Home, Maldives – The evening explosion it was felt in Male, the island capital of the Maldives, a densely populated urban maze, apart from the fame of the Indian Ocean archipelago for pristine beaches and turquoise waters. The target was one of the country’s most prominent politicians: Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected president and current speaker of parliament.
The blast occurred on Thursday as residents prepared for a new curfew at 9 p.m. amid an alarming wave of COVID-19 cases, and at a time of year when the Sunni Muslim population is it is traditionally dedicated to prayer, as the holy night when the Qur’an was revealed is believed to be from the last 10 nights of Ramadan.
Photos taken by the crowd that gathered early, including the faithful going from house to mosque, showed the remains of a blue motorcycle. Blood stained the ground. The motorcycle was parked on the corner of the road leading to the Nasheed family home in a small alley too narrow for cars. A device that connected to it was fired remotely just as the 53-year-old was about to get into his car on the main street.
Nasheed was rushed to the hospital and they underwent various surgeries according to doctors, for fatal wounds to the chest, head and abdomen that endangered life. He he regained consciousness on Saturday morning, while three bodyguards and two passers-by who suffered legs from flying shrapnel were also treated for their injuries.
In a largely peaceful country where assassination attempts are rare but unprecedented, theacts of deliberate terrorHe received a shock, almost universal condemnation and an outpouring of sadness.
But for many, the attack came as no surprise.
“It is clear that this is a well-planned attempt to assassinate Nasheed,” said Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, who served as foreign minister in the cabinet. ‘ex-president. Describing Nasheed as the most “loved and hated man in the Maldives,” Shaheed said the attack was far from a surprise “given the amount of rampant incitement to violence and dehumanization against him.”
Police on Saturday afternoon announced the arrests of two suspects. There was no additional information and the reason is still unclear, but speculation has focused on two groups: religious “extremists” and political opponents allegedly complicit in a historic embezzlement scandal they feared exposing.
Legacy of impunity
A former political prisoner, Nasheed was elected president in the first multi-party elections in the Maldives in 2008, which ended 30 years of autocratic rule. But he was forced to resign just three years after his term in the face of a police and military riot. The politician is loved by fierce and loyal supporters as an indefatigable defender of democracy and freedom of expression, but insulted by conservative opponents as an unscrupulous politician with a hidden agenda to secularize the Maldives, a nation where citizenship is tied to be a Sunni Muslim.
Inside and outside power, Nasheed clashed with religious leaders, who regularly denounce his alleged anti-Islamic agenda. Following Thursday’s attack, supporters unearthed cases of denunciation by religious scholars and shared them on social media.
“While they have not claimed responsibility for the attack, some social media accounts sympathetic to violent extremist groups have made it clear that Nasheed is an apostate who deserved to be killed,” said Azim Zahir, a researcher at the State Center. Muslims and Societies at the University of Western Australia.
“Nasheed is perhaps the most vocal figure against the country’s extremist groups,” said Zahir, who noted that the former president was one of the country’s first politicians to highlight the departure of hundreds of Maldivians to Syria and Iraq for fight alongside ISIL (ISIS) fighters: up to 250 Maldivians are estimated to have made the trip.
In September 2019, the United States first designated a Maldives man, Ahmed Ameen, as “a key ISIS leader in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Maldives,” saying he was actively involved in recruiting for ISIL in the Maldives, including from various criminal gangs.
Commenting on the timing of the explosion against Nasheed, Zahir noted that the first “terrorist” attack in the Maldives – which injured several tourists – also took place at Ramadan 2007. He said ISIL has encouraged supporters of the Maldives to carry out attacks during the month of fasting: most recently in the April issue of Sawt al-Hind magazine, published by the ISIL regional chapter for South Asia or the Islamic State in the Hind province, in which Zahir said the Maldivians contributed regularly.
“Maldives ISIL actors are certainly capable of carrying out an attack like this,” Zahir said, noting past incidents that suggested some of them were trained to make improvised explosive devices, including the case of ‘a frustrated plot to bomb a school lab course.
In fact, at a press conference on Friday afternoon, police commissioner Mohamed Hameed acknowledged the presence of alleged “extremists” with the know-how of attacks like the one led by Nasheed.
“Some are in prisons and others, many people, are free, in some cases because of not convicting the courts or acting as free citizens because there is not enough evidence against them,” he said.
Hameed insisted police had received no indication of an impending attack on Nasheed, and when reporters pointed to a possible intelligence failure, he said the slips should be determined in a future investigation.
For many, the attempted assassination of Nasheed has also evoked a legacy of impunity left by unresolved killings related to ISIL and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as the killings led by liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed, the journalist kidnapped Ahmed Rilwan and the opposite religious scholar Afrasheem Ali.
“There are elements who are willing to resort to assassination among us, whether for political or other ideological reasons,” said Dhiyana Said, former Attorney General of the Maldives.
“But the response of all administrations, current and previous, has been far from satisfactory. Despite all the systems we have: the police force, the defense, the anti-terrorist cells, the presidential commissions, no government has yet been able to address the roots and discover the brains and financiers behind the cells that create and form these saboteurs of peace. Or, if they have done so, they have certainly not been brought to justice, ”Said added.
“Until we are able to offer complete and complete justice, the feeling of impunity persists and it seems to me that it was this feeling of impunity and invincibility that, in part, led to the attempt on Nasheed’s life. “.
Said said the “easy conclusion” is that the attack on the former president was “religiously motivated,” but other reasons should not be ruled out, such as Nasheed’s campaign to prosecute politicians who benefited from the embezzlement. of at least $ 79 million in tourism funds. “Until a full and impartial investigation uncovers all the facts.”
Former Maldives President and current Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed has been operated on to save lives after being injured in a bomb outside his home ⤵️
– Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) May 8, 2021
“An alarm clock call”
Nasheed – just hours before the attack – had announced on Twitter that he had obtained a list of all the people who benefited from the embezzlement of the state tourism firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), in the period between 2014 and 2015. That scandal led to the electoral defeat of former President Abdulla Yameen in 2018 to Nasheed’s close ally and childhood friend Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Within days of taking office, the new president set up a commission to investigate MMPRC corruption and since then authorities have revealed that more than 250 benefited from the stolen funds, including incumbent lawmakers and senior government officials. But three years after Solih’s tenure, so far only Yameen has been convicted on charges related to the MMPRC scandal.
In recent months, ruling party factions loyal to Nasheed have grown increasingly censored towards Solih, in part because of the delay in prosecuting those who allegedly benefited from the stolen funds, as well as a delay in surrender. accounts of ISIL and al-Qaeda-related attacks and deaths. in the Maldives.
Nasheed himself has publicly expressed frustration with the presidential commissions set up to independently investigate the corruption scandal and the murders of Yameen, Rilwan and Afrasheem. A “deep state” of officials integrated into state institutions who sympathized with the “extremist” ideology blocked justice, he warned last year, a claim that was disputed by the police chief.
Following Thursday’s attack, Solih has again promised a “quick and thorough investigation”, this time with the help of Australian federal police.
But Azra Naseem, an analyst and writer for the Dhivehi Sitee blog, expressed serious doubts about whether anyone would be brought to justice in the Nasheed case.
“If the prosecution processes of other Salafist jihadists who attacked the Maldivians are something to follow, there will be obstacles at every step of the way,” he said.
“The investigation will stop, or the prosecution will not find enough evidence to prosecute, or the defense attorney may be prone to headaches … the list goes on of ways in which the outcome in this case will be the same as in other cases: the jihadists go free, or they are allowed to leave the country safely for “more Muslim” societies than the Maldives, and justice through the rule of law cannot be achieved because “true justice” is already in place. he believes it has been achieved by killing the infidels, “he said.
Shaheed, the UN rights expert, said the Maldivian public “does not have much faith or reason to have much faith in the government’s ability to stand up to violent gangs and extremists.”
“But in a small community like the Maldives, everyone knows what the rest is doing and therefore it should be easy to solve, given the will to do so. And I think this is a wake-up call for the government that will be taken seriously, “he added.
“This event can be a turning point in the Maldives; so that the government takes seriously the incitement to violence, extremism, corruption and impunity and achieves a change of pace in the defense of the rule of law ”.