The Maldives police and British counter-terrorism experts sat down this week with more than a 100 tourism sector security personnel to work out measures to protect visitors from potential acts of terror.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer kicked off the two-day conference at Kurumba Maldives on Tuesday, acknowledging that a single attack could cut off the country’s main source of revenue.
The conference is the first of its kind since reports of Maldivians fighting in Syria and Iraq surfaced three years ago, raising fears of attacks against tourists, which only mounted in the aftermath of terror attacks in Muslim-majority countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Tukey and Malaysia.
Insisting that the Maldives remained safe for tourists, Zameer said: “The threat of global terrorism is concerning. We are living in extremely turbulent times. It is evident that all countries in South Asia are exposed to the vulnerability and to the threats forced by violent extremism.
“These threats are high for such a country like ours. A single terrorist attack could cripple the burgeoning tourism-based economy in the Maldives. ”
Some 100 resorts participated in the discussion, according to state broadcaster Public Service Media, the only news organisation allowed at the conference.
Zameer said that the safety of tourists is the government’s “highest priority,” and that the conference’s aim was to build a network between law enforcement agencies and security personnel at resorts.
He said: “This forum will allow a platform to share best practices on security and increase capability and identity of regional trends within a secure environment. The tourism industry has expanded rapidly over the last three years. This expansion means a higher priority has to be given for security measures in our resorts.”
The conference ended on Wednesday. It was a joint effort between the British counter terrorism command SO15, the British Embassy Maldives, the Maldives police and the tourism ministry.
The government initially denied reports of radicalisation, accusing the opposition of a political campaign to tarnish the Maldives image.
However, as reports of young Maldivians leaving the country for Syria and Iraq increased, Yameen approved a new anti-terrorism law that criminalised the act of leaving the Maldives in the pursuit of Jihad.
In February, the president’s office established a new body, the National Counter Terrorism Centre, to identify and rehabilitate radicalised individuals and the Islamic ministry last week vowed to provide “official assistance” to those suffering in Muslim countries in order to prevent Maldivians “from becoming emotionally compelled to take part in activities in Jihad’s name.”
The NCTC in October said the army was training security guards at resorts on countering a terror attack and said there was no credible threat of a terror attack.
The opposition claims as many as 200 Maldivians have left the country on Jihad, which would make the Maldives the highest per capita supplier of jihadists. The government disputes the figure, with various ministers offering estimates ranging from 35 to 100.
Chief Inspector of Police Ahmed Ali, who heads the Maldives counter-terrorism department, told PSM that the conference has demonstrated to the international community that the Maldives tourism industry was safe.
“We have given a very good message to the international community… We, in the security sector, have assured the international community that the security of this industry is very good, and that [the industry] is protected.”
In October, the NCTC brought together experts from 25 countries and the United Nations to share experiences on countering terrorism. It also enlisted an Indian university to carry out terrorism awareness and training programmes.