A Maldives man alleged to have fought in Pakistan’s Waziristan for almost a decade and who local media describe as a “top terrorist leader” had charges against him thrown out by the Criminal Court on Sunday.
Mohamed Abdul Rahman, of Kan’dholhudhoo island in Raa atoll, was charged with terrorism for participating in a foreign war and faced up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.
But Judge Ahmed Hailam ruled he could not be charged because prosecutors could not prove he had taken part in fighting after the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act came into force.
Defence lawyer Noorusalaam Aboobakuru had raised the issue.
He argued that even if his client had taken part in a foreign war, the state had to prove he had done so after the legislation was enacted in October 2015.
Prosecutors Mariyam Thoifa and Aishath Mohamed could not say if there was evidence that he had taken part in fighting after that date.
Prosecutors were prepared to introduce three witnesses, four intelligence reports and forensic evidence.
The judge had even issued a ruling to keep the identity of the three witnesses anonymous and the intelligence reports secret before the defence argued the charges could not be brought.
Prosecutors said they were not seeking charges over a particular crime on a particular date, but for a continuous crime that took place from 2007 to early 2016.
They said that Rahman had left the Maldives under the pretext of higher education before going to Wana in Waziristan, where he trained with an unnamed terror organization.
Prosecutors said he had married the sister-in-law of Abu Usman, a top Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist, and had children.
Abu Usman died in a US drone strike in Waziristan and Rahman was questioned by the FBI about the drone strike, Thoifa told the court.
– Foreign fighters –
According to available records an Abu Usman Adil, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2012.
Rahman returned to the Maldives in April 2016 and was arrested in June that year. He has remained in police custody since then and was charged under the anti-terror law in January 2017.
He had an operation to remove pieces of shrapnel, which the prosecution claimed was from injuries received while fighting in Pakistan.
The defence said the shrapnel did not prove his participation in a war.
The Maldives has a poor record of convicting those charged with travelling overseas to join foreign wars.
Last month a Maldivian with a record of terror-related activities, including a bombing in Malé, was released from custody for the third time.
In 2017 three people charged with terrorism for attempting to cross into Syria from Turkey were acquitted as prosecutors could not prove their intent was to join a foreign war.
A group of Maldivians arrested in 2010 with weapons in Waziristan were extradited to the Maldives but were released, with the state saying they could not be prosecuted under existing laws.
The US-based security and risk management consultancy the Soufan Group has said around 200 to 250 Maldivians are known to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, making the island nation the highest foreign fighter contributor based on per capita.
But the government disputes the figure, with ministers offering lower estimates.