Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was left in critical condition following an assassination attempt which also injured four other people, including a British national.
Police said they were treating the bomb explosion, which occurred at around 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday evening, as an act of terrorism.
Nasheed, who was the country’s first democratically elected president and the speaker of parliament, was being treated at ADK Hospital, a private facility in the capital, Malé.
He underwent 16 hours of surgery for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs, according to the hospital, which said on twitter Nasheed remained “in critical condition in intensive care.”
Police said a device that had been attached to a motorcycle exploded when Nasheed, 53, got into a car outside his home. Video footage from the scene showed the wreckage of the motorcycle and injured passers-by sitting on the sidewalk.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih described the explosion as an attack on the country’s democracy and economy, and pledged that the perpetrators “will face the full force of the law”.
Australian Federal Police investigators were due to arrive on Saturday to help with the investigation, while officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also offered their support. No one claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Officials close to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) told Agence France-Presse they believe he may have been targeted in retaliation for his anti-corruption campaign.
Nasheed has pledged to investigate how $ 90 million was stolen from the state tourism marketing board under the former government of President Abdulla Yameen. “There are dormant Islamists who could have collaborated with political elements threatened by Nasheed’s anti-corruption campaign,” a CDM source told AFP.
The Maldives, known for their luxury resorts and pristine beaches, is under constant threat from religious extremism. The country, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, has sent the highest number of foreign fighters per capita to Syria and Iraq, according to estimates cited by the US government, and is grappling with the challenge of rehabilitating those who return.
“If they do end up coming back, they come back with a lot of expertise and a lot of training,” said Mohammed Sinan Siyech, a security researcher in South Asia.
Although efforts have been made to stop radicalization in the Maldives, these have failed to address the underlying causes, he said, and contributing factors such as poverty and corruption. remained endemic.
“They have worked with the European authorities, and there is a lot of rehabilitation work that they have tried. Interpol has worked on it, and many different partners have tried to at least put some semblance of action in place. But these are all bandage measures.
In 2007, 12 tourists were injured when a bomb exploded in a crowded park in the Maldives capital. While violent attacks have since been rare, Britain’s Foreign Office warned travelers last February to be vigilant after three foreigners were stabbed in knife attacks claimed by Isis. A month later, a police speedboat was set on fire in what police described as a terrorist incident.
Authorities have foiled several terrorist plots in recent years. In January, they announced that eight people arrested in November intended to attack a school and were building bombs in a boat at sea. Police said the group had also conducted military training on uninhabited islands and recruited children.
Police commissioner Mohamed Hameed told The Associated Press that no military-grade components were detected in the explosives used and that officers were trying to identify four possible suspects. No arrests were made.
Nasheed, who became president in 2008, condemned religious extremism and the perpetrators were jailed under his government.
His electoral victory in 2008 ended three decades of autocratic rule, but his presidency was interrupted in 2012, when he was ousted in a coup. He was then sentenced to 13 years in prison under anti-terrorism laws, following a trial that was criticized by international observers as lacking due process. He was, however, allowed to travel to the UK to seek medical treatment and, represented by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, was granted political asylum.
Nasheed returned to the Maldives in 2018, after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was elected president and his party returned to power. As speaker of parliament, he remains influential, occupying the second most powerful position in the country.
He is recognized not only as an activist for democracy, but also as an advocate for global action to fight the climate crisis. In 2009, he hosted an underwater cabinet meeting, signing documents on scuba gear and goggles.