Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation had found no evidence an explosive had caused a blast on the speedboat carrying President Abdulla Yameen, the government insisted today it has enough proof of a bomb plot.
Citing reports by Sri Lankan and Saudi Arabian experts and evidence gathered by the Maldives security forces, Home Minister Umar Naseer said the September 28 blast was a targeted assassination attempt on the president.
The FBI’s report, which stated that it had found “no conclusive evidence” of an explosive device, has fuelled fresh skepticism of the government’s claims.
Naseer, at a press conference today, displayed photos of the speedboat’s interior for the first time, and attempted to downplay the FBI’s findings.
The explosion has plunged the Maldives into a fresh political crisis: Vice President Ahmed Adeeb is among seven men arrested on suspicion of plotting the alleged attack, while more than a dozen homes and some islands have been raided. The defence minister and the police chief have also been sacked.
Naseer said the discovery of an arms cache, including firearms and explosives, on the reef of an uninhabited island on Friday is a major clue, but did not detail how it was linked to the blast or Adeeb.
“The Maldives Police Services is in charge of this inquiry, not any other party. Foreign experts are assisting us, on our request, only with certain areas of the inquiry… The foreign experts examined the crime scene. They have not and will not look into circumstantial evidence,” he said.
Trace of explosives
Naseer repeatedly stressed that the FBI had not ruled out the presence of an explosive device. They had only said their samples had shown no trace of explosives, and raised the possibility the blast was caused by other flammable chemicals, he claimed.
“Since the FBI did not rule out an IED, and since the Saudis found RDX [a powerful chemical explosive], we, the inquiry commission, are certain that this is enough evidence to take up the matter in a court of law,” he said.
RDX was found on one of the six samples taken by Saudi experts, while none was found on the FBI swabs, he said. Likening the process to the Islamic practice of moon sighting, he said: “The trace of RDX on one swab is enough. We do not check if the swab belonged to the Saudi team or the FBI team.”
The joint military and police inquiry commission suspects the boat was tampered with, he said, adding: “Because of this it is likely that the foreign teams were unable to find the kind of samples they needed.”
Moreover, high explosives often do not leave any traces, he claimed.
When asked if he would disclose the reports, he said: “We will not disclose the reports. We will submit these reports to the court of law.”
Forensic experts from India and Australia were also invited to examine the boat. The Australians did not send a team, while the Indians are not likely to share their report, he said.
The photos of the boat’s interior showed major damage to Yameen’s seat. It was the First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim who was sitting on Yameen’s usual seat on the day of the blast.
There were rips on the front of the seat, but the damage was worst at the back. The blast had damaged the fan of the air-conditioning system attached to the back of the seat, and torn lights off the ceiling on the deck below the seat.
“No other area damaged, except for the chair. The attack was targeted at that specific chair… We believe this was an attack targeted at a single person, not to kill everyone on board or sink the launch. This was a targeted attack on the president,” he said.
The force of the explosion hurled the first lady ten feet away, and flames were seen for a fraction of a second, he said.
Naseer insisted that the joint military and police inquiry commission will “conclude a successful investigation and prosecute and sentence those responsible in a court of law.”
When questioned on the strength of the evidence and comments Naseer had made over Adeeb’s guilt, he said: “We arrested Adeeb because there is direct evidence against him… I repeat, we are chasing after the evidence, not specific individuals. The evidence can take us to an individual… The evidence we have gathered so far has taken us to the vice president.”
The vice president is now facing impeachment at the People’s Majlis. He has denied any involvement in the attack.
The inquiry commission is also investigating the state owned tourism promotion firm’s illegal import of fireworks. Its Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath has been arrested on a charge of corruption.
The weapons cache was found on an island leased by MMPRC to Adeeb’s associate. Naseer said the commission believes the MMPRC’s import of fireworks, the cache of weapons found on Baa Atoll Hibalhidhoo and the blast on the speedboat are linked.
The government has now declared a hunt for eight men, including the owner of the company Hibalhidhoo is leased to. All eight are Adeeb’s associates and are now out of the country.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed