Bharat’s Counter-Terrorism Cooperation in Neighbourhood— The Maldives
Anurag Sharma, Senior Research Associate, VIF

कश्चित् कस्यचिन्मित्रं, न कश्चित् कस्यचित् रिपु:।
अर्थतस्तु निबध्यन्ते, मित्राणि रिपवस्तथा॥
- चाणक्य नीति

[English Translation: Neither anybody is a friend of others nor enemy. Need (or situation) itself makes them friend or enemy.]

The Republic of Maldives, also known as Maldives, is an Islamic-majority country comprising 26 atolls and more than 1,000 islands. Despite practising modern-world Islam, the radical version of the religion has been emerging recently. According to the 2008 revisions to the nation’s Constitution, Islam is the State religion and a religion that all its citizens must follow. According to Article 9(d)[1] of the Republic of Maldives Constitution, “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives,” as well as Articles 10(a) and (b), which state that “The Maldives’ official religion is Islam. All Maldives laws must have Islam as one of their pillars, and the country cannot adopt any laws that go against Islamic principles,”[2] respectively. Maldives has faced security challenges from Islamic extremism and radicalisation. The write-up discusses Islamic extremism in Maldives and counter-terrorism cooperation between Bharat and Maldives. It is one of the segments of a series on counter-terrorism cooperation between Bharat and its neighbourhood countries as a crucial element of bilateral relations.

Islamic Extremism in Maldives

The Maldives has a predominantly Muslim population, and Islam has been an integral part of its culture. In 2008, the adoption of political reforms and the transition to multiparty democracy gave religious conservatives and supporters a strong voice in establishing Sharia law in the Maldives. Recently, a small but significant portion of the Maldivian population has adopted more extreme interpretations of the religion, promoting a strict and rigid version of Islam that advocates implementing Sharia law and establishment of an Islamic state. Despite its reputation as a tropical paradise known for its picturesque beaches and luxury resorts, this island nation has grappled with the emergence of radical ideologies that challenge its moderate Islamic traditions.

One of the key factors contributing to the rise of Islamic extremism in the Maldives is the influence of external entities. Radical ideologies propagated by extremist groups elsewhere have made their way to the islands through the Internet or individuals who have travelled abroad to fight alongside extremist organisations. In terms of Foreign (Terrorist) Fighter (FTF) per capita in the world, Maldives had the highest rate of FTFs having travelled to the Islamic State (IS)-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria during 2014-2016. According to the data compiled by the Soufan Group (November 2015) and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in 2015, the total number of foreign (terrorist) fighters (FTFs) from Maldives was 200.[3]

In December 2019, Commissioner of Police at the Maldives Police Service (MPS)— Mohamed Hameed, revealed that over 1,400 Islamist extremists live in the Island nation who adhere to the ideology of IS. The report also informed that 423 Maldivians attempted to travel to IS-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, but only 173 managed to flee. Out of 173, only 59 Maldivians lived in Syria, including 91 per cent of women and children.[4]

In the recent past, some of the incidents of Islamic extremism have largely been executed by the modules linked to the Islamic State (IS) terror group. As shown in Chart 1, the number of terrorism-related incidents steeply rose from 2019 until 2021. One of the significant terrorist attacks took place on 06 May 2021 when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated outside the home of former Maldivian President— Mohamed Nasheed in Male City when he was moving out to attend a ceremony. Mohamed Nasheed and four others, including a British national (a bystander), were injured in the attack.[5]

The radical elements operating within the social fabric of the Island nation remain active. Authorities from two European Union (EU) nations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States (US) conducted a coordinated operation on 06 January 2022. The officials arrested a senior Islamic State (IS) operative – Hoor Mohamed Zahir, in Vilimale, an island in the North Male Atoll. Allegedly, Zahir ran media campaigns where he called for acts of terror on European soil.[6]

On 21 June 2022, on International Yoga Day, an angry mob forcibly entered the Galolhu National Stadium in Male and disrupted the yoga event organised by the Indian High Commission in Male and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Community Empowerment, Maldives (MoYSCE). Before the event, violent protesters waved placards proclaiming that Yoga is ‘un-Islamic’ and against the belief in Islam. In response, Maldivian police employed anti-riot measures to control the crowd and secure the area.[7]

In another incident on 22 August 2022, an IS terrorist— Mohamed Jameel, attempted to assassinate Ali Solih, Maldivian Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology. Though the attacker’s repeated attempts to behead the Minister failed, the attacker managed to slit a portion of the Minister’s arms while chanting verses from Quran.[8]

On 11 November 2022, Maldives’ Police arrested 14 operatives, allegedly involved with foreign Islamic extremists, conspiring bomb blasts in the nation. The Maldives’ chief of counter-terrorism— Uswath Ahmed, claimed that authorities raided 13 homes in three different places and detained 14 IS sympathisers who plotted a terrorist attack to cause many casualties.[9] The raid and subsequent arrest of IS operatives shows a notable surge in Islamic extremism in the island nation in recent years.

The role of social media in empowering violent extremism cannot be neglected. Radicalisation has been facilitated using social media platforms, where extremist content can quickly be disseminated to vulnerable individuals. It is widely believed that an emerging Islamic organisation in Maldives— the United Islamic Society (UIS), is promoting extremist ideologies by providing a platform, particularly over social media. As per reports, individuals associated with the organisation are establishing sleeper cells within the Island nation.

Moreover, socio-economic factors have also played a role in fuelling extremist sentiments in the Maldives. High youth unemployment rates (15.1 per cent in 2022[10]) and limited educational opportunities have left some population segments susceptible to extremist recruiters who offer a sense of belonging, purpose, and empowerment.

Maldives’ Efforts in Countering Islamic Extremism

In the past, Maldivian citizens have joined extremist groups abroad, raising concerns about potential threats within the country. The Maldives government has taken measures to address these issues and prevent the spread of extremism. The government of the Maldives has acknowledged the threat posed by Islamic extremism and has taken steps to counter its spread. Covering the legal aspects of combat terrorism, Maldives approved comprehensive laws, including the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Act (MLTFA) in 2014, and it ratified the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 2015, resulting in the establishment of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in 2016.[11]

Authorities have initiated de-radicalisation programmes to rehabilitate individuals involved in extremist activities or who have returned from fighting overseas. In a press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 24 May 2022, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights expert Fionnuala Ni Aolain welcomed the Maldivian government’s commitment to bring women and children (Maldivian nationals) from the Al-Hol and Roj camps in Syria to the Island nation. More than 50 Maldivians live in Syrian camps without adequate food, education, clean water, or healthcare.[12] Additionally, the country has increased cooperation with international partners to combat terrorism and extremism through intelligence sharing and joint operations.

Way Ahead for Bharat-Maldives CT Cooperation

The bilateral counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation is one of the significant components of Bharat’s foreign policy in its neighbourhood, especially its neighbour in the West, which sponsors cross-border terrorism. The aligned principles of Bharat’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and Maldives’ ‘Bharat (India) First’ policies synergistically worked to protect the welfare of both nations’ citizens. Bharat and Maldives strongly condemned terrorism and its manifestations, including cross-border terrorism. Moving forward to strengthen their counter-terrorism cooperation, on 24 July 2023, Bharat and Maldives co-chaired the 2nd Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on Counter-Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), and De-radicalisation in Male, Maldives.[13] The Secretary (West) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)— Sanjay Verma, led the Bharatiya delegation, whereas the Foreign Secretary of Maldives— Ahmed Latheef, led the Maldivian delegation.[14]

During the meeting, both sides shared their experiences fighting terrorism and extremism. The ideas on enhancing cooperation in various facets, such as preventing radicalisation, countering terror funding, preventing the utilisation of the Internet as a tool for terrorist activities, strengthening bilateral information-sharing mechanisms, and working towards capacity building, were also exchanged. Improving bilateral collaboration in combating Organised Crime Syndicates (OCS), drugtrafficking, repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of FTF returnees[15] was also addressed as part of the JWG meeting.

Despite these efforts, combating Islamic extremism remains a complex and ongoing challenge for the Maldives. The Maldivian government must balance preserving its religious and cultural identity while countering extremist ideologies. Addressing underlying socio-economic issues, improving educational opportunities, and promoting moderate Islamic values are crucial in building resilience against radicalisation and fostering a cohesive society that rejects violence and extremism. Considering its cordial relations with Bharat, Maldives must learn from the former’s experience in dealing with terrorism. Maldives must strengthen its bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation with Bharat, including exchanging viable intelligence inputs, elite Special Forces’ joint exercises, and monitoring the nature of pedagogy in Madrassas based in Maldives. International cooperation and support are also essential in tackling this transnational threat and ensuring the stability and security of the Maldives and the broader region.


[1] Republic of Maldives. Ministry of Legal Reform, Information, and Arts. “The Constitution of the Republic of Maldives 2008”, Available from:
[2] Ibid.
[3] Anurag Sharma, “The Islamic State Foreign Fighter Phenomenon and the Jihadi Threat to India” (MPhil dissertation, Dublin City University, 2018), 06, available from: ; Alex Peter Schmid and Judith Tinnes, “Foreign (Terrorist) Fighters with IS: A European Perspective”, ICCTResearch Paper, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism-The Hague, December 2015.
[4] Adam, Mariyam Afaaf. “Over 1,400 extremists ‘willing to kill’ in the Maldives”, Raajje, 17 December 2019, available from:
[5] Zalif, Zunana. “Explosion that wounded Speaker Nasheed was from an IED: MNDF”, Raajje, 08 May 2021, available from:
[6] Idhurees, Niumathullah. “Maldives police arrests local high-profile ISIS operative”, The Edition, 23 February 2022, Available from:
[7] Reuters. “Protestors attack yoga day event in Maldives”, The Indian Express, 21 June 2022, available from:
[8] Pandey, Nikhil. “Video: Maldives environment minister attacked on camera while riding bike”, WION, 23 August 2022, available from:
[9] Associated Press. “Maldives arrests 14 for alleged Islamic State-tied bomb plot”, The Times of India, 15 November 2022, Available from:
[10] “Youth Unemployment Rate- Maldives”, World Bank, available from:
[11] “Sixth Committee on Agenda item 114: Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, Government of Maldives at the United Nations, October 2021, available from:
[12] OHCHR. “Maldives: UN expert cautiously welcome government commitment to bringing nationals home from Syria but urges more action on repatriation and reintegration”, United Nations, 24 May 2022, available from:
[13] Government of India. “Second meeting of India-Maldives Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism and De-radicalisation”, Ministry of External Affairs, 24 July 2023, available from:
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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