are anti-terrorism laws failing because legislation lacks teeth or is it because enforcement is weak and largely unaccountable? What needs to be done to ensure history does not repeat itself? Where does the accountability start? If there is no accountability, among the executive, law enforcement and the judiciary for failing to deliver justice for families and protecting the nation at large, can we expect the situation to improve?