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Heightened airport security not linked to terror attack threat: minister

Fathmath Shaahunaz
24 September 2017, MVT 16:28
MNDF soldiers pictured during a navy training session. PHOTO/MNDF
Fathmath Shaahunaz
24 September 2017, MVT 16:28

The Maldives on Sunday again reassured that deploying armed military forces in Velana International Airport (VIA) is merely a precautionary step to hike the airport’s security, and that the Maldives has not received any threats of a terror attack.

The indefinite deployment of armed Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) soldiers in VIA on Saturday sparked various speculations among the public, with many voicing anxiety over the sudden, unprecedented move. While the deployment of armed military at airports has become common practice around the world as defence against potential terror attacks, the security forces that oversaw security in VIA had not carried arms recently until this new operation.

Responding to the concerns, Minister of Defence and National Security Adam Shareef told Mihaaru on Sunday that the Maldives is taking precautionary action in advance against possible attacks in the airport, as per the government’s ongoing endeavours to combat terror. He firmly reiterated that the heightened security is not linked to a threat made against the state.

“All institutions of the state are working with the National Counter Terrorism Centre to combat terrorism.”

The minister went onto say that the government has determined which islands are at the highest risk of an attack. The National Counter Terrorism Centre had recently carried out a survey to identify the extent of religious extremism and ideology across the Maldives. While the survey is said to have revealed the sources that incite extremism and the islands where these ideologies are perpetuated, the authorities have not shared the results with the public.

Further, the defence minister had previously declared that, despite the number of Maldivians that join the civil wars of other countries, namely Syria, there are no terrorist organisations in the Maldives itself. Minister Shareef had also said that extremist ideologies and actions have not reached such an extent that they cannot be curbed by the joint efforts of the government and public.

Statistics published by various relevant international bodies insist that the number of locals joining the Syrian conflict is at about 250 – which makes the Maldives the country with the highest number of insurgents in Syria per capita.

However, the government has consistently downplayed this figure; last year, the police had placed its official figure of the number of Maldivians fighting in Syria at around 180, while Minister Adam Shareef had put it at approximately 49, stating that it was mostly made up of ex-convicts and school dropouts.

Meanwhile, the government is currently working closely with several nations to combat terrorism. Notably, the police and MNDF have recently carried out joint operations with foreign security forces to capture Maldivians attempting to reach Syria to participate in its civil war.

Under a similar operation, three Maldivians fleeing to Syria were apprehended in Turkey on Saturday, during a joint operation with Maldives Police Service. The three people have since been extradited to the Maldives.

Two Maldivians were also arrested from a Malaysian terror ring last month. While they were not directly involved in the terrorist activities, authorities have stated that the duo were arrested for using Malaysia and Singapore as a transit point to depart to Syria. The duo have also been extradited though they were soon released by Police due to lack of enough evidence to keep them in custody.

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