The Maldives police conducted a special operation on Tuesday to search multiple residences in Malé, the capital’s suburb Hulhumalé and the southernmost Addu City.
The operation is still ongoing, police spokeswoman Izmia Zahir told the Maldives Independent on Wednesday morning.
It was launched to execute court orders obtained by a presidential commission for its probe into the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the spokeswoman previously told the press.
Nine homes were searched on Tuesday. The buildings raided were connected to suspects named by the commission when the findings of its 10-month inquiry were disclosed last week. The Maldives Independent journalist was murdered five years ago by a local extremist group with alleged links to al-Qaeda, the commission concluded.
Masked officers from the Specialist Operations command and forensic services were involved in the raids. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets of the capital as the operation went on late into Tuesday night.
No arrests were made, police told the media close to midnight. A suspect taken in for questioning in Addu City was later released.
Travel bans were imposed on 14 suspects last week after the commission sought court orders to withhold passports.
The raids came a day after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih promised imminent action in the face of mounting outrage over the failure to arrest suspects a week after the commission’s chair Husnu Suood briefed the press.
In a series of tweets on Saturday, police chief Mohamed Hameed contended that the inquiry commission has “sole investigative authority over the case of Ahmed Rilwan.” The presidential commissions law passed in July “fully empowers the commission to directly seek arrest warrants for any person it deems necessary in the case,” he said.
A day later, President Solih brought together leaders of the police, prosecutor general, attorney general and the presidential commission. He later told the press that he would personally oversee efforts and ensure cooperation with the commission’s inquiry.
The presidential commission found that the same extremist group behind Rilwan’s abduction was responsible for the murders of a moderate religious scholar and liberal blogger. In 2011, the group compiled a “hit list” of secularists and “people they believed were mocking religion and began issuing death threats,” Suood told the press last week.
Local groups with ties to the al-Nusra Front and Islamic State militant organisations recruited young men to fight in Syria and raised funds through several businesses, witnesses told the commission.
Suood’s revelations marked the first time the presence of hardline groups affiliated with terrorist organisations was publicly acknowledged despite reports of Maldivians travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq since 2014. The former administration denied the existence of recruitment networks and accused the opposition of exaggerating claims of Maldivian jihadis.
Last week, Suood shared a draft report with parliament, which made a summary available to the public with further details and identities of suspects, including the names of police intelligence officers who followed Rilwan and listened to his phone calls weeks before the abduction.
But police claimed there was not enough evidence to arrest the two intelligence officers despite instructions by the Attorney General. The officers were suspended for an internal probe by the professional standards command.