Counter Terrorism Perspectives: CTP

TM: "Islamic State-Inspired Knife Attack Exposes the Vulnerability of the Maldives"

February 27, 2020

The image of the Maldives as a tropical paradise received a significant jolt on February 4, when three foreign nationals—two Chinese and one Australian—were stabbed and injured by Islamist militants near the Hulhumale Redbull Park Futsal Ground in the country’s  North Male Atoll. The incident happened amid growing concerns about secret extremist networks inspired by transnational jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) that are active in the country.

The hitherto unknown extremist media outlet al-Mustaqim released a video message on February 5, shortly after the stabbings, featuring three unidentified masked men. The nearly three-minute video message was in the local Dhivehi language with a couple of Quranic verses in Arabic. However, the video has English subtitles claiming responsibility for the knife attacks, stating, “We announce to you that we claim responsibility for the recent stabbings of tourists [in the Maldives].” It further states that “the portrayal that this [Maldives] is paradise […] has become a mirage. From now on, the only thing they [foreign travelers] will taste [in the Maldives] is fire” (, February 5).

This short video was shared on multiple social media platforms and warned of future violence and heavily criticized the Maldivian government and its leaders as “apostates.” While inciting Maldivians to take up arms for retribution, the message urged them to  “stand up against the oppression of Muslims.” It also accused the Maldivian government of causing distress to Muslims only to please “the taghout (unbelievers) from America, the West and India.” Broadly, the Islamists have threatened to launch further knife attacks (“sharp blades”) on travelers to spread fear among visitors and hurt the tourism industry. The message suggested hitting the “vulnerable” parts of the country, i.e., the tourism sector, which is the backbone of the Maldivian economy (Raajje.MV, February 6). Though the message didn’t claim any IS links or inspirations or use any IS insignia, it had a jihadist nashid (or tarana, meaning anthem) running at the start of the video that was previously used by IS propaganda units. [1] Nevertheless, IS has not officially claimed the knife attacks in the Maldives, yet.

Stabbing or knife attacks are prevalent in the Maldives, and knives and machetes seem to be the preferred weapon for criminal and gang entities. However, knife attacks against tourists or foreigners are rare. The recent incident was a stark reminder of the first-ever Islamist terrorist attack in the Maldives, which took place in Male in September 2007, targeting foreign nationals. A crude improvised explosive device (IED) injured nearly 12 foreigners, including tourists from the United Kingdom, Japan, and China in the capital’s Sultan Park area. The attack targeted the tourism industry for its alleged un-Islamic practices and sinful influence on local culture. A massive crackdown across the country prompted extremist elements to flee the country (see Terrorism Monitor, February 12, 2010).

Meanwhile, by February 13, Maldivian police claimed to have arrested seven Islamists for the early February incidents, some of whom previously engaged in spreading extremist ideologies in Madduvarri, Raa Atoll (Edition, February 15). Though security agencies investigating the recent attacks have yet to divulge any details about the connection,  the knife attacks could be  revenge for the search and sweep operation codenamed Operation Asseyri, which was conducted on Madduvarri Island in December 2019.

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Source: Animesh Roul, "Islamic State-Inspired Knife Attack Exposes the Vulnerability of the Maldives", Terrorism Monitor, 18 (4), February 25, 2020.