Fighting Terrorism in Paradise (Page 2 of 2)

The administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – the quasi-autocratic leader who ruled the island nation for three decades – was unable to overcome another smudge on its image, and a year after the bombing, Gayoom was voted out of office in favour of the Western-back reformist, Nasheed.

Since coming to office, Nasheed’s government has been doing more than just taking advantage of capacity building initiatives led by Western countries – it’s also working to amend its own laws in order to facilitate greater cooperation in areas such as intelligence sharing and joint operations between its national security agencies.

Included in this domestic review is a look at national security legislation on terrorism and radicalization cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and international partners such as India and the United States. The review is part of a larger process aimed at completing a new bill, currently being drafted, which would facilitate the government’s ability to pre-empt a terrorist attack within its territory.

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But while details of the bill remain secret, some international observers fear that the process is an attempt by the government to gain carte blanche over opposition forces and the religious establishment. Current legislation on terrorism is codified in the Prevention on Terrorism Act of 1990. The most ambiguous clause of the four page bill is section 2 (g), which declares that terrorism may be defined as the ‘use of terror tactics, force or making threats to cause harm or damage…or other means to create fear in the community.’ But the ease with which this existing Act can be reinterpreted has been criticized by international human rights groups and opposition parties alike, and new legislation that further empowers the government’s ability to interdict and pre-empt terrorist activities, while beneficial for counterterrorism purposes, would undoubtedly pose some contradictory hurdles for the Maldives’ international supporters. The Arab Spring has shown Western leaders the danger of stifling individuals’ freedom of press and religion. Yet this new legislation could serve to suppress the country’s religious establishment and quiet influential clerics who having opposing views to the sitting government.    

Still, there are some encouraging signs over the Maldives’ boosted co-operation. In March, Maldivian national Iqbal Mohamed was detained by local authorities after returning from a trip to Pakistan. There had been an Interpol red notice out on Mohamed for his suspected involvement in the Sultan Park bombing in 2007. While Maldivian police released Mohamed on March 25, it appears that they had received intelligence that he might be involved in planning a terrorist attack at the World Cricket Cup in India. The attack never happened, and the quality of the intelligence is still being assessed. However, the cooperative system between India, the Maldives and Interpol was widely seen as a success.

Of course, not every operation will be as efficient as this one. But if the Maldives wants to protect its citizens’ livelihoods, it has no choice but to work closely with other nations.

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