Malé City’s residents were up for the fifth night running on Saturday as rumours swirled of imminent raids as part of an ongoing investigation into an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat.
The alleged assassination attempt on September 28 has deepened the Maldives’ political crisis with a shakeup of the security forces, arrests of soldiers and raids on government offices and the homes of individuals linked with Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
What happened, when and where?
Yameen was scheduled to meet with the press on his arrival from Saudi Arabia, where he had performed the Hajj pilgrimage, on the morning of September 28. As the ‘Finifenmaa’ speedboat docked at the pier at 8am, journalists at the scene heard a loud blast. The speedboat’s door fell off, spewing out black smoke.
First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim, ruling coalition MPs and cabinet ministers were on board. Yameen escaped unhurt, but the first lady, a presidential aide, and a bodyguard were injured.
Fathimath sustained minor fractures to her spine, and remains hospitalised.
Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee spoke out for the first time last week: The explosion went off underneath the seat where Yameen usually sits, he recalled. The first lady was thrown into the air and fell near the glass doors, he said.
“If the incident occurred while the president was sitting there, looking at the distance madam was thrown, and factoring in the additional force because of his weight, there is no doubt that he would have lurched much further. We know from physics momentum is linked to mass. If the president had been sitting there, the impact of the blast would have been much more. He would have hit the glass doors, if so, it is likely that he may have been killed,” Shainee said on Sangu TV.
How did this happen?
On the day of the blast, minister Mohamed Hussein Shareef told The Maldives Independent: “We do not know if this is an accident… we do not know if it was deliberate or if something was planted.”
The next day, he told reporters in Colombo that a mechanical issue was the probable cause and discounted any connection between the explosion and political unrest over former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment.
A team of multi-national forensic experts from Saudi Arabia, the US, India, Australia and Sri Lanka flew in within a day of the blast. They left a week later, but their findings have not been made public yet.
Opposition-aligned Raajje TV, citing an anonymous military source, said the explosion had been caused by pressure accumulating in the boat’s air-conditioning pipes.
Despite repeated questions in the first week after the blast, the government remained tightlipped.
Then on October 6, minister Shareef told Reuters that the blast had been an assassination attempt. Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror carried a story claiming that an explosive device had been planted under the helmsman’s seat inside the boat’s cabin. “We believe this is not an assassination attempt, but a mere warning to the president,” the source said.
That night, the president’s office called a sudden press conference at 1am and broadcast a video clip of the explosion, showing flames inside the boat’s cabin. Journalists had not seen flames on the day of the blast. The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, did not allow questions at the time, but told the state broadcaster the next day that the blast was a deliberate attack on the president’s life.
Who is in charge of the inquiry into the boat blast?
On September 29, Yameen set up an “advisory committee” with six high-ranking police and military officers. The commission was later revealed to be an inquiry committee.
It initially consisted of Vice Chief of Defence Forces Brigadier General Ahmed Shahid, Colonel Abdul Rauf, and Captain Ali Ihusan from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and Assistant Commissioners Mohamed Jamsheed and Abdulla Nawaz as well as Chief Station Inspector Mohamed Shamih from the police.
The police intelligence chief Jamsheed was later removed from his post and replaced by Ahmed Areef.
The committee does not include either the head of police or the military. However, police chief Hussein Waheed has pledged full support to the inquiry after a meeting with Yameen at the police headquarters.
Defence Minister Moosa Jaleel has been sacked.
On October 7, the government revealed that Yameen and Home Minister Umar Naseer are co-chairing the committee.
Who was arrested?
On October 5, three soldiers were arrested in the first sign the government suspected foul play. They are Ahmed Thiham, Moosa Zameer and Mohamed Jawaz, all explosives experts.
The three are being held in remand detention for 15 days. Local media say they are being charged with tampering with evidence.
On the same day, Colonel Ahmed ‘Papa’ Fayaz, who heads the Special Protection Group (SPG), tasked with protecting the head of state, was replaced. It emerged that Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s bodyguards were also suspended indefinitely.
Fayaz is now under administrative detention at the military headquarters. Adeeb’s bodyguard, Ahmed Amir, is also being held at the military barracks.
The president’s office has refused to comment on the investigation’s progress. The arrests and the shakeup of the security forces have only been confirmed through anonymous sources.
Is the Vice President a suspect?
Adeeb, who was appointed as the president’s deputy this July, has held a press conference and appeared on TV to declare his unwavering loyalty to Yameen, and has denounced speculation of his involvement in the attack.
Yameen, in a closed-door meeting with MPs of the ruling coalition, reportedly expressed “500 percent confidence” in his deputy. Government officials, meanwhile, have said they are reluctant to point fingers until the inquiry is complete.
However, an array of factors has shaped the perception that Adeeb is a suspect: He was not on board Finifenmaa when the blast occurred, the homes of two of his close associates were raided, his bodyguards were the first to be suspended in the inquiry, one of the bodyguards is in administrative detention, and several officials seen as loyal to him have been dismissed.
On October 14, police raided the apartment of Abdulla Ziyath, the managing director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC). Two days later, they raided the MMPRC’s offices and security forces have now sealed the office off. It is unclear why police raided MMPRC.
Ziyath’s passport has been withheld and he has been summoned to the police for questioning.
Local media say Ziyath’s home was raided on a charge of possessing surveillance tools. Other reports suggest he is being investigated over a dispute in the ownership of a local news site.
On October 16, the home of Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman related to Adeeb, was also raided in the police’s second attempt to enter the building. The raid was carried out on a charge of tampering with evidence, according to court warrants. Police confiscated footage from CCTV cameras at the building’s entrance.
Adeeb is currently in China on official business. He departed on October 13, to inaugurate a long-awaited investment forum in Yameen’s stead. Adeeb has vowed to return, saying that the “truth will be known” when the inquiry is complete. It is not clear when he is due to return.