Colombo, May 8 (newsin.asia): The Maldives, which is an Indian Ocean archipelago, is a tiny country of only 530,000 people. Its politics is dominated by a few elite families, many of whom are related to each other. Yet, it is intensely faction-ridden and violence-prone to boot.
Added to the combustible mixture is Islamic radicalism. According to the US State Department, an estimated 200 Maldivians, were fighting in Syria and Iraq in 2019, making their country the world’s second largest supplier of foreign fighters per capita, after Tunisia.
The latest in a long of series of violent political incidents was the blast which occurred on Thursday May 6 at the capital Male. At 8.20 pm, a non-military Improvised Explosive Device (IED) fixed to a motorbike parked near parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s car, went off, critically injuring him and three others including a bodyguard.
On Friday, as Nasheed was undergoing multiple operations at the ADK hospital to remove shrapnel from the head, chest and other parts of his body, the Commissioner of Police, Mohamed Hameed, told the media that there was no prior intelligence about the attack and that no individual or group had claimed to have done it.
“At the scene of the attack, there were individuals whose activities were noticeably suspicious. The police have four suspects in mind,” he revealed, but declined to name them. To get these, 450 personnel have been deployed, he added. According to the Commissioner, the attack did not appear to have had any connection to foreign organizations and that the explosive used was not military grade.
The ADK Hospital tweeted to say that it had done 16 hours of “life-saving surgery” on Nasheed’s head, chest, abdomen and limbs and that the Speaker was still in a “critical condition”.
In an address to the nation following the incident last night, President Ibrahim Solih said that the perpetrators of the crime would face the full force of the law and that the government would take every step to ensure the safety and security of the people.
The President revealed that the government would receive assistance from the Australian Federal Police in the investigation into the explosion and that the Australian team would arrive on Saturday. The Maldivian police have a close relationship with the Australian police which had been training them for a long time.
However, on Thursday night, Nasheed’s supporters in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) gathered outside the ADK hospital, and shouted slogans calling for the ouster of the police and army chiefs and also the resignation of President Solih, local sources said.
The demand for Solih’s resignation reflects deepening factionalism in the MDP, with one group supporting Nasheed and another supporting Solih. The Maldivian police chief is a close relation of the President. The army chief too is the President’s appointee. In the Maldivian system, the army (Maldivian Defense Force) is responsible for the personal security of top leaders. Hence the demand for the army’s chief’s scalp.
It was perhaps to deflect possible accusations of bias in the investigations, that President Solih announced that the government would get the assistance of the Australian Federal Police.,
Back to factionalism in the MDP, the party did not accept Nasheed as its candidate in the 2018 Presidential election, though he was its best known figure and a long-standing activist. However, Nasheed was made Speaker of parliament. But wanting to be in the limelight always, the ebullient Nasheed would often speak out of turn on matters of governance he had no authority to speak on. He would embarrass the government, the President and the ministers. Recently, he proposed that the Presidential system be replaced by the parliamentary system and that he be made Prime Minister with all powers. He dropped the demand only when he found that it did not get traction.
Nasheed has also been alienating Islamists who have a strong hold among the people of the Maldives . There is even an avowedly Islamic party, the Adalath Party, which has been part of governments. Nasheed would criticize the wearing of the burqa or sporting a beard suggesting that these were signs of extremism. In fact one of the reasons for the MDP not fielding him in the 2018 Presidential election was that he was considered too modern and Westernized for the Maldives which is basically a conservative Islamic society.
A radical section of Maldivian Islamists had periodically murdered liberal bloggers and others who promoted secularism and Westernization. Dr Afrasheem Ali, an MP and a moderate Islamic scholar, was brutally murdered in October 2012 by a local extremist group with ties to al-Qaeda, according to the Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances appointed by President Solih. An estimated MVR 4 million (US$259,400) was spent on the “murder contract,” the report stated. The killers had local political support, it further pointed out.
Citing the report, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed said the police knew the facts at the time of the murder but claimed that the killing was politically motivated and tried to blame the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. Nasheed said that the report named NGO Salaf and a YouTube channel among other groups which incited hatred against Dr Afrasheem, who was dubbed “Dr Ibilees” (Dr Satan). Afrasheem was vilified by local clerics for taking liberal positions on issues such as women’s attire, music and apostasy.
The inquiry commission revealed that the same radical group was behind the Sultan Park bombing in Male in 2007, in which some foreign tourists were killed. Islamic zealots had abducted journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014 and had murdered blogger Yameen Rasheed in April 2017.
Sections of the MDP believe that both the army and the police have been infiltrated by Islamic radicals. “Nothing will come out of the on-going probe,” one of them, who is holding a government position, said dejectedly.
Human Rights Watch had said that senior officials, police, and judges had actively derailed earlier investigations into abduction and murder cases. Among them was a former Vice President, Ahmed Adeeb. According to the US Department of State, the Presidential Commission’s draft report had alleged that Adeeb intervened with the then Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi to free individuals who assisted and carried out journalist Rilwan’s abduction in 2014.
Adeeb was arrested on suspicion that he was linked to the attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen in 2015. Yameen was not harmed in the blast which occurred on the speedboat he was on. But his wife and two others were wounded. Adeeb, who also faced charges of money-laundering, tried to flee to India on a fishing boat in 2019, but was refused entry and was arrested on his return to the Maldives.