Religious extremist websites and jihadist propaganda remain online in the Maldives, months after the government said it would block them.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef told reporters in January that online extremist content would be blocked, shortly after the United States issued a travel advisory citing the threat of a terror attack in the Maldives.
The US-based security and risk management consultancy the Soufan Group has said around 200 to 250 Maldivians are known to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, making the island nation the highest foreign fighter contributor based on per capita.
“We have been noticing some information on websites and open sources that lead to people becoming more radicalised,” Shareef said earlier this year at a news conference. “We are continually working with the Communication Authority to block these websites, because we see this as necessary to do for the good of the Maldivian people.”
The Maldives Independent has found that several websites — including those known to be linked to Maldivians fighting in the Syrian war — are still accessible.
— ‘We won’t stop this jihad’ —
One website was not accessible from the Maldives, but a Telegram channel with 208 subscribers gave instructions on how to access it using proxy servers and VPNs.
The website has a dedicated page for jihadist propaganda, with stories detailing murders of Jews, the last letter sent by a fighter to his wife and a six-part series titled “Get Consumed in Your Anger, We Won’t Stop this Jihad.”
All the website content is in Dhivehi and the Telegram channel for the website has been sharing articles since April 2017.
Another website spreading radical propaganda has a monthly magazine with 32 issues released so far.
It has profiles of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. It also includes content designed to radicalize young people.
This website’s Telegram channel, created in August 2016, has more than 600 subscribers. Content is shared on the channel daily covering the lives of Maldivian fighters who have been killed in Syria’s conflict and several books in Dhivehi about jihad.
Some of these books cover topics such as the differences between “assaultive jihad and defensive jihad,” guerilla warfare, why people converted to Islam after 9/11, the “fruits” of jihad and the purpose of jihad.
One book explains the different places people can go to for jihad including Afghanistan, Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir, Indonesia, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula.
Another explains the ways to decide whether someone is a Muslim or not and how to deal with foreign Islamist organizations.
Another justifies suicide as a means of warfare and invites fighters to take part in suicide attacks. Dhivehi translations of speeches or text written by al-Awlaki, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are also shared.
The books are usually uploaded to online file hosting websites from where they can easily be downloaded in PDF format.
The Telegram channel boasts that the website is available in mobile and desktop versions and that all the books can be downloaded through the website.
Two other Telegram channels, one created in November 2015 with more than 400 subscribers and another created in August 2016 with more than 600 subscribers, are also used to share content from at least three websites, a YouTube channel associated with one of the websites and links for books and magazines.
Most of these websites also have a presence on Twitter and Facebook.
— Foreign fighters –
Staff at the National Counter Terrorism Center told the Maldives Independent that the centre’s director, Brigadier General Zakariyya Mansoor, was busy with meetings and was unavailable for immediate comment.
“In my view the NCTC is either hiding everything or not doing anything,” said Shahindha Ismail, the executive director of the Maldivian Democracy Network. “There has only been an increase in violent extremist propaganda, violent attacks on individuals who criticise extremism and no sign of a rehabilitation program being implemented. The Center needs to pull its act together.”
The NCTC needed to work with civil society organisations because they had been working on issues around radicalisation and extremism for longer and so had more information and knowledge about it, she added.
The NCTC, established in 2016 to combat extremism and radicalisation, launched its website and hotline in April 2017.
But the hotline number given on the website – 1516 – has been unreachable since the launch. When queried by the Maldives Independent in January, an NCTC staff member admitted the number was incorrect. The correct number for the hotline is 1615.
The hotline number had not been corrected on the website at the time of going to press.
The Global Terrorism Index 2017, from the Institute for Economics and Peace, said the Maldives had seen a seen a startling number of its citizens travel overseas relative to its population.