The owner of a car suspected to have been used in the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan was arrested Tuesday.
A credible source has confirmed that Aalif Rauf, 29 years, was arrested from Malé, days after police revealed that DNA samples from hairs lifted from the trunk of the Kuda Henveiru gang member’s red car matched that of Rilwan’s mother’s DNA.
The car was illegally transported to the suburb island Hulhumalé – where Rilwan was living – a week before the abduction and brought back to Malé in mid August that year.
Soon after Rilwan’s disappearance was reported, his neighbors said they had witnessed a man being forced into a car at knifepoint abduction outside their apartment building on August 8.
The police arrested a second man from Hulhumalé on Tuesday. He has been identified by sources as Mohamed Nooradheen, 31 years.
The pair were arrested on suspicion of links to the disappearance and attempts to tamper with evidence.
The police on Saturday said several young men with the Kuda Henveiru gang had tailed Rilwan for over two hours on the night he went missing. The chief suspect, Mohamed Suaid, was arrested in September, but released by a court a few weeks later.
Suaid left the Maldives in January 2015 with Arlif’s brother Azleef Rauf, a former soldier who was arrested over the 2012 brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali.
The police’s admission that Rilwan was abducted marks a stark reversal as they had previously insisted that DNA analysis was insufficient to link the August 8 abduction with Rilwan’s disappearance.
Human rights NGO, the Maldivian Democracy Network, had published a comprehensive report into the journalist’s disappearance in September 2014, detailing the involvement of Kuda Henveiru gang, but the police dismissed the report as politically motivated at the time.
Suaid and Azleef’s family say the pair died in battle in the Syrian civil war last year, but the claim has been disputed.
The police are also looking into an attempt at forging Rilwan’s passport last March “to make it appear as if he had left or was out of the country,” Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh has said.
At the time, several pro-government websites, citing a blog that later turned out to be fake, had reported that Rilwan had died in battle in Syria.
When asked why it had taken the police over 600 days to reveal information already detailed in Maldivian Democracy Network’s report, Satheeh said: “The police will decide when and how and how much information we will reveal to the public.”
Days after the report’s release, a machete was lodged in the front door of The Maldives Independent’s offices. This paper was formerly known as Minivan News.
Some 17 journalists were arrested and held for over ten hours on Sunday when they staged a protest outside the President’s Office over threats to press freedom, including delays and perceived police negligence in the search for Rilwan.