Three Maldivians from Addu City have joined an extremist militant group in Syria, newspaper Mihaaru reported today.
A couple and their male friend from the island of Hithadhoo in the southernmost atoll left the Maldives on June 3 and entered Syria last Friday, according to the paper.
One of the men informed his family upon arrival in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. He told the family that he would resume contact after completing training.
The three were reportedly on a police watchlist. It is unclear which group they have joined.
The news of the latest Maldivian recruits for jihad comes after President Abdulla Yameen submitted a policy paper on terrorism and violent extremism to the People’s Majlis, seeking the views of lawmakers on “further steps to be taken to address the issue.”
The paper has not been made public yet. It has not been tabled in the agenda for tomorrow’s sitting of parliament either.
The president’s office said the paper was submitted “because of the gravity of the issue, and its possible impact on national security and the safety of the Maldivian people.”
It added that the president “has also stressed the importance of urgent, additional and stronger measures to be taken nationally, both within the current legal framework, and some after amendment of the legal framework.”
The government places a high priority on “issues arising from terrorism and violent extremism,” the president’s office said.
The state had raised terrorism charges last month against three Maldivians arrested from the Turkey-Syria border in February – two years after the first reports of radicalised Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war.
The three are the first to stand trial for travelling abroad with the intent of joining a terror group after the offence was criminalised by the controversial 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act.
Days after the charges were filed, a teacher was arrested on a southern island on suspicion of links to terrorist organisations.
The current administration had been under fire from the opposition over its inability to stop the recruitment of Maldivians lured to fight in Syria.
The government had previously downplayed the threat of extremism while accusing the opposition of endangering the economy with “exaggerated” claims.
The opposition claims as many as 250 Maldivians have joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq – which would make the country the highest per capita supplier of jihadis – but government officials have offered various lower estimates.
In early February, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon told CNN that Maldivians leaving for the Middle East is “not a hugely growing issue” while Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer lambasted “scare stories of religious extremists threatening tourists”.
The government has also touted the anti-terror legislation and the 2014 Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act as “concrete actions [taken] to curb the stem of foreign terrorist fighters.”
Meanwhile, the Mumbai Mirror reported in April that a 100-hour Indo-US operation failed to stop a family of 12 Maldivians from traveling to the Middle East last December after transiting in Bangalore.
The newspaper cited an estimate of 150 Maldivians fighting with extremist organisations and claimed five young men from the family of 12 were radicalised by the Malé-based NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf.
In March, OGN Syria interviewed three young Maldivian men fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra Front.
At least six Maldivians fighting with the Al-Nusra Front are believed to have been killed in battle.