A Maldivian jihadi suspect with a record of terror-related activities was released from custody on Monday, the third time he has been freed from detention.
Ali Shafeeq, from R. Kandholhudhoo, is on trial for leaving the Maldives to join the Syrian civil war.
He was previously arrested in relation to the 2007 Sultan Park bombing and then again in 2009, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where he was arrested by Pakistani authorities.
A state prosecutor told the court Monday that Shafeeq travelled from the Maldives to Dubai on October 18 2016, went to Turkey two days later and attempted to get into Syria to join the war.
He left the Maldives saying he was going for “a vacation,” the prosecutor said.
The charges are being brought under the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act for “leaving the country to join a civil war in a foreign country.”
The defence lawyer and prosecutor discussed the charge at length during the preliminary hearing before Shafeeq denied it.
His lawyer argued that the charge was unclear as filed because the criminal act, time and place had not been specified by the state.
“Is anyone who leaves the Maldives guilty of this crime? Is travelling to Turkey a crime?” he asked.
The state also needed to specify that a civil war was going on in Syria, the defence lawyer said.
Attempting to join the war is not recognised as a crime under the Anti-Terrorism Act, but an individual can be charged with reference to an article in the Penal Code.
The state would then have to prove Shafeeq’s intent to join the war, his lawyer said.
“How would the state prove that? Can a person be guilty for watching a YouTube video or talking to a specific person abroad?”
The state prosecutor said there was evidence that proved Shafeeq had left the Maldives to join the Syrian civil war, including a police intelligence report.
The report says after travelling to Turkey, Shafeeq stayed in a safe house operated by the Islamic State group for people waiting to enter Syria to join the war.
– ‘Religious extremist ideology’ –
The report also said he had been identified by police as a person of “religious extremist ideology.”
A computer forensic report showed he used a computer in a Malé office to check Turkish immigration and Turkish embassy details.
The state also has multiple witnesses to testify to Shafeeq’s activities, the court heard, and the prosecutor said police had been watching him.
Shafeeq has a prior police record, the prosecutor added, but did not go into detail because it was a preliminary hearing.
Police records show he was one of several men arrested as suspects for detonating an IED in Sultan Park ten years ago. The attack injured 12 tourists and prompted a state of emergency.
He was cleared of all charges and released by the Criminal Court.
Shafeeq and nine other Maldivians were arrested with weapons near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in April 2009. Nobody was charged.
On Monday’s hearing Shafeeq pleaded with the judge to release him from custody so he could take care of his wife and daughter. Shafeeq was diabetic, his lawyer said.
The prosecutor objected to his release, saying he had been transferred to house arrest last year but had violated the conditions by leaving his home.
He was arrested while outside his residence and remanded for a second time.
The judge, however, granted Shafeeq’s release on the condition that he did not leave Malé and that he cooperated in the trial.
The last hearing in the case prior to Monday was held in September 2017.
A US-based security and risk management consultancy 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.