Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives and current speaker of parliament, remains in hospital after one bomb attack this left him with serious shrapnel wounds and the Indian Ocean archipelago in shock.
The 53-year-old had just left his home in the capital, Male, and was about to get into his car on Thursday afternoon when a bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded. Residents said the blast was heard across the city.
Nasheed suffered several injuries in the blast and was taken to hospital for treatment, including surgery. Interior Minister Imran Abdulla told local media that Nasheed’s injuries were not life-threatening. One of Nasheed’s bodyguards was also taken to hospital.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih went to the hospital where Nasheed, a close ally, is being treated and convened an emergency meeting after the attack.
Liver surgery was supposed to last 7 hours, but it could take longer than due to a few complications. 🥺 Think of him in your Friday prayers! May Allah forgive his sins and give him a painless recovery 🙏🏽❤️
– Susan 🔆 (@SusanIbrahim) May 7, 2021
Solih said on Friday that the blast was “an attack on democracy” and the tourism-dependent economy of the Maldives and announced that Australian federal police investigators will arrive on Saturday to help with the investigation.
Neither the president nor the police have given further details about the attack and no one has claimed responsibility.
“Nasheed escaped an assassination attempt,” a Maldives government official told AFP news agency. “He is injured, but his condition is stable.”
Images on social media showed a motorcycle destroyed at the scene of the attack, which was cordoned off by armed police units and security forces.
Meanwhile, many officials and citizens of the Maldives turned to social media to condemn the attack and wish Nasheed a speedy recovery.
Foreign Minister of neighboring India S. Jaishankar also expressed deep concern over the attack and said Nasheed “will never be intimidated”.
Strongly condemn the attack on the President of Parliament, President @Mohamed_asheed this evening. Cowardly attacks like these have no place in our society. My thoughts and prayers are with President Nasheed and others injured in this attack, as well as their families.
– Abdulla Shahid (@abdulla_shahid) May 6, 2021
Deeply concerned about the attack on Speaker @Mohamed_asheed. I wish you a speedy recovery. You know he will never be intimidated.
– Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 6, 2021
People living 3 blocks away were surprised by the loud noise of the explosion.
I can’t imagine what he must have done to Nasheed, his security team, and everyone around him.
– zaydamjad 🎈 (@zaydamjad) May 6, 2021
“This is very significant, not only in terms of scale, but also in terms of goal,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and senior South Asian partner at the Wilson Center, told Al Jazeera.
“The fact that you have a former president who remains a very prominent political figure and a very prominent democratic leader in a region that is now marked by strong men and tough nationalists … is a very big thing,” Kugelman said.
Nasheed in 2008 became the first democratically elected president in the Maldives, ending the 30-year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
But in 2012 he was forced to step down for a coup. In the following year’s election, he was defeated by Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen.
In 2015, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges widely criticized for political reasons. A year later, he was granted a prison leave to receive medical treatment in London. Nasheed received asylum in the UK in 2016 and returned to the Maldives after his candidate, Solih, won the 2018 presidential election, with a shocking defeat against Yameen.
In 2019 he won a parliamentary election and became president, the second most powerful position in the country.
Nasheed has championed global efforts to combat climate change and has also been a outspoken critic of religious extremism in the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim nation where the law prohibits preaching and practicing other denominations.
Kugelman said political motivation was “always a possibility” behind the explosion that injured Nasheed, but also noted that “there is a modest history of Islamist militancy in the Maldives.”
The country of some 340,000 people, a popular holiday destination in the Indian Ocean, has seen few violent attacks, including against independent journalists. About 300 Maldivians are known to have traveled to Syria to join ISIL (ISIS) at the height of the fighting.
The armed group claimed an arson attack in the Maldives last year, but there is little evidence that the group has a presence in the archipelago.
In 2019, researchers dit Journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, who disappeared in 2014, was assassinated by a local al-Qaeda affiliate, which publicly acknowledged for the first time the existence and efforts of the hardline group to silence liberal voices in the Maldives .
Yameen Rasheed, a prominent liberal blogger who led a campaign to find Rilwan, was dead in 2017.