Three Maldivian men have been sentenced to 15 years in jail for carrying out a bombing that wounded 12 tourists, the first recorded attack by Islamic militants in the Indian Ocean island chain.
Moosa Inas, Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah were found guilty under the Maldives Terrorism Act of "causing bodily harm with the intention of creating fear or terror", after they confessed to planting and detonating the bomb in the capital Male's Sultan Park.
"Because of the nature of the crime I cannot show leniency," Judge Abdullah Arif said as he passed sentence on Thursday at Male's Criminal Court. Under Maldives law, 15 years is the maximum sentence for an act of terrorism in which no one was killed.
Thirteen other men have been charged in relation to the Sept. 29 blast, which the defendants have said was planned as a deliberate attack on the tourism industry, the linchpin of the Maldives $1 billion economy.
Three others will face trial this year, but 10 men who police say masterminded the attack left for Pakistan in the days preceding the explosion. An Interpol warrant has been issued for their arrest. The Government has not said whether it will exercise the option of trying the 10 men in their absence.
"Investigations into the bombing revealed that the major role in the crime was committed by these three people," the Maldives Police Service said in a statement on its Web site (www.police.gov.mv), which carried pictures of the three.
"They confessed to their crime requesting the court to finish the case as soon as possible by issuing a justified verdict."
The Maldives remains on high alert, with the Government aware a further militant attack could be fatal to the reputation of the Maldives as a tourist idyll. Celebrities and honeymooners pay up to $1,000 a night to stay in villas standing on stilts in the island chain's 60 resorts.
In November, police uncovered a plot to detonate a second device simultaneously with the Sultan Park bomb.
The explosion has led to speculation about links between international Islamist militant organisations and the Maldives.
The Indian newspaper the Hindu alleged links between the Sultan Park bombers and Kashmiri group Lashkar-e-Taiba, while a propaganda video shot inside a radical Maldives mosque was posted on an Internet forum associated with al Qaeda in November.
Source: (Reporting by Ajay Makan; Editing by Alex Richardson) Reuters