Monday, November 12, 2007

Maldives says 10 bomb suspects now in Pakistan

Maldives police said on Thursday 10 suspects in a September bomb attack that wounded 12 foreign tourists were on the run in Pakistan and they were seeking Interpol assistance to arrest the fugitives.

The 10 men planned the bombing and flew to Pakistan in the weeks preceding the September 29 attack near a mosque in the Maldives' capital Male, police said.

"They masterminded the bombing and then fled to Pakistan," a police spokesman said.

Eleven suspects are in custody on the Indian Ocean islands in connection with the attack which struck tourists at the entrance to the popular Sultan Park.

Three of the men have confessed to police that they planted the device to "target, attack and injure non-Muslims, to fulfil jihad", the spokesman said.

Two of the suspects in Pakistan, Ali Shameem and Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, both Maldives nationals, were on a travel blacklist after family members voiced concerns about their intention to travel to Pakistan to train for militant attacks.

They slipped out of the country with the assistance of an immigration officer who has been arrested, police said.

"Several of the fugitives, as well as some of the suspects detained in the Maldives, received training in bomb making in Pakistani madrasas (Islamic schools)," the police spokesman said.

The Maldives has practised a moderate form of Islam uninterrupted for seven centuries. But fears of extremism have grown in recent years.

Extradition orders have been prepared and Pakistani police have been alerted through Interpol, the spokesman said. At home, police have asked the state to prosecute 16 men, including one minor. Some of those on the run may face trial in absentia.

The chain of over a thousand islands straddling the Equator is home to more than 80 upmarket resorts, attracting more than 500,000 tourists last year.

The tourism industry accounts for two thirds of GDP by some estimates, and is the primary source of foreign currency.

The Maldives government banned travel to Pakistan for study in madrasas over a decade ago, and earlier this year sent its first counter-terror officers to Singapore for training.

In the aftermath of the blast, which injured two Britons, two Japanese and eight Chinese, more than 60 men were rounded up from a single island, a third of the adult male population, after a pitched battle outside a mosque.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in power since 1978, has announced plans to ban the full veil and prevent foreign preachers entering the country. The proposals have been fiercely criticised by religious scholars and an increasingly popular conservative Islamic political party.

Source: Reuters

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