Thursday, November 22, 2007

Maldives police hunt for second bomb

Maldivian authorities are searching for a second bomb believed to have been part of a plot by Islamic extremists to attack the country's vital tourism industry, police said Thursday.

Militants had planned to set off a second bomb almost simultaneously with a first blast which hurt 12 foreign tourists on 29 September in the capital Male, police said.

"We are acting on an intelligence tip off after we arrested eight more suspects in connection with the Sultan Park bomb," assistant police commissioner Abdullah Riyaz told AFP by telephone from Male.

"We don't know the whereabouts of the bomb, but we are looking for it very hard," Riyaz said.

The Maldives has been on high alert since Islamic militants struck in a religiously motivated attack on the tourism industry, which accounts for a third of the country's economy.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has ruled since 1978, has ordered a crackdown on religious dissent, banning women from wearing the full veil and foreign preachers as well as closing down unlicensed Muslim prayer groups.

Gayoom also ordered the strict enforcement of the Religious Unity Act which forbids prayer in non-government mosques.

On Tuesday, the government charged three Maldivians linked to the bombing under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They were accused of "causing bodily harm, with the intention of creating fear or terror," and for making and using explosive substances, Riyaz said.

"State prosecutor Hussain Shameen also asked court for a maximum 15-year jail sentence," he said adding that 13 other Maldivian nationals will be charged under the same act in relation to the blast.

Riyaz said three were in detention, but the remainder on the run and believed to be in Pakistan.

Police are also investigating possible links with foreign militant groups after the Indian press reports highlighted that some of the suspects had links to a Kashmiri separatist group.

Source: AFP

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