Tagged: Maldives radicalisation

Maldives fighters in Syria warns government & leaders

by Azra Naseem

Bilad Al Sham, the media section of Maldivians fighting in Syria, has released a YouTube video describing the country’s leaders as Taghut – unjust tyrants, opponents of the Prophet, or evil powers—they are at war with. Makers of the video describe it as ‘a small warning.’

The video is accompanied by a nasheed – a piece of music sung a cappella, popular among fighters in Syria and Iraq. The words are said to have been written by Abu Nuh, a young Maldivian who died in Syria in 2014.

AbuNuh

The video shows clips of all recent Maldivian presidents—Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978-2008), Mohamed Nasheed (2008-2012), Mohamed Waheed (2012-2013), and Abdulla Yameen (2013-present). In one clip Gayoom is shown in front of a group of school children who appear to be bowing to him.

Another clip is of Nasheed giving a speech in which he says, “people do not want amputations, executions, or stoning in the Maldives”. Superimposed onto this is a picture of the Maldivian constitution to time with the singer’s words speaking of their [the fighters'] refusal to obey earthly laws. “We will not approve, even if beaten, we will not approve, even if killed, we will not approve,” he sings.

The number of Maldivians who want Maldives to be governed strictly according to the Shari’a and Shari’a alone has been steadily increasing in the last decade or so.

The clips of Nasheed are followed by a picture of Yameen with the Maldives constitution in hand, at the ceremony in which he was sworn in as President. “We will not obey a human who disobeys the Creator”, says the song. Accompanying this is a video clip of Gayoom welcoming former US President Bill Clinton to a local airport, followed by a video of the Maldives parliament, in a session presided over by Waheed. Video effects show a slow fire spreading across the screen.

“Oh, Allah, Allah, I distance myself from this land of oppression, from this cruelty”, says the singer, accompanied by videos of the violent confrontation between Maldives police and a group of men who laid siege to a mosque on the island of Himandhoo in September 2007. It was the first incident to draw the world’s attention to changing religious practices in what was then considered to be a wholly ‘moderate Muslim country’.

These clips are followed by a video of Waheed and then speaker of parliament Abdulla Shahid during an honour guard. In this video, too, a fire slowly rises to consume the figures on screen. The video then shows pictures and clips of Maldivian fighters in Syria, before cutting back to a celebratory crowd in Male’ who seem to be moving in unison to music. “I distance myself from this infidelity”, says the singer. The video then cuts back to Maldivians in Syria.

“O Taghuts, weak humans, this is a small warning, a war we are waging. O unbelievers, the mobs of Satan; what we want, however much you disapprove, is to free slaves from the slaves”. This part of the song is again accompanied by video clips of the violence between police and the men who laid siege to the mosque in Himandhoo.

The video begins and ends with a man shooting live bullets from a machine gun at a makeshift target, a thin frame holding pictures of three men: former presidents Gayoom, Nasheed and Yameen. The bullets tear through the men, causing the pictures to fall to the ground.

In the last frame, the shooter tramples on them with his boots.

Controversial numbers

The issue of Maldivian fighters in Syria has become a political hot potato with the government accusing the opposition of inflating figures to suit its own agenda, and the opposition accusing the government of deliberately underrating them.

Leader of the opposition, former president Mohamed Nasheed, convicted of terrorism charges in a trial the UN and other international organisations condemned as a travesty of justice, has spoken on various international fora of the large number of Maldivians leaving to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq. Nasheed has consistently put the number of Maldivian fighters in Syria at over 200.

Yesterday, speaking in London at the launch of a new United Opposition in exile, he put the number at 250, saying Maldives has the world’s highest per capita foreign fighters in the region. On one occasion his international lawyers warned of the likelihood of a Tunisia-like attack on the Maldives’ tourism industry.

The government has, in turn, moved to downplay the issue, variously putting the number of Maldivian fighters at well below hundred, 50, or even 30.

Such low figures are hard to accept given the regular flow of Maldivians leaving for Syria since 2014, sometimes in large groups and quite often as entire families. The government has imposed a policy of blanket silence on the issue, refusing to divulge any information to journalists. Prior to the implementation of this unannounced policy, the country’s largest newspaper Haveeru (now closed down under court orders) and Maldives Independent, along with other news outlets, used to bring regular coverage of Maldivian fighters leaving for Syria and Iraq. This has now come to a virtual standstill.

The government’s policy of denial has made it hard to understand the true extent of the spread of ‘Jihadist ideology’ in the Maldives. Efforts to research, analyse and understand the phenomenon are also hindered by the government’s refusal to publicly share any steps it is taking to address the issue, and what kind of programmes, if any, it has initiated to stem the flow of fighters leaving for Syria.

Nor have the authorities revealed who is behind the undoubtedly highly successful recruitment drives within the Maldives encouraging locals to leave their home ‘country of sin’ to be ‘true Muslims’ waging war in the name of God.


Related links:

Leaving ‘Paradise’ for Jihad: Maldivian Fighters in Syria, and the Internet 

From Paradise Now to Paradise Hereafter

Maldives students are taught that democracy attracts Allah’s wrath

Politics of radicalisation: how the Maldives is failing to stem violent extremism

The Long Road from Islam to Islamism: A Short History

Bilad Al Sham Media

The Rule of Fear in the Republic

 

by Mushfique Mohamed

The newly ratified Maldivian anti-terror law is designed to systematically derogate and restrict most crucial civil and political rights in a highly repressed country. The Act renders the Maldives’ first democratic Constitution to what it has been deduced to – a fig leaf to historicise continued authoritarianism. Anyone in the country could have his or her enjoyment of human rights set back to dictatorship-era standards, to an extent that will make you question whether Maldives ever transitioned from it. The 1990 anti-terror law, repealed through this Act, was enacted to prosecute Abdullah Luthufi and armed mercenaries from the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), alleged to have perpetrated a coup d’état against the dictatorship*.

The manufactured political drama revolving around the boat blast on 28 September may be shocking, with its plot twists and emotive monologues. But because of dramatic irony, the storyline is very clear to us: this is your average tyrant purging his enemies. The explosive speedboat saga is a page turning ‘story within a story’, however, the ‘play’ has a more universal tone that stems from the human need to be free from unequal and undignified treatment. In that regard, the Maldivian antagonists have changed very little from its feudal, coup-mongering, violent predecessors.

The new anti-terror law is anything but that, it is an instrument with which the public could be terrorised. It revives the ability for political actors to legitimise abuse of power, a cause for concern given the frequency of political unrest and repression in Maldives’ past and present. The law contains vague terms, such as “undue influence against the government” and “unlawful promotion of a particular political, religious or other ideology”, unfound in the law’s interpretation provisions, however defined as terrorism, in addition to “creation of fear among the public or within a specific group.” It is no coincidence that the definition of terrorism does not explicitly include violent extremism, or religious extremism – the most prevalent type of terrorism today. It makes it clear that the regime’s efforts to counter violent extremism are insincere.

When the bill was sent to parliament, opposition parliamentarians highlighted the lack of provisions regarding terrorism financing and Maldivian citizens joining foreign terrorist organisations. The former head of intelligence Mohamed Hameed criticised the Act in an op-ed on Maldives Independent before the Act was ratified, arguing that it fails to focus on terrorism-related concerns that are endemic to the Maldives such as terrorist recruitment and violent jihad. Hameed claimed that “comprehensive reforms and measures such as public awareness, early intervention and rehabilitation programmes to combat extremism must be put in place, along with or before the passage of this bill.” He went on to say that the government must look at the “comprehensive picture on the problem of religious extremism” and introduce a “cross-government strategy to tackle it,” while acknowledging increasing religious extremism “as a very first step.”

Former Deputy Prosecutor General and UNDP’s expert on the 2014 penal code, Hussein Shameem claimed in his commentary that all the offences mentioned in this Act – some 19 offences – have already been mentioned in the new Penal Code. Shameem pointed out that the Act does not criminalise certain “inchoate offences,” which are addressed under the Penal Code 2014. “As it is written in this Act, attempting or planning to initiate training to commit an act of terrorism, or planning to leave to fight in a foreign war are not considered criminal offences,” he said.

In order to limit executive influence on how terrorist groups are defined, modern anti-terrorism laws contain a parliamentary approved list of proscribed organisations. While the Act heavily mentions “terrorist groups”, it does not include an annex of groups that the government considers to be tied to terrorism. Instead the president has the power to proscribe organisations.[1] Apart from the president, the judiciary – an institution in which 51% of the public does not have confidence – is given discretionary powers to decide whether literature promotes terrorism.[2]

For instance, a statement given during investigation could be used as documentary evidence in court.[3] It is a practice thought to have ended with the new Constitution, which requires judges to rule based on witness testimonies rather than investigative statements. The Act inscribes anti-democratic actions that have been taking place in spite of democratisation efforts. In violation of international human rights law and constitutional protections against pre-trial detention, the Act enables offenders to be held in remand until completion of the trial.[4] The presumption of innocence before proven guilty is watered-down to the regime’s official line – guilty as charged, even prior to prosecution.[5] A person who was acquitted could be discriminated against, simply for being previously accused of any crime. The concern here is not absconding trial, but the existence of unproven guilt, which should not be up for consideration at a forum that claims to administer justice.

Constitutional protections such as the right to remain silent, the entitlement to be released from pre-trial detention and the right to legal assistance of one’s own choosing are derogated. The use of these narrowed down rights can be used against the accused, but its probative value during trial is unstipulated.[6] The evidentiary standards are lowered for the purposes of this law in the following manner.[7] A confession made during investigation can be considered as evidence in a court of law. The right to a lawyer can be withheld if one is not appointed within six hours of detention, and client-attorney privileged correspondence can also be adduced to prove guilt of terrorism offences. In most circumstances, dying declarations would be considered hearsay, however this law considers it as evidence if such a declaration indicates guilt of an individual.

The Maldivian judiciary, known to suspend lawyers and sentence people in absentia can now issue monitoring and controlling orders in the same manner if the Home Minister requests.[8] The procedure known as “monicon,” found in Chapter Four of the Act can be initiated pursuant to a High Court order authorising monitoring of terror suspects. Electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops can be monitored, intercepted and recorded using the monicon order.[9] Additionally, police can enter an address unspecified in a court order if a suspect is known to be in it,[10] they can take photos inside private property,[11] restrict movement[12], and acquire information about your home and who you share it with.[13] All of this might not be alarming to many Maldivians because these opaque actions are realities that wax and wane depending on the regime’s whims. But now, if you are a suspect – using the controversial order – the Home Minister can electronically tag[14] and “rehabilitate” you,[15] even if you are below 18 years of age.[16]

The assumption of powers by the executive is inconsistent with terrorism-related concerns of the country, and the timing of the enactment is ominous. In March this year, the regime imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Ministers Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu and Mohamed Nazim using the anti-terror law enacted during the 30-year dictatorship. Although this anti-terror has new legal language and powers, it is resonant of a newer version of the old anti-terrorism law. Similar to the old law, little importance is given to the definition of violent extremism, making the Act’s objectives uncertain. The draconian legislation allows executive to usurp the counter-terrorism mandate, introducing reinvented Orwellian methods to strengthen grip on power. If seen through the lens of the 47-year old republic’s history, the anti-terror law is an authoritarian intervention to the rule of law, rather than a genuine effort to counter terrorism.


[1] Article 18 (a) of the Anti-Terror Act 2015

[2] Article 9(b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015

[3] Article 29(a), number 3 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015

[4] Article 26 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015

[5] Article 26 (b) of the Anti Terrorism Act 2015

[6] Articles 21 to 24 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015

[7] Article 27 of the Act lists types of evidence that can be adduced.

[8] Article 35(b)

[9] Article 50

[10] Article 54(c)

[11] Article 59(b)

[12] Article 47

[13] Article 46(a)2

[14] Article 53(a)

[15] Article 52

[16] Article 45

Author’s Clarification (Added on 16 November 2015)

*The anti-terror law enacted in December 1990 during the dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – brother of Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom – was drafted in response to Sangu, a newspaper critical of the regime that was banned in June 1990. The regime retrospectively prosecuted Nasheed under the Anti Terrorism Act 1990 for an article he wrote about corruption, published earlier that year, by “Sangu” and “The Island;” a Sri Lankan newspaper. Nasheed was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on 8 April 1992, but released in June 1993. The alleged coup-makers Abdullah Luthfee and the Tamil mercenaries were prosecuted under the old penal code prior to the 1990 anti-terror law.

About the author: Mushfique Mohamed is a practising lawyer at Hisaan, Riffath & Co., and also works as a consultant for Maldivian Democracy Network.

Does this government support Maldivian Jihadists in Syria?

Azra Naseem

In the last week two Maldivians died in the Syrian conflict. About twenty more are fighting in the war. The news was brought to local papers by a group calling itself Bilad Al Sham Media, which insists furiously that it is run by a group of Maldivians based ‘in Syria, not in the Maldives’. Bilad Al Sham refers to what is known as Greater Syria, currently the main attraction for the world’s Jihadis who are lured to the conflict by what many believe is a divine promise that jihad there ‘will set the stage for the emergence of the true Islamic state’.

According to the Lebanon-based newspaper Al-Akhbar, the various nationalities currently fighting in Syria—Lebanese, Jordanians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Tunisians, Libyans, Saudis, Yemenis, Afghans and Pakistanis—are divided among many factions and schools of thought. Three among them espouse the most hardline takfiri ideology: al-Qaeda’s Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Doura Fighting Group, and the Jabhat al-Nusra li-Bilad al-Sham. The Bilad Al Sham Media group, which appears to have been set up for the purpose of publicising the activities of Maldivian ‘Jihadis’, has confirmed that the Maldivians are with Jabhat al-Nusra, the deadliest of the three.

Al-Nusra first announced its existence in January 2012, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2013 and in April 2014, started its own weapons factory. To remove any doubt about Maldivian fighters being affiliated with Jbhat Al-Nusra, Bilad Al Sham Media posted an Al-Nusra issued identity card which it says belonged to the second Maldivian who died in the conflict. Affiliation with Al-Nusra is a matter of great pride for them.

Bilad Al Sham Media has a strong online presence—it has a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a YouTube channel, and a blog. The group is making full use of all the platforms to bring detailed news of their activities in Syria to the Maldivian public. According to its Facebook page discussions with followers, the decision to go public was not made lightly. It was aware that being out in the open could mean that future Jihadists would find it more difficult to leave the country and join others in Syria as authorities crack-down on them. But, in the end, it decided that the gains of going public—calling others to ‘Jihad’ and attracting them to their cause—far out-weighed the potential harm.

Bilad Al Sham Media appears to have been spot on in its calculations: they have got a far bigger response from their followers and wanna-be Jihadis than from the government. Whereas the glorification of their ‘martyrdom’ has increased with the publicity, the government response has been virtually non-existent. Maldivian Jihadists, it appears, have nothing to fear from this government. In fact, the government appears to be tacitly condoning the whole enterprise if not actively encouraging it.

Bilad Al Sham Media warned the police not to investigate them, and instructed the Islamic Ministry to stay out of it.

The Islamic Ministry is following the instructions to a tee. Minister Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed responded to news of the Maldivian suicide bomber by saying that while he personally disapproved of Maldivians fighting in wars abroad, the Islamic Ministry itself had nothing to say on the matter.

President Yameen, meanwhile, has come out with a statement that makes suicide bombing in Syria sound similar to a minor transgression such as throwing some rubbish on the streets of Singapore where there are strict regulations against such behaviour.

Yameen said that the government had always urged Maldivians to maintain discipline abroad, adding that the responsibility for any crime wilfully committed by an individual must be borne by the individual himself.

Bilad Al Sham Media has made it clear that Maldivians in Syria are well trained fighters killing in the name of God; not ‘a family of Maldivians’ who, while travelling abroad, have somehow found themselves in a bit of a kerfuffle in Syria, as Yameen appears to suggest. Rest of the president’s utterances on the subject, offering financial assistance to the fighters if they have found themselves stuck in Syria, smacks of someone who is totally ignorant of the phenomenon of violent radicalisation or is having a private laugh about it.

Does the government’s astonishingly blasé attitude to one of the most pressing security concerns in the world today stem from ignorance, or is it calculated? Is the government deliberately turning a blind eye to the radicalistion—both violent and non-violent—of Maldivians? Does it consider the ‘Jihadists’ to be engaged in a Holy War to protect Islam? Its actions, or lack of them, since the news broke certainly suggests this to be the case.

Most people were still reeling from the shocking news of the Maldivians killing and being killed in Syria when the national Martyr’s Day rolled around on Friday, 30 May. Death of the second Maldivian had been announced only three days before. Bilad Al Sham Media was busy putting out statements promoting their deaths as martyrdom, a Jihad for Islam, when Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon addressed the nation on the occasion of Martyr’s Day. Shockingly, in all the talk of martyrdom, she had nothing to say about the Maldivians dying in Syria. Still conspicuously not remarking on the Syrian ‘Jihadis’, she defined martyrdom as ‘loss of one’s life from an attack by the enemy in a Jihadi war being fought for religion and for the country’s freedom’. She later said, ‘if we were to lose our lives during a sincere effort to protect our country’s sovereignty, that death will without a doubt be martyrdom.’ There was no such clarification of whether or not the government considers those killing themselves and others in Syria fits into her definition of martyrs for religion.

Other government officials were even more vague. Here is, for example, Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s Tweet to mark the occasion:

Which martyrs is he speaking of? The Maldivians ones of days long gone who died fighting for the country’s freedom, or the self-proclaimed Jihadis killing and being killed in Syria?  

Never the sort to waste an occasion for nationalistic rhetoric, on Saturday evening the government held an official ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day. As Chief Guest, Home Minister Umar Naseer added to the ambiguity. He focused on the changed nature of modern warfare, saying that days of fighting with swords and guns are long gone. Today’s war, he said, is ideological; what is under attack are ‘how people think of their countries, and their religion.’ There was no mention of whether or not he, or the government, considers Maldivian ‘Jihadis’ fighting in the Syrian war as soldiers in that ideological war.

Added to this recurring ambiguity is total inaction. Although it is the Maldives Police Service (MPS) which has a dedicated counter-terrorism department, recent media reports have quoted the police as saying Maldives National Defence Force is responsible. In this case, however, the buck seems to have been passed to MPS. Bilad Al Sham Media, which has warned the police that probing into their activities is anti-Islamic, is right not to be too concerned. The MPS was unable to identify Justice Abdulla Hameed from the leaked sex videos despite his identity being obvious to the naked eye. And, it was only in last October that the MPS Counter-terrorism chief flew to London with a ballot box for the presidential election and disappeared only to be found when he posted pictures of himself at an Arsenal football match.  

In addition to the cluelessness, it is not just Bilad Al Sham Media that is warning police that investigating their ‘Jihad’ is anti-Islamic. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 7.46.53 PMThey were recently told the same thing by hardline Salafi preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim (of Andalus fame) selected by the government to address the police on the occasion of Martyr’s Day. What he had to say to the police is not the least bit surprising. He recast national heroes of history in today’s Islamist terms— ‘Mujahedin who had martyred for Islam’ and the country. He said all police should always be determined to become a martyr, and took pains to tell the force just what a glorious position Islam has for martyrs. Nothing, of course, was said about it being wrong to blow themselves up, and kill others, in the name of Islam in the Islamists’ ‘Holy War.’  

The government’s non-action; its sanguine reaction to the news of Maldivians fighting in Syria; its complete lack of any counter-extremism or counter-radicalisation initiatives; its failure to state its position on whether or not it regards the Maldivian fighters who died in Syria as martyrs or not; and its sanctioning of an Islamist preacher to glorify martyrdom to the Maldives Police Service all combine to make a very loud statement—this government tacitly supports Maldivians fighting and killing themselves in the ‘Holy War’ to establish an Islamic state in Syria. Interesting, given that the Jihadists themselves have little respect for it; and we have already had some experience of what Islamists do to governments they have no respect for.

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