The trial of a 30-year-old man who is alleged to have fought in Pakistan’s Waziristan for some nine years opened at the criminal court on Sunday.
Mohamed Abdul Rahman was charged with terrorism for allegedly participating in a foreign war and faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.
Reading out the charges, the state prosecutor said Rahman, from the island of Kandholhudhoo in Raa Atoll, travelled to Pakistan in 2007, in the guise of studying.
“But he settled in Wana, South Waziristan and was actively involved in the war there,” said Adam Mohamed. While the state did not identify the militant group Rahman allegedly fought with, al-Qaeda has a strong presence in the region.
Rahman was arrested in June, days after he returned to the Maldives. At the time, newspaper Mihaaru described him as “a top leader in a military group active in the Waziristan region,” and claimed the Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved in the investigation against him.
Rahman has been remanded in police custody since his arrest.
At court, he said: “I understand the charges against me and I want the opportunity to appoint a lawyer to speak on my behalf.”
Judge Adam Arif gave Rahman ten days to appoint a lawyer and adjourned Sunday’s hearing.
Rahman’s is the second case in which Maldivians alleged to have left the country to join foreign militant groups have been brought to trial.
In May, three Maldivians who had been arrested on the Turkey-Syria border were brought to trial. The three have denied charges.
The opposition claims as many as 200 Maldivians have left the country to fight in the Middle East, which they claim makes the country the highest per capita supplier of jihadis in the world, but the government disputes the figure, with ministers offering estimates ranging from 35 to 100.
Some nine Maldivians who were arrested in 2010 with weapons in Waziristan were extradited to the Maldives, but were released with the state claiming they could not be prosecuted under existing laws.