The Maldives: Now, a paradise for Jihadis

Male [Maldives], Jan. 6 : A video released in August 2015 by a pro-ISIS group shows three men threatening to kill Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen and Vice President Ahmed Adeeb if opposition leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla is not released from prison.

The men also threatened to carry out bomb attacks on several tourist resorts in the Maldives if their demand was not met.

A month later, in September 2015, the boat on which President Abdulla Yameen was returning after completing a Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia was attacked.

Though Yameen escaped unhurt, it was a wakeup call for the Maldivian government that had till then tried to play down the growing radicalisation in the country.

This incident is one of many that reveal the fast changing reality of the Maldives - the transformation from a holiday to a jihadi paradise.

Maldivian security agencies have made no secret of the growing threat of terrorist attacks in the country from groups like the ISIS.

A large number of Islamic militants with extreme fundamentalist views, going by the name of DOTS, are active in the country.

They are said to be affiliated to the ISIS, apart from having close links with extremist groups like Jamiyyathyu Salaf and Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM).

Moreover, the ISIS, through its Maldivian branch, the Islamic State Maldives (ISM), is targeting young Muslim men and women, who are then sent to Syria and the Middle East for indoctrination and training.

As per official estimates, more than a hundred Maldivian youth have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS, though more realistic estimates put this figure at close to two hundred.

The first departures of Maldivians to Syria were reported in 2013, and so far at least twenty Maldivians have been killed in Syria and other trouble spots in the Middle East.

In August 2014, a pro-IS rally in Male saw protestors carrying black flags of ISIS and the Al-Nusra front, and banners demanding the introduction of Sharia law.

The large influx of Saudi money into the island has seen the mushrooming of Wahabi mosques, spreading a deeply conservative view of Islam.

The policies of the current Adbulla Yameen-led government have only made matters worse, with concerns being frequently expressed that school text books were further contributing to fanning the flames of radicalisation.

The 'Islamic Studies' text book for Class 9 tells students that carrying out jihad against people who obstruct the path of Islam is an obligation, and promises that the days when Islam would rule over the world was very near, despite efforts by the Jews and the Christians to prevent it from happening.

High levels of corruption within the government and lack of development resulting in severe poverty have only ensured the rapid descent of the Maldives into a breeding ground for Jihadis.

With radical groups establishing their presence in the country, and rapidly increasing their support base, there is growing apprehension that the ground is being set for terrorist attacks on soft targets, like the luxury resorts that dot the hundreds of atolls spread all over the island nation.

These targets are also very attractive for the Jihadis as they would achieve multiple objectives for by hitting them.

Those objectives include announcing their presence to the world community, making a statement against the un-Islamic and decadent culture represented by the international tourists, while also holding hostage the country's tourism industry, its largest foreign exchange earner.

The country's tourism industry is already in decline, and as per the figures provided by the Ministry of Tourism, hotel occupancy rates in June 2016 were 3.3 percent lower as compared to 2015.

Interestingly the number of Chinese tourists, who make up the largest chunk of travellers to the Maldives, fell by as much as 19 percent in June 2016, as compared to the same period the previous year.

Countries like the United Kingdom has also been flagging a general threat from terrorism in their travel advisories for the country, besides cautioning their citizens s to take security precautions, avoid large gatherings, protests and rallies.

With the country fast gaining the reputation of becoming a 'Paradise Lost', travel agencies worldwide are expecting to see more and more high-end holidaymakers cancelling their plans and staying away from the Maldives and its luxury resorts.

Source: ANI