The number of Maldivians travelling to Syria to fight with jihadist groups is on the rise, Defence Minister Adam Shareef said Monday.
He said 68 people, including nine children, were stopped from going there.
A dozen Maldivians were arrested in Turkey, a further 13 were apprehended in other countries and 21 were held in the capital Malé. The arrests were based on intelligence reports from the police, customs, immigration and the NCTC.
The most recent official figures were confirmed by the police, the Maldives National Defence Force and the NCTC, Shareef said. Investigations into the cases of seven Maldivians have concluded, he added.
“As we have previously mentioned, the number of people travelling to join the war is on the rise because of wrong religious information or because this information is not provided accurately. We are working to solve this,” Shareef told reporters.
“Terrorism and religious extremism are connected to national security. The problem of religious extremism is a serious problem that has to be tackled with foresight.”
Referring to people heading to their home countries after the war ended in some parts of Syria, the minister said that so far three people had been arrested upon return to the Maldives.
Maldivians who wish to return will always have that opportunity and the government will facilitate their return, Shareef said, warning they would face prosecution as participating foreign wars is unlawful.
The anti-terrorism law sets a jail term of up to 20 years for leaving the Maldives to join a foreign war.
Shareef also downplayed last week’s US government travel advisory, warning of potential terror attacks in the Maldives.