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Executive Summary: Counterterrorism Challenges in the Maldives


Week of: December 21, 2020


In spite of their small size, the Maldives have a relatively high level of terrorist activity in terms of both attacks and the presence of terrorist-affiliated individuals. The majority Muslim nation also faces the threat of religion being used to polarize political beliefs. This is also due to an increasing reliance of its population on Salafism, the radical Islamic ideology subscribed to by ISIS. The Maldives witnessed multiple terrorist attacks in the past. Relevant examples include a bomb that exploded at Sultan Park in 2007 which injured several foreigners including two British nationals. The men arrested for the attack claimed their intention was to target non-Muslims. In 2017, a plot organized by a Maldivian ISIS member in Syria to blow up an airliner mid-air was foiled by the Maldivian authorities with foreign assistance. In December 2019, the Maldivian police estimated that 1,400 extremists following ISIS’s ideology were present in the Maldives. Some have fought in Syria, with estimated numbers ranging from 49 to 300 ISIS propaganda claims that the Maldivian government and its leaders are anti-Islam.[2] They also state that the government is only targeting Muslims to satisfy the unbelievers in the West, India and America.[3] The UK government warned on their website regarding foreign travel, that terrorist attacks were likely to occur in the Maldives in locations frequented by expatriates and tourists.[4]

The Maldivian government has firmly expressed its determination to counter-terrorism.[5] On September 30, 2019, an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed that substantially empowered the Maldives Police Service by “incorporating early intervention strategies.” The government has worked proactively to combat terrorist organizations including creating a National Reintegration Center aimed at rehabilitating and deradicalizing Maldivian citizens returning from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Additionally, the government established a national strategy with the purpose of reaching out to and training youth at risk on certain islands to prevent radicalization.[6] In November 2020, the Maldivian police arrested six men as part of an ongoing counterterrorism operation.[7]

The Maldives have also received international assistance on counterterrorism projects. The EU funded an initiative implemented by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Interpol to enhance security, prevent radicalization, strengthen the judicial system, and develop law enforcement capabilities.[8] Another EU-funded project focused on preventing violent extremism via the promotion of tolerance and respect is being implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).[9] The Maldivian authorities also conducted the first National Terrorism Response Plan exercise with the UK in December 2020.[10]


The Maldivian government still has work to do to prevent terrorist attacks. For instance, although the Maldives has an Anti-Terrorism Act, between 2014 and 2019 only 14 of the 188 cases were brought forward for prosecution.[11] In 2016, the Maldives passed the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act and no cases have been prosecuted under its terms. The small risk of criminal prosecution for terrorist activity only adds as a talking point for recruiters.

Religious leaders in the Maldives should work more with the government to deter extremist views. Providing outreach to vulnerable and/or dissatisfied young men with ways to help the community could lower the chances they would turn to ISIS or other terrorist organizations. For instance, religious leaders could provide guidance by connecting young men with respectable elders in the community. The government and religious leaders could also work together to provide job opportunities or the ability to learn a trade to have an income, as lack of revenue is a driving factor in joining terrorist organizations.

Other countries and international organizations should also support the Maldives in implementing the above-mentioned measures to prevent radicalization and to avoid the nation from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. Intelligence sharing and cooperation between law enforcement agencies will be essential to identify and arrest foreign fighters returning from Syria.

Climate change also plays an important role in the Maldives, as terrorist organizations can exploit its effects for their own purposes. According to the World Bank, “with future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged.”[12] Moreover, by 2100 the Maldives will face other impacts of climate change, such as severe weather events, floods, etc. Terrorist organizations like ISIS will take advantage of this discontent to radicalize people and recruit them. A vivid example is the 2004 Tsunami when many Maldivians started to follow a stricter form of Islam after different terrorist recruiters said that the country and people strayed away from the path of true religion and the disaster was their punishment.[13] Limiting the effects of global warming is thus important to combat further radicalization.

The spread of radical Islam in the Maldives could also have broader geopolitical effects. The archipelago is the object of a struggle for influence between India and China, and more recently US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited it in an effort to contain Beijing’s growing influence. If the Maldives were destabilized by terrorism, the geopolitical projects and investments of these powers could be frustrated. At the same time, this could also provide them with an excuse to increase their presence in the country (including military terms) and thus promote their own agenda.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Maldives by Google Maps

[2] Maldives Assessment -2020, South Asian Terrorism Portal, 2020,

[3] Islamic State-Inspired Knife Attack Exposes the Vulnerability of the Maldives, The Jamestown Foundation, February 2020,

[4] Foreign travel advice - Maldives - Terrorism, UK Government, 2020,

[5] Statement by Ibrahim Zuhuree, Deputy Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations At the Sixth Committee On Agenda Item 114: Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, Maldives Mission to the UN, October 2020,

[6] Maldives Assessment -2020, South Asian Terrorism Portal, 2020,

[7] Six arrested in counter-terrorism operation, Raajje, November 2020,

[8] Support to the Maldives on Counter-Terrorism, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2020, Support to Maldives on Counter-Terrorism, European External Action Service, 2020,

[9] Preventing violent extremist through promoting tolerance and respect for diversity in Maldives, European External Action Service, 2020,

[10] Work officially begins on National Terrorism Response Plan, Raajje, December 2020,

[11] Maldives: Extremism & Counter Extremism, Counter Extremism Project, 2020,

[12] Climate Change in the Maldives, The World Bank, April 6, 2010,



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