Two Maldivians caught en route to Syria

Two Maldivians caught en route to Syria
October 21 14:05 2017

Two Maldivians en route to join the fighting in Syria have been arrested in Turkey and brought back to the country, according to the police.

Both suspects have been remanded for 15 days, the police said, declining to disclose any further details.

In September, the police said three Maldivians were arrested in a joint operation with the Turkish law enforcement authorities. They were alleged to have been planning to cross the border into Syria to join a militant group.

The criminal court in Malé remanded the suspects to police custody for 15 days upon their arrival in the Maldives.

In late August, the criminal court concluded the trial of the first suspects prosecuted for travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group after it was criminalised by the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act.

The three Maldivian men were charged with terrorism following their arrest from the Turkey-Syria border in February 2016. A Maldivian man who attempted to cross into Syria was also arrested and repatriated in February this year. Two others who allegedly fought with militant groups in Pakistan are also standing trial.

More recently, two Maldivian men with links to the Islamic State terror group were arrested in Malaysia. They were accused of “using Malaysia and Singapore as a transit point before heading to Syria to join IS.”

According to local media, the two men were freed after they were brought back to the Maldives.

In late September, the  United Kingdom’s updated travel advice to the Maldives and warned that terrorists were “very likely” to carry out an attack. But the government downplayed the update and insisted that the country “remains one of the safest destinations in the world”.

The opposition claims as many as 250 Maldivians are fighting in Syria and Iraq – the highest per capita in the region. But the government says the opposition has been inflating the figure to lobby international support for its cause, offering various lower estimates and decrying damage to the economy due to “exaggerated” claims.

The anti-terror law was passed after the current administration was accused of ignoring the threat posed by jihadi recruitment since the first reports of Maldivians joining terror groups emerged in 2014.

Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar insisted in late April that the number of Maldivians fighting in Syria is 49.

At least six Maldivians fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria are believed to have been killed in battle. In late April, the group’s media wing reported that a Maldivian man with the alias Abu Yousif Al-Maldivi was killed during clashes with the Syrian Arab Army inside the town of Taybat Al-Imam in northern Hama.