From Kerala family to ex-gangster, Islamic State pulls Maldives men

The Indian Express travels to Maldives and Bangladesh, at India's two ends, to find out why young men — at a rate unprecedented — are joining the ranks of the Islamic State

Written by Praveen Swami | Male | Updated: April 15, 2015 9:56 am
IS-Kerala-family Shameem (red T-shirt) and Rahim (centre) at Male airport on their way to Syria

The Indian Express travels to Maldives and Bangladesh, at India’s two ends, to find out why young men — at a rate unprecedented — are joining the ranks of the Islamic State

Late last year, Fathullah Jamil decided he’d had enough — of days that began before dawn, calling believers to prayer at the mosque; evenings spent negotiating a taxi through the sweltering streets; and nights spent in an airless one-room home. The children had moved to West Asia, and had been calling their parents to join them. Jamil sold the taxi, and caught a flight to Thiruvananthapuram to pick up his ailing Indian-born wife, Shah Bano.

Had intelligence officials in Kerala not intervened, the elderly couple would by now have been spending their retirement in the Islamic State — home to their three half-Indian, Thiruvananthapuram-educated sons, along with their wives and children.

The Maldives advertises its stunning island resorts as an earthly paradise, but intelligence services are increasingly concerned at the number of its citizens who are seeking the afterlife marketed by Islamists.

Indian and Western services estimate up to 200 Maldives citizens, out of a tiny population of 359,000, may now be in Iraq and Syria — the highest by far, in population-adjusted terms, of any country in the world.

The Maldives government says it can confirm 57 people have made the journey, while the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda affiliated rival, al-Nusra, have released at least seven obituaries for Maldivians killed in combat.

Death threats, attacks

Inside the Maldives, too, secular writers and activists are facing a growing tide of death threats —- sometimes backed up by lethal attacks.

Former jihadist-turned-secular writer Ahmed Rilwan, who disappeared last year, is thought to have been murdered by Islamist-linked street gangs. Hilath Rasheed, another writer and democratic rights activsts, lives in exile in Sri Lanka after his throat was slashed in a near-fatal attack.

“There’s a growing culture of violence against dissidents from the religious right-wing and the perpetrators are enjoying complete impunity,” said writer Yameen Rasheed.

Male’s powerful street gangs — in turn, linked to heroin cartels and protection rackets — are providing soldiers for the new Islamist army. Photographs obtained by The Indian Express show Rasheed’s alleged attacker, former gang member Ismail Rahim, travelling to Syria as part of a group organised by leading Islamist ideologue Adam Shameem. Like dozens of other former gang members, Rahim embraced neo-fundamentalist Islam in prison, seeing jihad as atonement for his past sins.

Pakistan link

Evidence also exists that Maldives’ jihadist networks are tied in with groups in Pakistan. Azlif Rauf, named as a suspect in the writer Rilwan’s disappearance, fled to Pakistan last year, where he is thought to be hiding out with contacts in the Tehreek-e-Taliban.

Through the city, as well as in some of the smaller islands, graffiti calling on young people to join the jihad in Syria is widespread — as are online Twitter handles and websites promoting the cause.

“This is the fastest-growing but least-understood security threat to the whole region. It’s just a matter of time before these people bring the killing home,” said former Maldives police intelligence chief Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed.
For tourism-dependent Maldives, the prospect of attacks on Western tourists staying at isolated resorts scattered across the country’s more than 2,600 islands is a growing concern.

India’s worry

Indian intelligence sources say they are also concerned at the prospect that Maldives could become a staging post for attacks against India.

In 2008, Maldives national Ali Assham — alleged to have been involved with the Lashkar-e-Taiba network attacked the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore — was deported from Sri Lanka to Maldives. Despite Indian demands, he was never prosecuted, and now lives in Male. Assham did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Part of the problem, Hameed said, is the state’s lack of capacity to successfully investigate and prosecute jihadists. Ali Jaleel, who in 2008 became the first Maldives citizen to conduct a suicide bombing, was briefly jailed two years earlier — only to emerge within weeks.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, similarly, pardoned the alleged perpetrators of a 2009 bombing in Male — some of whom are now believed to be fighting in Syria.

Textbook jihad

The state’s own textbooks, human rights activists in Maldives say, also contribute to the problem. The class IX Islamic studies textbook tells students “performing jihad against people that obstruct the religion” is an obligation. It promises that “Islam ruling over the world is very near”. Promising a caliphate, the textbook says “this is something that the Jews and Christians do not want. It is why they collaborate against Islam even now”.

From Fathullah Jameel’s telling of his children’s story, it is unclear precisely what led his children to the Islamic State. Educated as a cleric at the neo-fundamentalist Jamia Salafia in Pakistan’s Faisalabad — home also to the Lashkar’s Assham — Jameel chose a secular education for his children after they finished primary school in Male. The children moved to India with their mother, living and studying near Thiruvananthapuram.

“I know it is impossible to make a living from a mosque Imam’s wages in Male, and I wanted my children to have a better life,” said Jameel.

That’s not quite how it worked out, though: only the middle son, Aatifu Jameel, found a white-collar job, at immigration security. The oldest, Samihu Jameel, worked with a fishing crew. The youngest, Aataru Jameel, remained unemployed — part of the 25 per cent of Maldivians who do not have a job, even though the country employs over 100,000 migrant workers.
Syria calling

In 2013, Samihu Jameel left for Syria —- among the first Maldivians to head there. Police officials familiar with the case say he was drawn to the jihad online, and then made contact with an Islamist charity that made arrangements.
“Frankly, I don’t know. He said he was going to study in Cairo with a religious charity. Then, he disappeared,” said Jameel.

Last summer, Samihu’s wife, Nooha, along with the two brothers and their wives, Najuma and Izawa, also travelled to the Islamic State. They aren’t the only ones: couple Mohammad Zakman Adam Ismail and Marim Sanah are reported to have migrated to the Islamic State late last year.

In another recent case, Maldives government sources said, a young family who travelled to Syria lost their child to pneumonia in February.

Jameel speculates their decision may have, at least in part, been pragmatic. “It’s hard for young people in Male. After they married, the three boys had to take turns sharing the bedroom.”

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First Published on: April 14, 2015 4:41 am
  1. M
    Maldivesss
    Apr 14, 2015 at 11:35 pm
    nahu you naive little thing. every christian missionary that ever set foot in a foreign land was also an aid worker. these people support killing people based on text that were written down 200 years after prophet Muhammad's death. you may claim how every measure was taken to ure their accuracy but i can't believe it. you only have to look at current events to know how frail the human mind is and how easy it is to make mistakes, how different eye witness accounts of a single event are and how little we know about the diseases of the mind. and you are ready to kill another human being based on a "hadith" from this book? the earliest book that which is by bukhari was written 200 (TWO HUNDRED) years after the actual events. think abou that.
    Reply
    1. R
      Raj Dhulia
      Apr 14, 2015 at 8:43 am
      Why is a responsible newspaper like Indian Express recognising the thugs of IS by writing phrases like "migrated to Islamic State"? This is highly irresponsible.
      Reply
      1. A
        akhmed the
        Apr 14, 2015 at 6:34 pm
        these are maggots infesting the w world by their henious crimes. They think they have the right and it is their job to make sure everyone else is following this cult. these pigs should be shot at birth.
        Reply
        1. A
          Ali
          Apr 14, 2015 at 11:49 pm
          Don't you Indians have millions and millions of rape cases to attend to? instead you are more concerned about a couple of hundred Maldivians going for Jihad. lmao.
          Reply
          1. A
            Aminath
            Apr 14, 2015 at 11:21 pm
            The guy in the red shirt is Adam Shameem. He is not linked with ISIS. But he is linked with Al-Qaeda. Maldivian Government also knows this but for all the governments these Sheikhs are useful to be in power. I really supported President Nasheed's policies but he was too soft on these people. He was a fool who thought even these termites had a place in society and these people really proved to us that he really was a fool. I really hope the current Government has what it takes to destroy these termites once and for all.
            Reply
            1. A
              Abu sarah
              Apr 15, 2015 at 6:02 am
              Die in your anger, rapindians.
              Reply
              1. A
                Arish Sahani
                Apr 14, 2015 at 11:15 pm
                Arabs know how to destroy nation.Just convert local poor ,fools and uneducated to islam and make them destroy own race and own nation , $1 book does the rest and local mullah on low pay to keep fools under the leach makes sure all fools never think .
                Reply
                1. A
                  Arish Sahani
                  Apr 14, 2015 at 11:16 pm
                  Now a days arabs don't send soldiers like in 1800 and 1900 They send Mullahs and $ 1 book and convert all fools of the nations to islam. All fools are made to love death not life.
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    ayya
                    Apr 14, 2015 at 11:42 pm
                    every man in the photo is not a terrorist and some are good. but shake adam shameem is a fake shake and he is a good actor. he is more better actor than a shake. he act with fake crying like star plus drama. only drum sound effect is missing.
                    Reply
                    1. B
                      B H
                      Apr 14, 2015 at 11:23 am
                      Let ill minded people go, and it will be better if as many of them leave and go to find & see the heaven. They should not be allowed to come back to India. India government should take every pre cautions and discourage these misguided & ill minded young Indians to join these criminals. Their parents also should guide their children for their healthy future and responsible citizen of the country to whom the country is looking for. Every citizen of the country should not blinded by the religion and separate each other. India is a very good & kind country no matter of some difficulties with vast ancient culture far better than the other ancient civilization. stan though is part of great Indian Indus valley civilization is a lost country with a criminal back ground and cannot recover from it and will face self destruction.
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        kumar
                        Apr 14, 2015 at 12:00 pm
                        Kerala is haven for terrorists and evangelical terrorists;having the Congress rulers linked to.These elements need not go anywhere else-the govt will provide them safe haven and escape routes.
                        Reply
                        1. D
                          Dillip Patnaik
                          Apr 14, 2015 at 7:17 am
                          Let them go and it will better if as many of them leave and go to see the heaven. They should not allowed come back to India. India government should take every pre cautions and discourage these misguided young Indians to join these criminals. Their parents also guide their children for their healthy future and responsible citizen of the country to whom the country is looking for. Every citizen of the country should not blinded by the religion and separate each other. India is a very good country no matter of some difficulties with vast ancient culture far better than the other ancient civilization. stan though is part of great Indian Indus valley civilization is a lost country with a criminal back ground and cannot recover from it and will face self destruction.
                          Reply
                          1. F
                            fayyaz
                            Apr 14, 2015 at 11:47 am
                            Islam is the perfect religion.
                            Reply
                            1. G
                              Ghulam Muhammed
                              Apr 14, 2015 at 10:19 am
                              Praveen Swami should his enormous talents and resources to focus on ISIS, as there strong possibilities that 'Project ISIS' is a western plant exploiting Islamic garb to unleash new conspiracies in the Middle East and Muslim world to strengthen their own hegemony. Once ISIS is exposed the tide will turn.
                              Reply
                              1. G
                                Guru
                                Apr 14, 2015 at 12:48 pm
                                Let them go, good riddance. Just make sure, they do not come back and create chaos in their resp. countries.
                                Reply
                                1. C
                                  Concerned
                                  Apr 14, 2015 at 11:06 pm
                                  Actually these fies are really creeping into every aspect of Maldivian society. Especially this organisation called Jamiyathu-al-f. I think the Indian Government should keep an eye on these people when they are in India. All Maldivian governments are too busy dealing with their opposition they forget the real enemy. If they are not stopped and controlled in the early stages, pretty soon we will be seeing brainwashed violent youth like the Taliban or ISIS. They start very subtle, most of the public have no idea as their brains are turned into mush and they themselves into mindless controlled robots.
                                  Reply
                                  1. L
                                    lostmaldivian
                                    Apr 14, 2015 at 11:11 pm
                                    maldivians have lost their ideny. most of today's youth are not aware of the traditions, culture or history. everything that conflict with the thought process of the so called sheikhs are censored. if you utter a single word that is against their thinking they label you blasphemous. you have no choice but to shut up for the sake of your life. this is some kind of colonialism by saudi arabia and nobody in the international community seems to want to do anything about it. it has become like a virus that is eating through all societies. even us maldivians no longer know who we are...
                                    Reply
                                    1. H
                                      harith
                                      Apr 14, 2015 at 9:55 am
                                      how come, these global terrorist pigs were not arrested in airport itself?UN must ban their travel
                                      Reply
                                      1. H
                                        harith
                                        Apr 14, 2015 at 4:43 am
                                        Our Ap cops SLRs are still hot and ready for these Jihadis
                                        Reply
                                        1. H
                                          Harish Kiran
                                          Apr 14, 2015 at 1:44 pm
                                          Learn Advaita vedanta, your misconception will be cured.
                                          Reply
                                          1. I
                                            ibrahim
                                            Apr 14, 2015 at 3:06 pm
                                            Shameem is not a terrorist, he is not related to ISIS or other terrrorist groups
                                            Reply
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