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Confirmed! Maldives is a jihadi launchpad

Last updated on: March 7, 2013 13:11 IST

Confirmed! Maldives is a jihadi launchpad

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Vicky Nanjappa

The lack of policing in the 1,100 islands of Maldives, which are dispersed in the open sea has made it a hot favourite for jihadis, and making the small island nation a major headache for Indian security agencies, says Vicky Nanjappa.

The arrest of Reaz Qadir Khan, a naturalised American citizen in Portland, Oregon, in connection with the 2009 suicide attack at the Inter-Services Intelligence headquarters in Lahore that killed 30 people and wounded more than 300 others, is yet another wake up call regarding the security set up in Maldives.

Khan, a resident of Portland, Oregon, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation provided another accused Jaleel advice on how to travel undetected from Maldives. The FBI has also said that Jaleel, along with a small group from the Maldives attempted to travel to Pakistan to train for Jihad.

Khan also advised Jaleel to keep extra funds so that they could be sent to the latter's two wives in Maldives. The FBI says that it would continue to focus on cutting off the flow of funds that help terrorists train, travel, and launch their attacks.

Indian security agencies have always warned that Maldives is going the Nepal way and despite friendly relations, the lack of policing in both these nations is going to become a headache to deal with.

India continues to deal with the problem of Maldives being used as a launchpad for Jihadis and also a hotspot to park slush funds which are used for terror related activities.

An official report regarding Maldives becoming a favourite launchpad for jihadis makes some very interesting points.

The biggest problem that is being pointed out is that numerous islands in Maldives are unmanned. There are over 1,100 islands which are dispersed in the open sea, and sparsely populated.

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Image: A man fishes on a beach in Male, Maldives. (inset) Reaz Qadir Khan, arrested on charges he gave advice and financial assistance to one of three Islamist militants who carried out a 2009 suicide bombing in Pakistan that killed 30 people and wounded 300 others
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
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Too many islands, too little watch

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Of course, the Maldives government has no intent of promoting jihadis, but they face a Herculean task in policing these islands. The inter-island links are extremely difficult to man, and it has led to very ineffective policing.

India says that these islands need to be policed 24/7 through aerial monitoring, but also acknowledge that it is a difficult task.

"Maldives just does not have the resources to carry out this sort of policing and hence there is a need for like-minded nations to come forward and help with aerial monitoring of all these islands which are being used as launchpads," said a source.

Maldives depends largely on tourism, import and export to support its economy and everything that consume barring the sea food is virtually imported. This has provided for an ideal operational condition for under and over invoicing and the bigger issue is that slush funds come in through this network.

It is this same network which is used to send in funds which are normally raised through drug deals under the garb of import and export. Most of the drug money lands up in the hands of terrorists. Indian agencies say that there is a dedicated channel through which such activities are carried out.

"Most of such activities are carried out from Sri Lanka and also Kerala. It is for the Maldivian authorities with the help of the Indian agencies to monitor every activity generating out of Kerala and Sri Lanka as it has been seen several times that most of the slush funds are generated through this route," said the source.

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Image: An aerial view shows an atoll in the Maldives. There are over 1,100 islands which are dispersed in the open sea, and sparsely populated
Photographs: Reinhard Krause/Reuters
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Many operatives have managed to move in thanks to a 90-day no visa policy

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India has a very big role to play in this and has to provide the Maldivian government with constant intelligence support. If there is strong effective intelligence and a security structure in place the problem could be solved to a large extent.

Indian agencies warn that a friendly relationship with the government is not sufficient to check the problem of terrorism. While the governments of Nepal and Maldives are very helpful, Pakistan based agencies have still managed to set up bases which are a menace to India and the rest of the world.

Over the years, both the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Al Qaeda have set up strong launchpads in Maldives.  These groups have identified the policing problems in the island nation and also the lack of expertise to check slush funds.

The interrogation of Asif Ibrahim, an operative, who was arrested by the Kerala police also confirms the setting up of the Maldives base.

Ibrahim, who is an accused in the 2007 Male Sultan Park blast said that the operational unit for the India-Maldives terror base was based out of Kerala. It is a cycle where in money comes in from the Gulf and then is sent in to Maldives.

He also revealed that the Lashkar and the Al Qaeda use shadow outfits called the Jammat-e-Muslimeen and thanks to a 90-day no visa policy, many operatives have managed to move in.

Indian agencies say that Khan's interrogation will help the fight against terror in Maldives.

"The United States must realise the gravity of the situation and now that they have an operative with a Maldives link their custody, they would be able to generate more information. We would rely on the report of the US to step up our own intelligence network in order to prevent further attacks from the Maldives," an official with the agency said.


Image: People stand near a mosque, where a blast occurred near the mosque at the entrance to the capital's Sultan Park, in this September 29, 2007 photograph
Photographs: Haveeru Online/Reuters
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