COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Maldives government plans to conduct de-radicalization and awareness programs aimed at stopping its citizens from being attracted by foreign Islamist extremist groups, according to its first policy paper on terrorism released Thursday.
President Yameen Abdul Gayoom presented the paper to Parliament earlier this month.
The tiny Indian Ocean archipelago state with a population of 340,000 mostly Sunni Muslims is known primarily for luxurious tourist resorts. However, in recent years some residents have reportedly joined the Islamic State group.
Opposition politicians say the number exceeds 300 and is the highest percentage of any country given the Maldives’ small population. The government acknowledges a problem but says the number is much lower.
“The difficult truth today is that there are people, however small in number, in the Maldives who are motivated by and cultivate violent extremist and terrorist ideology. In addition, there are also those in the Maldives who encourage, and facilitate Maldivians to travel abroad to participate and engage in foreign conflicts,” the paper says.
It says the government realizes that it is a difficult task to identify such people and that it will do more to strengthen the process.
“As a nation, Maldives is gravely concerned by these issues and have continued to take concrete steps to contain these challenges, but recognizes that a lot remains to be done,” it says.
The policy paper says the government will investigate the severity of terrorism and violent extremism in the country and take action against those committing acts of terrorism, or financing or encouraging such acts.
The Maldives government amended the anti-terrorism law last year to criminalize participation in foreign wars. The revised law also enables the government to seek a court order to fit suspected IS sympathizers with electronic monitoring tags, listen to their phone conversations and prevent them from traveling abroad if the trip is deemed suspicious.
The paper says that authorities have already begun securing tourist resorts, sea ports and airports.