A top Maldives diplomat has highlighted the country’s work in tackling extremism, despite criticism of the government’s failure to deliver key elements in its fight against terrorism.
The ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, was speaking to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in a wide-ranging interview.
He described the country’s borders as “quite porous” and that it was “almost next to impossible” to keep checks or security posts at every point.
“We are very lucky that we have not had any terrorist attacks in the Maldives so far. But while for some aspects our geographical nature becomes a challenge, for the tourism sector it is a blessing. We have a one island-one resort concept, so we are able to provide, safety, security and privacy for all tourists,” Mohamed said.
While resorts have not experienced or reported terror attacks, the same cannot be said for the inhabited islands where the majority of Maldivians live.
In 2007 an extremist group detonated an explosive device near Sultan Park (now Rasrani Bageechaa) injuring 12 tourists from China, Britain and Japan. This was followed by a stand-off in Himandhoo island in Alif Alif atoll between an extremist group and security forces. The group attacked and injured around 30 police officers before 60 men were arrested and charged with terrorism.
The prosecutor general has also brought terror charges against people involved in the murder of human rights defender Yameen Rasheed in 2017 and the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan in 2014.
Shahindha Ismail, the executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) questioned the ambassador’s remarks.
“It is a blatant lie to say the Maldives has never had a terror attack. Maybe it is being framed this way because it has not happened in a tourist resort.”
Ambassador Mohamed also talked about the National Counter Terrorism Center established in 2016.
“Since the establishment of NCTC, we have held two international conferences in the Maldives, that also gave us the opportunity to learn from the experience of others,” he said.
However, experts working in the counter-terrorism sector have raised concerns about the centre’s inefficiency.
An official from a private security company, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the NCTC was not functioning and had failed to respond to requests regarding safeguarding major tourist infrastructure against possible terrorist attacks.
“I don’t think it is functional. It is like a paper company. So far none of the calls we have made have been taken and we have heard nothing regarding requests for cooperation,” the official said.
Shahindha said the MDN was also unable to reach the NCTC hotline.
“I think the problem is about political sincerity. While the ambassador is saying that Maldives has an extremism problem, in an NCTC press conference the defence minister said that this was an isolated problem.”
According to US-based security and risk management consultancy, the Soufan Group, around 200 to 250 Maldivians are known to be fighting in the wars in Syria and Iraq, making the Maldives the highest foreign fighter contributor based on per capita.
However, the government has given lower figures.