Overview: The Government of Maldives is cognizant of the threat of terrorist attacks and in 2020 concentrated its CT efforts on CVE and the arrest of Maldivians suspected of arson attacks, stabbings, and “supporting or promoting a terrorist organization.” Those within the penal system or involved in criminal gangs are at a heightened risk of terrorist radicalization. Maldives cooperates with international partners, including the United States, to strengthen CT efforts and capacity. In October, Maldives established a National Reintegration Center (NRC) to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of returning FTFs and their family members. On October 15 the government placed a first, unexpected, returning FTF into the center. The individual was later released because of insufficient evidence, and the center is preparing to open officially in 2021.
2020 Terrorist Incidents
- In February, attackers stabbed three foreign nationals — two Chinese and one Australian at several locations in Hulhumalé. Following the attacks, three masked men claimed responsibility and affirmed their support for ISIS in an online video. Eight persons were subsequently arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack.
- In March, a police speedboat in Laamu Atoll was set on fire. There were no injuries or fatalities. Three individuals were charged in connection with the incident under the Antiterrorism Act.
- ISIS claimed responsibility for an April arson incident on Mahibadhoo Island in Alifu Dhaalu Atoll that destroyed eight sea vessels, including one police boat, according to ISIS’s online newsletter al-Naba. There were no injuries or fatalities, and no suspects have been arrested.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Antiterrorism Act is the primary legislation for preventing and prosecuting terrorism. Investigation, prevention, and responding to terrorist attacks fall under the mandate of the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), which is the leading government agency to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. MPS transfers cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for the duration of trials stemming from terrorism investigations. Responsibility for CT operations, including investigations, primarily rests with MPS. Civil society sources and defense lawyers reported the need to define properly “probable and reasonable grounds” within the law to avoid misuse of the provision. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), including the marines and coast guard, are also involved in CT response, and MNDF conducted multiple cooperative engagements with U.S. forces focused on CT operations. These engagements also enhance maritime security capabilities to increase Maldives’ maritime domain awareness and border security. The Government of Maldives continued cooperation with the United States to strengthen border security, including through the continued use of the U.S.-provided PISCES integrated border security management system to screen arriving and departing travelers, and through the Customs Department’s use of the World Customs Organization’s Global Travel Assessment System.
Police arrested eight suspects in relation to the February stabbing attacks in Hulhumalé; one individual remains in custody while the rest are subject to a one-year Monitoring and Controlling Order. The individuals were charged under the Antiterrorism Act. Three individuals were charged under the Antiterrorism Act in relation to the March attack in Laamu Atoll.
In August the criminal court, citing “detention for an excessive period of time” and a lack of sufficient evidence, released from police custody six men arrested and charged with supporting a terrorist organization and possession of materials supporting a terrorist organization, following a January raid on Maduvvari Island in Raa Atoll.
In November, MPS announced the arrest of eight Maldivian men following the “prevention of an alleged act of terrorism.” MPS had made no additional public announcement about the case by the end of the year.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Maldives is a member of the APG. The Maldives Monetary Authority has the mandate to notify police and relevant authorities in terrorist finance-related cases. In December the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Malé signed an MOU with the Maldives’ Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to allow the FIU access to INTERPOL’s secure information network. In August the Regulation on the Management of Confiscated Funds and Properties Related to Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism came into effect. The United States has worked with the Government of Maldives to strengthen its Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) efforts.
Countering Violent Extremism: Although President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced Maldives’ intent to facilitate the return and prosecution of Maldivian FTFs and families in Syria in 2019, there were no repatriations during 2020. In July, President Solih endorsed the National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE). In October the Minister of Home Affairs announced the establishment of the NRC for returning FTFs and the placement of the first FTF, a 34-year-old Maldivian man who had returned from Syria, into the NRC. The government did not formulate a rehabilitation and reintegration program for FTFs during the year but began plans to coordinate with the United States on these efforts. NCTC held multiple regional workshops and capacity-building exercises with both public and private sector groups, to include counternarrative creation and the role of the media in countering what it considers “violent extremism and terrorism.” It also formulated a communications strategy to guide national efforts on CVE narratives. In partnership with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Family, Gender and Social Services, MPS launched PCVE programs in islands with “extremist” activities. Malé is a member of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: COVID-19 reduced the ability of government officials to participate in or host international and regional workshops on CT efforts. However, the Government of Maldives continued to work with multilateral and bilateral partners to strengthen CT efforts. In February, USAID launched its $5 million Promoting Resilience in Maldives (or PRIME) program to reduce the threat and influence of terrorist organizations through activities that increase the resilience of vulnerable populations. Also, in February, a visiting EU delegation announced the launching of a new €2.5 million project to support Maldives’ efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism. In May, Japan announced a roughly $4.7 million grant to bolster Maldives Immigration and Maldives Customs Service border security efforts. NCTC, in collaboration with UNODC, conducted national- and regional-level capacity-building consultations and workshops focusing on addressing the rehabilitation and reintegration of returning FTFs and their families. NCTC also worked with UNDP Maldives, UNODC, and the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate to increase capacity of law enforcement agencies and the legal sector and the resilience of civil society organizations.