Saturday, November 10, 2007

Maldives Terrorist Attack Suspects Flee to Pakistan, Police Say

Maldives police said 10 suspects in a bomb attack on international tourists in September fled to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean island nation is seeking Interpol's assistance to detain the fugitives.

The two prime suspects, Abdul Latheef Ibrahim and Ali Shameem, escaped the Maldives with the assistance of an immigration officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdullah Riyaz said. Another eight entered Pakistan through Karachi before the Sept. 29 blast in the capital, Male, he said.

The suspects targeted non-Muslims to fulfill their ``jihad,'' or holy war, Riyaz said, in a statement on the Maldives Police Service Web site.

Several of the fugitives and people already detained in connection with the attack received training in bomb making at Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. The Maldives, a chain of 1,190 islands located southwest of India, is made up almost entirely of Sunni Muslims, according to U.S. government data.

The bomb exploded at a popular park while the tourists were on a city tour. The 12 people wounded included a British couple on their honeymoon, two Japanese and eight Chinese. The incident was the first terrorist attack in the country, President Abdul Gayoom said at the time.

Moderate Islam

The nation of 369,000 people has practiced a moderate form of Islam for the past 700 years and is concerned about the infiltration of Islamic radicals, according to the BBC.

Plans by Gayoom, who has led the country since 1978, to ban the veil and prevent preachers from overseas entering the country have been resisted by religious scholars and the Islamic political party, the broadcaster reported on its Web site.

Assistant Commissioner Riyaz showed video footage taken by the plotters of the preparation of the improvised explosive device used in the attack, according to a police statement.

Police yesterday applied for an Interpol Red Notice to arrest the fugitives and are working with the Pakistani authorities on the case, it said.

The United Nations said in a September report that Pakistan trains, recruits or shelters more than 80 percent of suicide bombers staging attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

Almost all suicide attackers in Afghanistan ``undergo some form of training and preparation'' in Pakistani madrassas, according to the report.

In 2006, President Pervez Musharraf ordered religious schools to register with the government. A year earlier, he demanded they expel non-Pakistani students, after a U.K. investigation into the 2005 bombings in London showed that at least one of the suicide attackers visited a Pakistani madrassa.

The Maldives islands are spread over 900 kilometers (540 miles) in the Indian Ocean. The country's population lives on 198 of the islands. At $2,419, the Maldives had the highest per capita gross national income in the South Asia region in 2004, according to the World Bank.

Tourism accounts for almost a third of the Maldives economy and more than 60 percent of foreign exchange, according to the U.S. government's database.

Source: Bloomberg By Michael Heath

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