Security has been heightened at the Velana International Airport as a precautionary measure, the defence minister has said after soldiers began carrying weapons and explosives detectors at the airport island on Saturday.
Contrary to rumours, Adam Shareef Umar told the press that the Maldives is not at risk of an imminent terrorist attack. “There is no such fear,” he told Mihaaru.
Shareef told the newspaper that armed soldiers were deployed in response to threats of attacks against airports across the globe. The soldiers will continue to carry weapons indefinitely, he added.
On Sunday afternoon, local media meanwhile reported the arrest of a Maldivian on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack in collaboration with the Islamic State militant group. The man was reportedly arrested on September 14 and remanded to police custody but the authorities have so far declined to comment.
Four men were also arrested in late April in connection with an alleged terror plot. “Well done and Thanks to Police Services for stopping the bomb attack in the capital,” Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee tweeted at the time.
The opposition claims as many as 250 Maldivians are fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq – the highest per capita in the region – but Shareef insisted in late April that the number was 49.
The defence minister denied that networks were actively recruiting Maldivian jihadis. He also suggested that extremism ideology was not so entrenched in the Maldives that it could not be countered by the authorities working together with the public.
A baseline study conducted by the National Counter Terrorism Centre has identified islands where radical views are prevalent, he said, but the findings have yet to be made public.
Last May, a man was arrested for hoisting the black flag of IS at the artificial beach in Malé.
In late August, the criminal court concluded the trial of the first suspects prosecuted for travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group after it was criminalised by the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act.
The three Maldivian men were charged with terrorism following their arrest from the Turkey-Syria border in February 2016. A Maldivian man who attempted to cross into Syria was also arrested and repatriated in February this year. Two others who allegedly fought with militant groups in Pakistan are also standing trial.
More recently, two Maldivian men with links to the Islamic State terror group were arrested in Malaysia. They were accused of “using Malaysia and Singapore as a transit point before heading to Syria to join IS.”
The heightened security in recent days prompted former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition figures to urge the government to share information with the public.
The Government must inform all stakeholders over heightened security threat before increasing military presence at the airport.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) September 23, 2017