In a tweet on May 10, former Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed raised a red flag about the country’s vulnerability to the ISIS. Nasheed, who is now a member of Parliament, said (translated from Dhivehi): “There is an allegation that Zaharan Hashim, who took part in the attacks in Sri Lanka, had come to Maldives in 2016, on the pretext of giving religious lectures, and in a different name, but it is not yet clear if he had come to Maldives. It is not wise to give visas to such foreign sheikhs without seeking clarification or finding out who they are.”
According to Maldivian press reports, the country’s Immigration Department said last month that reports claiming Zaharan Hashim travelled to the Maldives were “unsubstantiated and incorrect”.
After the savage Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people and left hundreds injured, Maldives has been particularly alarmed. The growing hold of Wahhabism in Maldives, an idyllic tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, has been a worry for the country and the region as a whole. The Islamic nation, with a tiny population of 4,50,000, has been alarmed by how easily its youth have fallen prey to ISIS recruiters online.
In an interview today to The Hindu, Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi said data available with the country’s National Counter Terrorism Centre shows 69 Maldivians had left the country to join the ISIS. She also said this number had been arrived at on the basis of families who reported missing members. Previous Independent estimates have pegged the number at over 250.
This is not the first time that Nasheed has drawn attention to the threat posed by Islamist extremism in the Maldives. As he campaigned against the authoritarian Abdulla Yameen regime and tried to draw international attention to the undemocratic goings-on in his country, Nasheed had warned of the danger many times.
After the Sri Lanka bombings, the Ibrahim Solih government, which took office last November, and also won a parliamentary majority earlier this year, has suddenly had its attention focussed on this.
Since then, the Maldivian National Defence Forces (MNDF) have held emergency response exercises, and the Maldives Customs, Immigration and Aviation Security Command have also upped their security levels.
However, the MNDF has also stressed that all measures being undertaken were “preventive measures” and there was no imminent threat or danger of a terrorist attack on the Indian Ocean archipelago, whose main source of revenue is tourism.