The first Maldivians to be charged with travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group have been acquitted and set free.
In a closed hearing Thursday, the criminal court decided that the prosecution was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ahmed Latheef, Ahmed Suhail Moosa, and Munawwar Abdulla went to Turkey to cross the border into Syria.
In the not guilty verdict made public Sunday, Judge Adam Arif said there were “big differences” between the testimony of nine prosecution witnesses at court and their statements taken during the police investigation.
The prosecution also failed to submit any documentation to prove that the three men were arrested in Turkey.
On the other hand, the defendant’s claim that they travelled to Turkey on a business trip was backed by eight witnesses, he noted.
Audio analysis of calls and a telegram chat log in which one of the defendants claimed to be in “the sacred land of Shām to seek Jannat-ul Firdaus” was in itself insufficient to prove they were planning to join a militant group, the chief judge ruled.
According to the prosecution, the three men were stopped at a checkpoint and arrested by the Turkish Security Forces in February 2016.
They were the first suspects to stand trial for travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group after the offence was criminalised by the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act.
The court heard closing arguments on August 21.
Several other Maldivians who allegedly attempted to cross into Syria to join the civil war have also been arrested and repatriated from Turkey.
The opposition claims the Maldives is the highest per capita supplier of jihadis with as many as 250 Maldivians fighting in Syria and Iraq. 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.
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.
Photo from Avas