The Maldives: Reframing Counter Terrorism Policy
The fatal attack on former President and Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed on May 6 once again reflected the deep penetration of ISIS in the Maldivian society, especially amongst the youth and certain political groups opposing liberal democracy. ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack on Nasheed, who was targeted for his strong views against growing radicalism in the Island country. The terrorist attack on a high profile leader in a crowded public place also reflects intelligence failure despite the police having prior information about the attack. This information was gathered from eight people arrested in November 2020.
Moreover, in the post-attack period, the investigation process was delayed due to the lack of experience and expertise of the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to deal with this kind of issue and lack of authority to the MPS to search and arrest suspected people under the existing counter-terrorism act. After a month of the incident, the MPS could identify only five suspects.
Perhaps this kind of attack was the first of its kind on the Island, although there were reports about Maldivian youths joining ISIS. The nature of the attack indicates that some Maldivian youths trained in the ISIS and Al Qaeda camps might have returned home without the government authorities noticing or being aware of it. There could also be the possibility of some slipping out of the government rehabilitation centres. In that case, many more such attacks might take place in the future. Minister of Home Affairs Sheikh Imran Abdulla had revealed in the parliament that there are several indoctrinated terrorists moving freely in the Maldives. The current terrorism act does not allow the authorities to take those into preventive custody.
Keeping these issues in mind, the Maldivian government on May 30 proposed amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a clause for detention up to 48 hours without a court order. The amendments proposed will thus allow the police to arrest and detain party/parties suspected under the act of terrorism for 48 hours without a court order. The bill came after Home Minister Imran stated that there were obstacles to arresting and detaining dangerous extremists. Previously, the Prevention of Terrorism Act had been amended in 2019 to empower officers of the MPS, allowing them to arrest and search terror suspects without a court order.
The proposed amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (No. 32/2015) will have the following features to strengthen the ability of the relevant agencies to take appropriate measures to prevent terrorist activity without affecting fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution:
EmpoweringofficersoftheMPStoarrestanddetainthosesuspectedofterrorismforaperiodof 48 hours.
Detailingtheamendedproceduretohavesuchsuspectspresentedinfrontofajudgeatcourtfor remand or extension of detention.
DetailingtheprocedurethroughwhichtheMaldivesPoliceServiceofficerscanperformsearch and seizure operations on private property belonging to a party and make arrests without seeking a court order.
DetailingtheprocedurefordealingwiththosewhohavelefttheMaldivestojoinmilitiagroups abroad in war zones if they return to the country.
Although many of those returning home from the war zones may not be active fighters, the amendment states that they are considered at risk of exposure to extremist ideologies, terrorism and propaganda, and calls for measures to be taken to protect communities from their influence. An amendment was also proposed to allow such parties to receive rehabilitation treatment following their returns.
A third amendment was proposed to have those sentenced to a monitoring and control order, those in detention for suspected terrorism, those extremist fighters convicted of terrorism and those who have returned to the Maldives from warzones be given a legally mandated opportunity at rehabilitation treatment until they are fit to rejoin society, starting from the moment they are presented in front of the law on home soil. 
Apart from further empowering the security forces, the government has emphasized capacity building like intelligence gathering both from human and technical sources, specialised training of security forces, intelligence sharing with other countries and most importantly, consulting counter-insurgency experts in the investigation process. In this regard, President Ibrahim Muhammed Solih has ordered a review of the intelligence-gathering capacities of the security apparatus.
Given the limited resources and trained workforce to tackle the menace, the Maldives needs to review its current policy of rehabilitating former militants who have returned from warzones. There are risks in allowing the trained terrorists to return home from war zones and then de-radicalising them fully. At the same time, a softer approach needs to be taken towards de-radicalising homegrown terrorists. Second, the Maldives needs to take stringent measures against external funding to the mosques and madrasas that may aid terrorist organisations. Unless these preventive measures are taken seriously, no counter-terrorism act can guarantee that the Maldives will be terror-free in the future.
 “Amendments proposed to Prevention of Terrorism Act, detention possible for 48 hours without court order,” Raajje, May 30, 2021, https://raajje.mv/100888
This brief is part of the South Asia Conflict Monitor, June 2021.