New Delhi, Nov 28: There is a great deal of activity in the Indian Ocean and one of the primary dangers for the security establishment is the growth of Maldives as a launching pad for Jihadi activities. All these years, we read Intelligence Bureau reports of how the Lashkar-e-Tayiba had taken over several islands in Maldives which were to act as launching pads against India.
Now with the Al-Qaeda in the Sub-Continent (AQIS) threat looming large and the Al-Qaed, India too has a great cause for concern and in this context it would be interesting to take a look at what is happening in Maldives.
Animesh Roul, Executive Director, Society for Study of Peace and Conflict writes this very insightful piece in the Jamestown Foundation titled, " Maldives to Syria- Jihad in Paradise?
A reading of Roul's thoughts goes on to suggest how serious the problem is becoming. Quoting from Roul's article- "The Maldives, the Muslim-majority archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is going through a tumultuous time, facing increasing Islamist activities at home, an exodus of radicalized youth to join the jihad in Syria and a growing domestic clamor for the implementation of Shari'a law.
This has been accompanied by the targeted abduction and intimidation of local Maldivians who hold progressive ideals and secular values. Although the country is better known as a romantic honeymoon destination, these developments - which include the establishment of the "Islamic State of the Maldives" (ISM) group - have exposed the deep extremist undercurrents in Maldivian society and are increasingly drawing the attention of local and international security forces."
Maldives turning into a radical hub is also a cause of major concern for India. After all it is an open secret the connection that India's most radicalized state, Kerala has with Maldives. Kerala has been a hub of the SIMI and several other radical outfits. It is a state where one gets to see a prayer meeting held after Kasab is hanged or posters in support of Osama Bin Laden after he was killed.
Most of the activities carried out in Maldives by Jihadis have a direct link to Kerala and Sri Lanka. It is through Kerala that several cadres of terrorist groups have landed up in Maldives. The Sri Lanka route through ports in Tamil Nadu via Kerala connect with Jihadis in Maldives.
The strongest Jihadi networks that have been found in Maldives are of the Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar. There are nearly 1100 islands which are not guarded in Maldives which work as perfect launch pads for these groups.
The interrogation of Asif Ibrahim:
Asif Ibrahim who was arrested by the Kerala police last year is an accused in the Male Sultan Park blast of 2007 tells the police that Kerala hosts the operational unit of the India-Maldives terror unit. He also goes to confess that a great deal of hawala money that comes into Kerala is pumped into Maldives. Further the Indian agencies also stumbled upon an outfit called the Jamaat-e-Muslimeen which recruits and moves youth between Kerala and Maldives using the 90 day no visa policy between the two countries.
He goes to give horrific details of the Maldives-Kerala connect and what the agencies have found is that the danger ahead is extremely grave in nature. The inflow of hawala money, the mindset of the radicals, blind political support among other factors are major causes for concern.
The rise of Al-Qaeda:
Roul points out that "in October 2013, some of the first cases of radicalized Maldivian youths attempting to travel to Syria were reported when two youths were detained at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in the capital Malé. Since then, about 100 Maldivians are believed to have joined the Syrian conflict and most of these are said to have joined up with al-Qaeda's official affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (or al-Nusra Front/the Support Front).
Several recent incidents shed further light on the ongoing jihadist exodus. In October, Sri Lankan security officials detained three Maldivians, including an 18-year-old woman, who were suspected of planning to travel to Syria through Turkey. Separately, another Maldivian family - comprising a 23-year-old radicalized man, his mother and his 10-year-old sister - was reported to have travelled to Islamic State-held territory in Syria or Iraq, from where they sent a message home stating that the Maldives is a "land of sin" and an "apostate nation."
These statements were perhaps an early indication that jihadists might someday regard the Maldives itself as a legitimate target. Meanwhile in November, it was reported that at least six more people from the Fuvahmulah and Meedhoo areas of the Maldives had travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State organization, illustrating that the flow of jihadist recruits to the Middle East continues. As of November 8, at least five Maldivians have reportedly died in Iraq and Syria fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra."
Once again coming back to Kerala, the problem of radicalization remains immense. Intelligence Bureau officials have very often said that Kerala's northern part is a major cause for concern.
Kerala operates in a very different manner. They are extremely attracted to larger causes and focus on issues such as Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanitan, Syria and Maldives. The fact that Maldives is seeing so much change and the affiliation of several radicals to the Al-Qaeda will see a major change in Kerala too. At least 80 per cent of the modules in Kerala share the Al-Qaeda ideology and hence the developments in Maldives become a major concern for the Indian agencies.
Roul further writes, "in Maldives there is little doubt that the root cause of the rise in visible Islamist radicalism is the growing popularity of Salafist ideologies among some sections of the population, notably the younger generation. In particular, years of grooming by visiting clerics and radical preachers have played a key role in fermenting radicalism and anti-Western sentiment in the archipelago.
Known radical English-language preachers with substantial online presences such as Bilal Phillips, Zakir Naik and Anjem Choudary have also notably played a key role in popularizing radical Islam in Maldives, a trend which is now merging into rising support for transnational jihadism.