Maldivians are among more than 600 fighters from the terrorist organisation Islamic State who surrendered with their families to the Afghanistan’s government in recent weeks, according to media reports.
Afghan security forces have “obliterated” IS in the country, President Ashraf Ghani declared on Tuesday. Militants in custody reportedly include foreign fighters from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Maldives.
The Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Tuesday that Maldivians were among 243 fighters taken into custody in the eastern Nangarhar province that borders Pakistan.
It emerged in a documentary aired by Al Jazeera last month that Turkey blacklisted 134 Maldivians and deported 25 people who were suspected of planning to join terrorist organisations in Syria. The previous administration downplayed the issue and gave lower numbers but about 200 to 250 Maldivians are estimated to have joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq. Many fighters died in battle and widowed women are seeking to return to the Maldives.
Construction of a rehabilitation centre on Himmafushi island to de-radicalise returning fighters is expected to be complete before the end of the year.
Travelling overseas to fight in a foreign war was criminalised in the 2015 anti-terrorism law but none of the suspected jihadis extradited by Turkey were convicted. In late October, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared Syria a war zone after the anti-terror law was revised to prohibit unsanctioned presence in a war zone. The offence carries a jail sentence of up to seven years.
In September, the United States designated a Maldivian as a “terrorist leader” for the first time and imposed targeted sanctions against the 35-year-old man. Mohamed Ameen was arrested by Maldivian police last month and remains in custody.
Ameen was described as a recruiter for ISIS-Khorasan, a branch of the militant group Islamic State, and a “key leader for ISIS in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Maldives [who] used to direct terrorist fighters to Syria, but now sends them to Afghanistan.”
A presidential commission also named Ameen as the leader of a Maldivian extremist group affiliated with ISIS.
Photo from Pajhwok Afghan News