Dr Afrasheem Ali, a lawmaker and moderate religious scholar, was brutally murdered in October 2012 by a local extremist group with ties to al-Qaeda, the presidential commission on deaths and disappearances concluded.
According to key findings of the commission’s report revealed at Sunday’s sitting of parliament by Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, the jihadi group was led by Mohamed Mazeed and Somith Mohamed and the planning was overseen by Azlif Rauf, a former soldier charged in connection with the murder who was allowed to leave the country in January 2015.
An estimated MVR4 million (US$259,400) or MVR6 million was spent on the “murder contract,” the report stated.
The Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Ungoofaru was stabbed to death at the stairwell of his home by Hussain Humam – the only person convicted of the murder – with his acquitted co-defendant Ali Shan and an unnamed minor. The commission also suspected the involvement of nine people who left the country hours after the murder and joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq. A group of suspects were inside Afrasheem’s apartment building and the nearby Christie’s restaurant on the night of the murder.
Azlif Rauf was later protected by persons “hidden behind politicians,” the commission found.
Citing the report, Speaker Nasheed said the police knew the facts at the time but claimed the killing was politically motivated and tried to blame the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. Former police commissioner Abdulla Riyaz – now Jumhooree Party MP for Thimarafushi – told the press in December 2012 that there was no evidence to suspect religious extremists.
Nasheed said the report named NGO Salaf and a YouTube channel among groups that incited hatred against Dr Afrasheem, who was dubbed “Dr Ibilees” (Dr Satan) and vilified by local clerics for taking liberal positions on issues such as women’s attire, music and apostasy. In 2008, he was kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers and in May 2012 the Adhaalath Party condemned him for “mocking the Sunnah.”
The main point of contention between Dr Afrasheem and others at a ‘Scholar’s Dialogue’ in September 2012 was later cited as the reason for his murder by the perpetrators, Nasheed noted.
Appearing on state TV on the night of his murder, Afrasheem apologised for “misunderstandings” over some of his views and former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem later denied forcing Afrasheem to offer a public apology.
According to the report, Shaheem received a text message before the murder that suggested the senders would “love Afrasheem if he repents and announces on the media.” Shaheem forwarded the message to Afrasheem on September 12, 2012 but claimed he did not remember who the sender was when he was questioned by the commission.
The commission accused the former vice presidential candidate of providing false information. Text messages exchanged between the pair undermined Shaheem’s written statement, the report stated, also noting the Islamic minister’s departure overseas hours after the murder.
Responding to the allegations on Sunday, Shaheem denied lying to the commission about Afrasheem’s final TV appearance. “Innocent people” were being accused in a bid to hide the real killers, tweeted Shaheem, who works in Saudi Arabia as an advisor to the secretary-general of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.
Other challenges faced in the commission’s inquiry included failure to obtain some call data, intelligence information security camera footage from police. But there was enough evidence in the report to prosecute “very many people who were active in assassinating Dr Afrasheem,” Nasheed said.
The inquiry commission previously revealed that the same jihadi group was behind the Sultan park bombing and violent confrontation with the security forces in late 2007, the attempted murder of blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed in June 2012, the murder of Dr Afrasheem in October 2012, the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014 and the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed in April 2017.
Quoting from the report, Nasheed said the al-Qaeda branch in the Maldives was divided into small cells whose members did not know each other. Subgroups were tasked with proselytising, managing finances and other matters. Members of the first group operate openly but members in charge of raising finances take precautions such as not keeping long beards and using casual language. In June 2014, the organisation’s leadership split into rival groups that supported al-Qaeda and the Islamic State led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“If we are unable to swiftly investigate and bring an end to the activities of extremist religious ideology in the Maldives, there is no doubt in my mind that our country will go down the path of ruin,” said Nasheed, calling on law enforcement authorities to take immediate action.