Counter-Terrorism: The Mystery Militants of the Maldives

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October 14, 2007: Last September 29th, a small bomb went off in the Maldive islands, a tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,192 small islands, and 330,000 Sunni Moslems. Islamic terrorists were suspected, although there has been little Islamic radicalism in the Maldives, which lie about a thousand kilometers south of India.

Only 200 of the islands are inhabited. The place is a major tourist attraction, and long noted for its hospitality. About half a million tourists come each year, and the only victims of the bomb were a dozen wounded tourists (two Britons, two Japanese and eight Chinese). The bomb went off in a popular park. The government was quick to go looking for who was behind the bombing. They soon found the culprits, a radical (heretical to many) Islamic group on one of the smaller islands. When a force of a hundred police arrives, they found 70 masked men defending the radical mosque. Many of these men were wearing red helmets, and all were armed with primitive weapons (clubs, spears, or just bricks). After several hours of negotiation, things turned violent. When it was over, 34 policemen, and most of the defenders, were injured, and the masked men were taken into custody. Most of the 600 inhabitants of the island were happy to see the Islamic radicals dispersed. Ten were arrested, but five were soon released. It’s believed the actual bombers were hiding out in the radical mosque, and may still be at large.

The Islamic radicals had been feuding with government demands that they worship in a government approved (and paid for) mosque. The government had been keeping an eye on this radical group, but had not suspected that there would be a bombing, or any other kind of violence. The bombing will do a lot of damage, at least in the short term, to the local economy. The Maldives enjoy one of the highest living standards in the region, and most Mardivians will feel the fallout from this terrorist act.

The Maldives have, for centuries, been ruled by a few wealthy families. This rule has often been arbitrary and unfair. This has caused violent unrest periodically. Although the country is technically run using Sharia (Islamic) law, the place is pretty easygoing. This has upset a minority of the inhabitants, who complain that all those foreign tourists are corrupting Islam. About a third of the population, living in the capital, enjoy most of the benefits of tourism. Until the bombing, most of these protests were vocal, not physical.

 


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