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Maldives arrests 13 in crackdown on terror groups 

Curbing radical elements in the Maldives (Photo: IANS)

A joint counter-terror operation is underway in the Maldives where the Maldives police and the defence forces have arrested 13 people. The operation was launched on Saturday.

The Maldivian media has reported that nine people have been arrested from Addu City, two from capital Male and two from Guradhoo island. All the arrested people are Maldivian men.

Counter-terrorism operations had been conducted last year also. Many people were arrested for extremist links and bomb-making materials were recovered.

The archipelago in the Indian Ocean has been facing a crisis of radicalisation for a long time. Despite its image as a global travel and tourism destination, Islamist influence has only gained ground in the Maldives, which now follows Islam as the only religion in the land.

Some of the biggest extremist attacks included one on former President Mohamed Nasheed who was targeted with a bomb in May 2021. The improvised bomb had been planted on a bike which was parked close to his car near his home.

The critically injured Nasheed had to be rushed to Germany for treatment where he took nearly five months to recover. Nasheed is known for his liberal and pro-democratic views, which puts him in the path to trouble.

Similarly, in August this year Maldivian Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Ali Solih was stabbed by a knife-wielding individual near capital Male. He sustained injuries on his left arm but was safe as he ran away from his attacker.

The archipelago with just half a million people boasts of having the highest per capita militants who have been fighting for ISIS and other terror groups in various parts of Asia. With help from the UN, the country is also trying to bring back and de-radicalise Maldivian women and children living at the Al Hol and Roj camps in Syria and other conflict areas. Many of these children have been born in foreign war zones.

In December 2019, Maldives’ Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed had told councillors that 423 Maldivians had attempted to join terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq, of which 173 had managed to enter the war zones. He added that before the Syrian civil war, hundreds of local extremists had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in the religious wars.

Some of the Af-Pak returnees were found to have been radicalising the local people after their return. The police chief also mentioned the terror attacks that had been foiled, saying that the previous government had downplayed the issue of radicalisation and Maldivians travelling to foreign lands for jihad.

Also Read: Time for Maldives to catch up with Gulf nations on religious reforms