November 19, 2007

Al Qaeda in Maldives - International Terrorism Monitor

Sourece: SAAG

By B. Raman

(To be read in continuation of my earlier paper of November 11, 2007, titled "MALDIVES: SEQUEL TO MALE EXPLOSION---AN UPDATE" available at http://www.saag.org/papers25/paper2452.html)

The "Threats Watch", a well-known US group, which, inter alia, closely monitors the various Internet sites known to be or suspected to be associated with Al Qaeda and disseminates its observations, has carried an alert titled " Ansar Al Mujahideen Targets the Maldives" .The text of the Alert is available at http://threatswatch.org/rapidrecon/2007/11/ansar-almujahideen-targets-the/. It is reproduced below:

Ansar Al Mujahideen Targets the Maldives

A previously unknown group called “the Media Section of Ansar Al Mujahideen” posted a teaser video today on a well-known Internet forum associated with al-Qaeda that promotes an upcoming full-feature package called “Your Brothers in Maldives are Calling You!”

The teaser lasts 1 minute and 49 seconds and features clips recorded inside a Wahhabi mosque during the October 6, 2007, standoff between approximately 90 masked militants armed with swords and iron rods and 100 government soldiers on Himandhoo island. The tiny island, which belongs to Alif Alif atoll, lies 50 miles to the west of Male’, measures only 750m across and has a population of 583 residents. It is known as a hotbed of Wahhabi activity and, according to multiple intelligence sources, was a major transit point for South and Southeast Asian militants traveling by boat to fight in Somalia in the Fall and Winter of 2006.

The standoff occurred at the unregistered Dhar-al-Khuir Mosque on October 6, 2007, which was harboring at least two members of a cell that orchestrated the country’s first Jihadist terror attack. The attack, on September 29 at a popular tourist drop-off point in Male’, injured 12 foreign nationals and, according to police investigations, was funded by Islamic NGOs in Pakistan and the UK. Although the NGOs have not yet been named publicly, knowledgeable Maldives observers suspect the Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq NGO, the charitable wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

When fully released, the video will mark the first al Qaeda messaging product that features the Maldives. It is likely a call for foreign recruitment and financing for the local terror cell, which is believed to have grown considerably in the past year. The Maldives is believed to fall under the purview of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Comorro who is wanted for the 1998 East Africa embassy attacks and is believed to be hiding inside Somalia.

Interestingly, the teaser appears to be an indigenous product. It was seeded in 3 file formats (WMV, MP4 and FLV) and 4 sizes across 23 sites, including rapidshare.com, zshare.net, megaupload.com, badongo.com, and archive.org. The archive.org location appears to be the master distribution point and is registered to a false e-mail address “walad99@spambog.net.” It also contains documents with keywords related to travel and tourism, which is the main source of income for the country and the main issue of contention for Maldivian militants.

2. My comments on this worrisome development are as follows: In 2002, a 28-year-old Maldivian national named Ibrahim Fauzee was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, and taken to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba by the US' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on suspicion of his having links with Al Qaeda. As his interrogation did not confirm this suspicion, the FBI sent him to the Maldives. He lives in Male and is subject to regular police surveillance. The reported expansion of Al Qaeda's arc of jihadi operations to the Maldives should be of concern to India, Sri Lanka, the US, Singapore and the international maritime community as a whole. The Maldives has many uninhabited islands, which could be used by Al Qaeda not only for training jihadi terrorists, but also for mounting a major act of maritime terrorism against American ships visiting ports in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore and against the US naval base in Diego Garcia. Al Qaeda has suspected for a long time that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, and Hambali of the Jemmah Islamia were kept by the US intelligence in Diego Garcia before they were flown to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba. KSM was arrested in Rawalpindi in March, 2003, and Hambali in Ayuthya in Thailand in August, 2003.Even though there have been periodic reports of Al Qaeda planning a major maritime terrorism strike, it has not been able to mount a successful act of maritime terrorism after its attack on a French oil tanker (Limburg) off Aden in 2002. India has to be specially concerned not only over the possibility of an Al Qaeda-mounted operation in ports in South India, but also over the possibility of attacks on indian ships and military personnel visiting the Maldives.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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