A family of four has reportedly left the Maldives to Syria last week. The husband and wife, both 28 years old, took their children, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, with them.
The family is from northern Shaviyani Atoll Fokaidhoo Island, and traveled to Syria via Sri Lanka and Turkey, said Ahmed Asif, a member of the island council.
“The couple’s whereabouts are not known, no one has heard from them since their departure. But even when they left the island last week, the people of this island suspected they had plans to travel to Syria for jihad,” Asif said.
The father has been identified as Mohamed Sodiq.
The police have confirmed they are looking into the family’s departure.
“It is very difficult to verify information regarding these matters, we take any such reports from councils or families very seriously, we are definitely looking into this,” a spokesman said.
Hundreds of Maldivians are thought to be fighting with militant groups in the Middle East. Some of them fight with Jabhat al-Nusra Front and others with the Islamic State.
Local media reports suggest the outflow of Maldivians is steady. These include entire families, immigration officers, members of Malé’s criminal gangs and hospital workers.
Some maintain regular contact with their families through social media.
At least seven have reportedly been killed in battle.
The government has submitted an anti-terror bill to the parliament with jail terms of up to 20 years for those attempting to leave the Maldives for Jihad.
Critics have said harsh penalties are not enough, and have called on the government to undertake awareness programs to address radicalization, and establish early intervention and rehabilitation programs.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is doing very little to stop the spread of extremist ideologies.
When reports of Maldivians fighting and dying in the Middle East first surfaced in May last year, Yameen said he was unaware of the issue, while the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) officials accused the MDP of spreading false information to bring the Maldives into disrepute.
In September, some 200 people staged a march in Malé carrying the black flags of the IS and calling for the enforcement of Islamic Shariah in the Maldives.
Home Minister Umar Naseer first acknowledged the problem in December, saying only seven Maldivians were fighting abroad. In January, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed put the number at 50.
The Islamic Ministry in July 2014 urged young Maldivians to refrain from participating in foreign wars.
Then-Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said Islam does not permit the shedding of Muslim brother’s blood, and called on Maldivians to serve their own parents, families and country.
The Fiqh Academy last week issued a fatwa (legal opinion) reiterating the same.
“Travelling to Islamic countries where groups belonging to Islamic countries create havoc and instability in the name of jihad will open avenues for enemies of Muslims to interfere in the affairs of Muslim countries.” the fatwa read.
In May last year, the US State Department in the 2013 country report on terrorism said the Maldivian government believes that funds are being raised in the country to support terrorism abroad. However, the Maldives Monetary Authority denied the claim in a subsequent press release.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed.