Maldives government on Thursday again downplayed the number of Maldivians joining foreign conflicts with the defence minister placing the number at 49 insisting that it was mostly made up of ex-convicts and school dropouts.
Various relevant international bodies and the opposition has insisted that the number of locals joining the Syrian conflict is at 250 which would make Maldives with the highest number of fighters in Syria per capita.
The government has continuously rejected the number and insisted that opposition inflates the figure for political gain.
Defence minister Adam Shareef told reporters on Thursday that it was an arduous task for the government to determine the exact number of locals joining extremist groups in foreign conflicts.
“The Maldivians leaving the country to join foreign conflicts aren’t only extremists. It also includes ex-convicts and school drop outs,” Shareef said during a press briefing held by the national counter terrorism centre.
Despite the government’s latest estimates, based on recent confirmed reports, the number of locals joining foreign conflicts, especially the civil war in Syria is over 100.
When asked repeatedly on how the government arrived at the number, Shareef stressed that the information was based on intelligence gathered jointly by the police and the military.
But he quickly admitted that the figure does not include children taken along by parents and Maldivian jihadists in other countries.
“That is the official government figure to date. We review the figure once a month,” minister explained.
Shareef also reiterated that some people were inflating the number for personal and political gain and warned action against those who do so.
Government has recently looked to take measures to curb the rising extremist ideologies in the island nation.
The government on Thursday publicized the national policy to curb rising violent extremism ideology in the archipelago.
The first policy of this nature has been forwarded by president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom for deliberations and decisions of the Parliament.
The paper outlines the concerns of the government with regard to terrorism and violent extremism, and the preventative measures the it currently undertakes and plans to take in future.
The most vital of issues identified in the paper relates to financing terrorist activities, including assistance for others to travel overseas to participate in conflicts and terrorist activities abroad.
“Maldives pledges to take swift measures against anyone committing an act or acts of terrorism, or financing, joining, encouraging or providing any manner of assistance or support to, terrorists and violent extremists.”
In the key plans for the future, the paper stresses on the need to safeguard the linchpin of the country’s economy by increasing the safety and security of resorts and tourist accommodation.
The government also identified the importance of intelligence gathering and sharing with the international community, and facilitating timely remedial action to tackle terrorism.
The paper also addressed significance of increasing public awareness of violent extremism and conducting de-radicalization and rehabilitation.
The counter terrorism centre is presently conducting reasearch into rising extremism leading to increasing number of jihadists from the archipelago.
Defence ministry in a statement said the research being conducted by the national counter terrorism centre will enable authorities to identify the reasons behind the increasing number of Maldivians joining foreign ‘jihads’
This in turn will enable the government to determine the steps that need to be taken to safeguard national security, the statement read.
The research will consult and gather information from prominent Islamic scholars and technocrats.
The center is trying to publicist the report by the end of July, statement said.