Category: Long Reads

Mafia state behind the tourist paradise

by Mushfiq Mohamed

Two years ago, in November 2019, the Deaths and Disappearances Commission (DDCom) published its report on Dr Afrasheem Ali’s killing on 2 October 2012. It was the first time the widescale operations of violent groups associated with religious beliefs was acknowledged and detailed by an official source in the Maldives. When the war in Syria escalated in 2012 and Maldivian foreign fighters flocked to the conflict zones in the Middle East, the Maldives was in a state of disarray, a military-backed coup against the first democratically elected government had created a power vacuum and heightened disorder. The news of young Maldivian jihadis and their families fleeing the country saturated the media. 

It was a time when transnational Salafi-Jihadist groups were not only dividing into factions based on ideological differences but also multiplying for the same reason. The stories of Maldivians leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq seemed linear, unlike the mutually constitutive disaster of today, where the jihadi outflow is now rippling back, or on their way back to home – with or without the Maldives government’s knowledge. 

The State of Maldives is an organism with its unique memory and trajectory, consisting of multiple cells programmed to spit and swallow the non-conforming, the dissidents, the undesirables. If the new mutations contradict pre-existing hereditary (dis)information, they must be stamped out. And what better way to enforce these unwritten rules than through society’s disaffected? – reintegrating through repentance by eradicating free thought

The state is protecting several individuals named in the investigative reports, leaving them free to conduct alleged terrorist activities, to issue violent threats – often openly on social media –and to build their capacity to follow through on the threats.

The DDCom lines of enquiry 

The DDCom’s investigation followed four main lines of enquiry. Whether Afrasheem’s murder was politically motivated and perpetrated by officeholders in the previous government. Whether his murder was a result of internal party politics and competition. Whether the assassination was carried out to unduly influence the 2013 presidential elections. Whether Afrasheem was extrajudicially killed because of differing religious views.  

Three individuals were investigated. However, the prosecution only submitted charges against two, and only one was convicted in January 2013. The prosecution did not appeal the acquittal. The investigation was incomplete, as DDCom stated in its report, the police investigation had not identified those who planned the murder and more importantly their motives. 

The DDCom found itself in an impossible situation with many of the suspects who had fled the country to Syria and Sudan with the help of the acquiescent former government. What’s more, witnesses began refusing to give statements, fearing for their security and safety, without an existing witness protection regime. 

Extremist jihadi groups have been operating in the country for a while. The bombing in the Sultan Park was their doing. Al-Qaeda cells operating in the Maldives are divided into small cells each with a name like A, B,C,D. Members of Cell A has no knowledge of who is in Cell B. Each cell has an Ameer. Each Ameer does the recruiting for their own cell.

Anonymous Witness No:1, testimony to DDCom

The secret witness told investigators that he had been recruited by Al-Qaeda in 2011. “In 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the ISIS Caliphate during Ramadan (on 29 June that year), the local Al-Qaeda leadership broke into factions.” According to the DDCom report financing, evangelism, and other activities are controlled by three different wings of the groups. They believed that the Muslim Ummah must wholeheartedly accept al-Baghdadi as the Caliph, and it was their religious duty to do so. 

Speaking about the financers, the witness said, “for instance, they believe all lawyers are disbelievers, their blood and property are ‘halal’ (or fair game).” The financers’ Salafi beliefs, he said, is deliberately hidden. “Their speech would be casual. They would not greet saying ‘Assalam Alaikum’ when they speak over the phone. They would not sport a beard. Even if they did, it would appear casual.”

Religious conflict, the other pandemic 

The picture is much more complex and one that is constantly moving. As the secret ‘former radical’ witness revealed, the terrorist cells are backed by a network of business (the financers) and shielded by political actors (the beneficiaries). Criminal gangs and their infiltration of politics have been researched and documented. And in a country whose nationalism is religious, sectarian violence is a useful technique to silence those who make the powerful uncomfortable. It is political parties that have created a market in the underworld landscape, giving these violent groups a sense of purpose and income for doing their bidding – whether it is intimidation and killing of political opponents, or providing security when a rival gang is used by a rival party to intimidate a member of one’s party. 

The perception of who is a criminal and who is not is unilaterally decided by the cash flow into party politics. Those accused of criminal activity have learned from politicians and religious leaders that involvement in local politics is the only way to ensure immunity from prosecution or imprisonment.

The DDCom report goes into detail about the financers and those leading operations of the terrorist cells in the country. Unapologetically naming names and uncovering covers. In a country with so little social mobility, blood-lusting vigilantism is a business that makes bigger bucks per hit. Through the secret witness’s testimony, the DDCom was able to dissect the dynamics of the splinter. “Now that this group has split into factions, the ISIS faction is led by [name redacted]. The other Al Qaeda faction, which gave its allegiance to Jabhat al Nusra, operates in Syria and Iraq. That faction is led by [name redacted]. The next in line in that faction is [name redacted], and [name redacted] under him. He maintains that the “Jabha” faction is “led by [name redacted], who lives in Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll. He is native to Feydhoo in Addu Atoll—he owns the fabric shop on the island.” The witness added: “Before the group [Jabhatal Nusra] split, a businessman [name redacted] joined it and became its primary financer.” 

Non-violent Salafis inform the Salafi-Jihadis, meanwhile opposition politicos and their social media fodder normalise religious violence through the mantra of ‘they deserved it for offending religious sensitivities.’ The opposition, who do not appear or identify as Salafi, exploit these fissures adding another layer of legitimacy to the threats first expressed by fundamentalists and violent extremists. This works like clockwork; social media then fuels and expedites the chances of stochastic attacks or expulsion fearing persecution. 

The A-Z of ‘the Horsemen of the Apocalypse’

A villain in a play can be effortlessly made into a hero in six simple acts. First, show the villain in their most grotesque form; juxtapose it with the villain’s perspective, humanise them. Add layers of redeeming qualities to the character as the story goes on. Now introduce villains way worse than the original villain. The first villain, less villainous than his new colleagues, then goes through a series of events that demonstrate s/he has turned over a new leaf and is now making the choices only a hero would. And voila, the villain is a hero. 

Based on the Maldives experience, the entire process gets so much easier if you provide the masses with some novel entertainment. See, for example, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In March this year, Maldives Twitter was both enamoured and disgruntled when a red-bearded horse whisperer, W, who obtained permissions to import horses and start an equine business in the southern city of Addu. Horse riding is not what brings tourists to the island nation where 99% of the territory is sea. Some social media users praised W, liked and retweeted his posts knowing full-well he was one of those named in DDCom’s 2019 report. The announcement of his new equine business was announced almost a year after W had been named as a leading financer of Salafi-Jihadist activities in the country. Who could forget V and his bros, who abducted Maldivians suspected of being religious or sexual minorities in June, a few months before Rilwan’s abduction in August 2014? He, too, chose the enterprising path, opening a gym and rebranding as a spearfishing fitness-warrior. 

Another individual, X, who was charged but acquitted for the forced disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan, the journalist and blogger who was abducted in 2014, contested in MDP’s upcoming internal elections but was disqualified after pressure from Rilwan’s family. “Innocent until proven guilty”, the party said in defence, after using the family’s tragedies to win the 2018 election. The former Prosecutor General did not appeal the acquittal. X was also seen playing bodyguard during President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s campaign. Another MDP activist with gang connections, named in the DDCom report, Y, who was one of the two individuals prosecuted for Afrasheem’s murder but acquitted, has also wiggled his way into local politics as an MDP activist. He is currently one of the activists campaigning for those running for MDP’s national congress.  

The other, Z, a PPM council member from 2013 until March 2019, openly threatened slain writer Yameen Rasheed on Twitter on 24 December 2011 in Dhivehi: “The blood of disbelievers like you is halal for all Muslim Maldivians.” He did not stop there. Z came back a month later with more threatening tweets. “Those who need to be exterminated from this country”, he tweeted after tagging seven individuals, including Yameen and Ismail Hilath Rasheed, an LGBTQI+ blogger whose throat was slit in a near-fatal attack in June 2012, five months after the tweets with death threats. Z is a well-known lackey of former president Abdulla Yameen. He was summoned to the DDCom in December 2019. Z also contested—but later dropped out—in PPM’s race for the parliament in 2019.

The 2019 DDCom report annexed text message exchanges between the slain MP and cleric, Afrasheem and the former Islamic Minster, Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, that contradict his statement given to DDCom investigators in December 2018. Shaheem claimed to the DDCom that Afrasheem’s TV Maldives appearance on 1 October 2012—a few hours before his killing—was a last-minute request from Afrasheem. Although, as DDCom’s 2019 report states, text messages from 12 September to 1 October 2012 show that Shaheem organised and offered the TV slot to the late MP. Further to that, the DDCom report states that these events hauntingly demonstrate that Afrasheem was intensely distraught and given an ultimatum to publicly repent within a specific period, or violent gangs would not hesitate to resort to vigilante violence.

To the bitter end

These examples show the collision and convergence of the political, the financial, and the criminal. In the Maldives, forgiveness and a clean slate is given to the most unforgivable. Will they leave many a wreath for the murdered Maldivian writers, or will those who threatened them while they were alive be celebrated? 

Few came to Afrasheem, Rilwan and Yameen’s defence. How can a person claim to have the authority to take matters into their own hands and kill or threaten with full impunity? Why did no one ask him what authority any individual has in policing another’s faith? More importantly, why are those who incite and act out violence and hatred left without prosecution?

It appears that many still believe in the “their blood is halal” rhetoric, or don’t care to counter it. That individuals, fashioning themselves as religious warriors doing god’s work on earth, can threaten people with death and play with their lives as they wish if a religious line is crossed. To make sense of the increasing political violence in local politics, the links between criminal gangs, the police, politicians and clerics need to be investigated further. If action is not taken based on nuanced evidence of terrorist financiers and their enablers, the details and witnesses disappear, relegating justice solely into mythical dimensions. 


Getting away with Maldives

by Azra Naseem

On 22 July 2015, the Maldives Parliament voted to change the Constitution to allow, for the first time in its history, the sale of Maldivian property to foreigners. The consequences of this monumental decision—taken without any public consultation or even debate within the parliament itself—has been devastating for the people of the Maldives. 

The 1200 islands, the hundreds of beautiful blue lagoons, the underwater coral gardens teeming with thousands of species of marine life that comprises this archipelago, are the people’s only natural resources.  Selling them off to rich foreign owners who then close them off to all Maldivians and create new semi-feudal extra-legal entities within the country where Maldivian laws do not apply, is a calamity on its own. 

The Maldivian people were screwed over a million times more by the corruption of all of its leaders who either pocketed their own cuts from selling off the people’s property for peanuts, or have kept—and are continuing to keep—quiet about who robbed us blind, and are still doing so.

Everybody knows who stole over US$70 million from the state, how they stole it and what they did with it. There is a list of the alleged beneficiaries. There is always a list. 

Well over a year ago, in October 2019, authorities told the public of The List’s existence. But we, who owned the property that was sold without so much as a by your leave, are not allowed to know who it names. Investigators upped the suspense ante (a regular practice by Maldives Police) by withholding the names on the list but giving us a breakdown of what positions some of the people in the list occupy now or occupied when they sold us out. They include 44 former members of parliament; 16 current members of parliament; 30 senior officials of the former government; five former members of independent institutions; five judges; and five law enforcement officers. 

44 Members in a Majlis of 87 accepted bribes.  

16 people who accepted the dirty money are in the current Majlis.

Those people in government, in independent institutions, in the judiciary, in law enforcement—they were all there to act on our behalf.

They all put themselves first.

They betrayed us. 

The authorities have the evidence to prove it. 

Yet, they remain in positions of power, and/or luxuriate in the comforts funded by their ill-gotten gains.

Who did not know the cash that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was suddenly so flush with was linked to corruption? Who did not know that hundreds of thousands of US Dollars transported in cash in black leather sports bags by a guy on a moped, compliments of the Tourism Minister, would have to have come from a dodgy source?

Yameen and Adeeb, thick as thieves

Adeeb has admitted clearly that he spent millions of dollars persuading MPs to vote the way he, acting as the president’s proxy, wanted them to vote. So they voted in favour of changing the Constitution to allow Adeeb to be president, and to ban Qasim Ibrahim from becoming president. They voted to narrow our civil and political rights; they voted in favour of harsher police action against peaceful protesters; they changed the law to restrict free speech; and they voted in favour of selling our natural resources for a fraction of their value. They knowingly allowed the openly corrupt Bro Government to do whatever they wanted to our islands, lagoons, reefs, coconut palms, vegetation; hell, the entire fragile ecosystem was theirs to sell, dredge, reclaim, ‘develop’ and destroy as they liked. 

It is infuriating to watch as the consequences and the products of this corruption appear on the Internet as luxury resort islands catering to the world’s super rich while the executive, the parliament, the prosecutorial system and all other political leaders in the Maldives drag their feet over punishing those who sold our beautiful and scarce land from under our feet while purporting to govern on behalf of us, for us. They sold our bath water along with our babies, putting up for sale our lagoons and our reefs too. They also allow the exportation of our sand, the cutting down of our coconut palms, the blasting of our reefs, the reclamation of our seas. Almost everything–bar the 200 or so islands on which Maldivians live–are now for sale; and almost no Maldivian can afford to buy any of it.

Meanwhile, luxury real estate agents advertise the availability of Maldivian islands with airports, seaplane platforms, picnic islands and many other perks included in the multi-million dollar price tags.

Today the MDP—with a super majority in parliament and one of its veteran members, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as president)—nor its coalition partners have been able to even raise the veil of secrecy over the guilty, let alone prosecute them. Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s attempts have been ineffectual, and with MPs sitting in Majlis who have robbed the people, his bid to woo the public into voting for a transition from democratic to a parliamentary system seems futile and ill-timed. We can change the name of the system, but as long it’s the same people out to game it for their own benefit while screwing the public over, what’s the point?  

For a country that purports to be a democracy, the amount of secrecy and cover-ups within successive ‘democratic’ governments has been incredible. Evidence given to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) has been deemed too dangerous for the public to know; people involved in high profile murders have been protected “for the public good”; defence and military agreements made with egoistic right-wing populists like Trump and Modi have been classified, also for the public good; and the people who have sold our islands and the rest of our environment from under us—these are all secrets the leaders who we elect, appoint and pay to represent us, hide from us.

The people in power had no right to take the decision on our behalf to turn our country into a playground for the world’s filthy rich and their unchecked neoliberal agendas that have made almost the entire Maldivian population wage-slaves to international hoteliers, waiting with their hands out for the ‘trickle down effect’ to reach them, the only portion of the billion-dollar industry to which they are allowed to feel entitled to. 

Thirty-three-year old Adeeb at the helm of the Tourism Ministry was a sickening spectacle to behold. He revelled in the Gangstar image, posing endlessly for selfies on one of his three gold iPhones with carefully gelled and slicked back hair, a beard trimmed with military precision in the fashion of the US rap artists he is so enamoured with, fingers and neck dripping with bling, there he was, wallowing in corruption, his body ballooning as if in tune with his vastly inflated ego. The ex-footballer-turned-gangster politician took pride in being known as The ATM, or the bank machine, of Maldivian politics. Anyone who took money from him—be it the Supreme Court Judge Hameed who accepted cash and funds for his children’s education abroad or the member of parliament who agreed to sell his vote in favour of whatever legal change Adeeb was paying them to affect, or the Salafi Jihadist who took his money to get him to Syria or Iraq—all of them knew Adeeb’s money was dirty. They all took it.

The benefit of the corruption for Bro and his lackeys and minions was on display for everyone to see, their egos too big for discretion. By that I mean the sycophants we all know: the Nihans who were flashing their Rolexes and gifting their progeny with designer sports cars; the Muizzes who opened the door even wider to unsustainable and corrupt mega development projects at the cost of our fragile natural environment; the First Lady only too thrilled to have been singled out for a gift of a BMW sports car from Adeeb; or the Gayooms who benefited from Yameen’s rule until they didn’t.

It was not just the people we know to have betrayed us again and again in the last forty years or so that allowed the sale of our natural resources and pocketed the proceeds. 

It was also the people who spoke the democracy speak; those who wooed the public to get into parliament with the promises of a government for the people; those who promised Another Maldives that would bring equality to the tourism industry, those who pledged to put tourism dollars into Maldivian pockets instead of foreign bank accounts. Their promises to fight for the rights of the people, too, were only as strong as the lock on Adeeb’s black leather sports bags stuffed with millions of US dollars in cash. 

The MMPRC scandal involved major crimes against the public. No political party, state institution, government body or any other entity has the right to keep the names of the perpetrators secret.

It is not your secret to keep. Publish the list, punish the guilty.

To be, or to conform, that is the question

by Azra Naseem

On International Human Rights Day 2011, a group of young Maldivians met in Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu, Male’, to silently protest their lack of religious freedom. A similar protest had been held on the same day in 2010. Article 9 of the Maldivian constitution requires that all citizens be Muslims; and the State imposes an ever-increasing litany of punishments on those seen as falling short. Should the State fail in its ‘religious duty’ to punish such transgressors–as the aftermath of the small yet impactful protest revealed–Dhivehi Salafi Jihadists are ready, swords drawn, eager for their internal domestic Jihad: to maintain the ‘100 percent Muslim country’ status of the Maldives. 

The 2011 silent protest marked the first physical altercation between Salafi activists and secular-minded Maldivians. On that December afternoon, Ismail Abdulraheem Adam, a Salafi Jihadist who would later be deported from Turkey while attempting to enter Syria, was among many such warriors who followed the protestors to Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu. Abdulraheem hit Hilath Rasheed, a journalist and prominent blogger, on the head with a rock, cutting him.

It was the first in what would become many violent attacks on anyone in the Maldives insisting on advocating for rights not recognised by, or contrary to, Salafi beliefs, practices and teachings. Since then, two people linked to the protest have been murdered, another barely survived an attempted decapitation, and almost all the others who participated have been threatened, harassed, have no choice but to live in fear, or have had to flee the country. The attack on the protestors also set the tone for all future investigations into crimes committed by Salafi Jihadists and their non-/less-violent brothers: nobody will be punished; not even in the face of overwhelming evidence to convict.

Police knew who attacked who and why on 10 December 2011. They arrested no one.

Five months later, on 10 May 2012, Abdulraheem, acting with two fellow Jihadists, attacked Hilath again. “Repent, repent! We don’t know, the public doesn’t know, you have repented!”, they shouted, hitting him around the head, surrounding him with motorcycles.

Only weeks later, on the evening of 4 June 2012, they returned to slit his throat. Three Dhivehi Salafi Jihadists, waited for him to return home from work late at night, cut his throat with a Stanley knife, and left him to die outside his home. 

Hilath lived to tell the tale; but no one listened, really.


Allowed to get away with murder, the Jihadists widened their campaign to rid Maldives of any citizens that dared contradict their manhaj, or disagreed with their teachings. They found their next prey within a few short months.

MP Afrasheem Ali was a politician with a doctorate in Usul al-Fiqh from the Islamic University of Malaysia noted as a rising star in conservative politics. For several years after he returned from Malaysia in 2007, Maldivian Dheenee I’lmverin–dominated by Adhaalath Party and other Salafi influencers such as Jamiyyath Salaf–ostracised Dr Afrasheem for “contradicting the manual of the Salaf al Salahin”, for suggesting music may be as pleasing to the ear as the sound of Qur’an, for not using the appropriate language to address the Prophet Muhammad, and among other things, for saying beards are not necessary for men. Basically, for not aligning his thinking with Salafi thinking. Afrasheem was banned from expressing his opinions and forbidden from leading prayers unless he repented. Endorsed by Adhaalath and other Salafi leaders, followers harassed Afrasheem online and on the streets, sometimes violently, once in a mosque in the presence of his young son. His religious opinions—which included endorsement of practices dominant Salafi clerics rejected as bid’a—were deemed unfit for the Modern Maldivian Muslim. A definition that must be approved by Salafi leaders to be accepted as true.

In the early hours of 2 October 2012, Afrasheem returned to his apartment on the south-eastern waterfront of Male’ after appearing in a late-night show, Islamee Dhiri-ulhun, on state television. He parked his car, entered his apartment building, and was walking up the stairs to his flat when three Jihadists attacked him on the stairwell. He had finally given into the immense pressure on him to conform or else; and agreed to appear on public television to repent. The station, channel and programme on which he should do so was decided by those demanding this public spectacle of him. Adhaalath Party held a special screening in their headquarters to gauge his performance. The killers knew exactly where he would be and when that evening. Afrasheem tried to explain his aqida on TV that night; and he apologised–for expressing his own opinion. However well-informed, considered or well-intentioned it was, it was not valid for it contradicted The Most Learned Men of Salaf Jamiyya, Adhaalath and other such groupings.

Despite the apology, Afrasheem was unable to save himself. They still cut his throat.

When the news of his murder reached the leader of Salaf Jamiyya, he responded: “It was an atrocity in Islam to kill Afrasheem after he had admitted to his sins and after he repented last night”. Without repentance, he had been fair game.   

Afrasheem has now been dead almost 10 years. It is now known Dhivehi Salafi Jihadists, operating domestically as one among several Al-Qaeda cells, were behind the planning and the execution of Afrasheem. They have not been prosecuted.

The dust may seem to have settled on the murder of Afrasheem’s death with no consequence for those who laid the plans and paid for it. Society, on the other hand, paid a heavy price. No religious scholarly longer dares publicly challenge the Salafi doctrine in the Maldives.


In July 2014 Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi of the ISIS declared an Islamic Caliphate from Iraq, further emboldening Maldivian Salafi Jihadists, both as foreign fighters and as local warriors on a holy mission to cleanse Maldives of the secular and the shirk. Less than a month later, in the early hours of the morning of 8 August 2014, Jihadists kidnapped Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist and blogger. At the time he was covering the activities of Maldivan Jihadists flocking to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as a journalist for Maldives Independent. One Dhivehi Jihadist in Syria accused Rilwan of not being a proper Muslim and issued a warning that his days were numbered.

Just as the earlier Jihadists waited outside the homes of Hilath and Afrasheem with their sharpened blades hidden in the darkness of the night, they waited for Rilwan outside his home in the early hours of the morning. Instead of decapitation on the spot—the apparent goal behind both previous attacks—they kidnapped Rilwan, bundled him into the boot of a red car, forced him onto a boat, took him out into the open ocean, and made him recite the Shahadha. Then they decapitated him. 

Rilwan’s family only learned of his fate in 2019, years after the Jihadists abducted him. They are still campaigning for justice. In vain.


On this day four years ago, Salafi Jihadists picked their next target: Yameen Rasheed, 29, a blogger and writer who not only disagreed with the Salafi vision for the Maldives but also often satirised various aspects of it online. Yameen and Rilwan shared more than an ideological kinship; they were also bound by strong ties of friendship. After Rilwan’s forced disappearance in 2014, Yameen dedicated much of his energy towards campaigning with Rilwan’s family for justice. In vain.

On 23 April 2017, Yameen returned home from work in the early hours of the morning. The Jihadists were waiting for him in the darkness of the stairwell inside Yameen’s apartment building. They stabbed him 34 times in a frenzied attack. His cries for mercy fell on deaf ears. The young writer died in hospital later that morning. Yameen’s family now dedicates much of their energy to campaigning with Rilwan’s family for justice. In vain.

Salafi Jihadists are allowed to kill non-conforming Maldivian citizens with impunity. 

A Maldivian citizen that openly criticises Salafi beliefs, teachings and practices—does not matter whether you are a pious Muslim; a scholar of Islam; a ‘moderate Muslim’; a relaxed one; a lapsed one; an apostate or an atheist—can be, has been, and will be killed. And the Jihadists who kill them will remain unpunished. The reason is simple: the government and most of contemporary Maldivian society accepts death—or at the very least expulsion from society—as a suitable form of punishment for citizens identified as insufficiently Muslim, anti-Islam, or Enemies of Islam. ‘LaaDheenee’ people, marked as such by Salafi influencers according to their own criteria, are made into figures of public hatred to such an extent that Jihadists feel they must kill them to rid their society of Kuffars, and the public feels convinced the killing was for the ‘greater good’ of the ‘100 percent Muslim’ country.

That is why the courts of law in the democratic republic of Maldives are failing to deliver justice in these killings. According to the religious ideology that dominates the entire government and state apparatus, and most of society, true justice has already been done. By killing these men.