Tuesday 26th Oct 2021
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President Nasheed

Fact Check: Nasheed's Deep State

The following is a fact-check of the op-ed, titled "Deep State" ("Andhiri Dhaulath", in Dhivehi), written by Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, published in Adhadhu.
In his essay, Nasheed mainly writes about his perception of the spread of religious extremism in the Maldives, and how Maldivian nationals have participated in armed conflicts in league with foreign organizations, and also the roles played by Maldivian nationals within those organizations.

"Maldivians Participated in the Formation of ISIS"

According to Nasheed, "a multitude" of Maldivian nationals had participated in the formation and maintenance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS). He claims, on the authority of "many sources", that more than 300 Maldivian nationals were involved in it.
However, there exist no legitimate sources which indicate the involvement of Maldivian nationals in the formation of ISIS. The organization that came to be known as ISIS took shape in the late 90s under the stewardship of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national; it was then known as Jama'at al-Tauhid wal Jihad.
Al-Zarqawi moved to Iraq in response to the American invasion in 2003, expanding the scope of the organization's operations. The organization's operations continued to expand until it came under the control of Ibrahim Awwad as-Samarrai, who went by the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The organization declared itself the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" after it conquered the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, under al-Baghdadi's command.
There is no evidence that 300 Maldivian nationals were in any way involved in the formation of ISIS. The US-based RAND Corporation, which has conducted much research into the origins of ISIS and into al-Zarqawi's activities prior to 9/11, has published no indication of Maldivian nationals having been involved in any of al-Zarqawi's activities.
Likewise, it is an established fact that none of the records recovered from the territories that had been won back from ISIS by Iraqi and Syrian forces indicate that Maldivian nationals were, in any way, involved in the running of ISIS or its territories.
Similarly, nothing published by the Counter-Terrorism Centre and the Maldives Police Service indicate that 300 Maldivian nationals had travelled to Iraq or Syria to participate in the war. The Police had previously said that about 180 individuals, excluding women and children, had travelled abroad to participate in the war.
It would only make sense to claim that Maldivian nationals were heavily involved in the running of ISIS if the organization had comprised of a large number of them. However, according to figures published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) in 2018, there were only 200 Maldivian nationals (inclusive of women and children) in Iraq and Syria. While 40,000 foreign fighters had joined ISIS, it is unlikely that fewer than 200 Maldivians would have a pivotal role in the creation and running of the organization.

"People Joined ISIS Through an-Nusra And Bilad Ash-Sham"

Nasheed claimed that "most people joined the ISIS war through an-Nusra and Bilad-Al-Sham".
Jabhat an-Nusra, assuming that this was the organization mentioned, was a rival to ISIS, and several clashes had taken place between the two groups. Nasheed's citation of an-Nusra as a channel to ISIS shows little more than the poverty of his own research into the Syrian war.
The second organization that had been mentioned, Bilad-Al-Sham, never existed as a military organization active in either Syria or Iraq. Literally, "Bilad-Al-Sham" is the Arabic term for "the Levant", and it had also been the name of a number of media channels that were dedicated to reporting news from the Syrian war. If Nasheed had intended to refer to Tahrir-ash-Sham; that would refer to an organization that was formed by Jabhat-an-Nusra and several other groups. Tahrir-Al-Sham did not co-operate with ISIS.
It is therefore improbable that an-Nusra, or any other of ISIS' rivals, served as a gateway for ISIS membership.

"26 Fatal Stabbings"

Nasheed claimed that 26 people had been stabbed to death in the Maldives between 2013 and 2016. Nasheed further claimed, on the authority of an unnamed "expert", that these murders had been carried out in the same fashion as other murders committed by "deep states" in other countries, and that the victims had received warnings of their imminent deaths.

Nasheed's claim is categorically false.

Published police records show that only 23 murders had been carried out within that period. 12 of those murders had been carried out in the midst a gang-war between several of Male City's rival gangs; many of the victims were known members of gangs. None of those killings were religiously motivated. The remaining killings had several motives, among them are tragic cases of child abuse and murders committed through mugging. The only murder that can be linked to religious extremism from that period was that of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a journalist. The Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances had published a report regarding the murder and the investigation that had followed.
Nasheed's claims of linking all of the killings that had been carried out in that period to religious extremism betrays either his own ignorance of the subject, or his intention to willingly mislead his readers.

Stories of the Deep State

The essay goes on to Nasheed's claims that a secret "autonomous power" resides within the structure of the Maldivian State. He says that "several intelligence agencies" would testify to its presence. However, Nasheed failed to give any evidence of the presence of such a "power" in the Maldives, and though he had claimed that several intelligence agencies would testify to its presence: none before Nasheed had ever made such claims.
The first time Nasheed had made claims of a "deep state" had been when he had fled the country, while serving a prison sentence, on the pretext of requiring medical attention to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom. He made these claims through an alternative Twitter account he uses in addition to his official account. No intelligence agency has, to date, publicly mentioned a "deep state" in the Maldives.
In addition, the Maldivian state did not have any of the conditions necessary for the formation of such a deep state. Robert Rotberg, who had served as President of the World Peace Foundation and had conducted many studies into the nature of state failure, wrote that deep state or a "parallel state" normally formed in states that had either failed or were failing.
Failing states often involved the formation of groups within the state that challenged its domestic sovereignty. A failed state involved a loss of authority and control; any control a failed state did have would probably be limited to the capital city. Libya and Somalia could be described as failed states.
Deep states, such as what Nasheed has described, could have arisen in countries that had experienced the process of state failure. The Maldives is not such a state.
Nasheed further claimed that ISIS' military losses in the Middle East posed a danger to the Maldives. Maldivian nationals who had participated in the war, and their friends, were streaming into the Maldives. Even though the Levant is mentioned in Islamic eschatological traditions, this does not mean that anyone would be motivated to travel to the Maldives to establish a parallel government here.
The only take-away from Nasheed's essay is the poverty of his knowledge about and research into the topic on which he had chosen to write. Most of the information could have been easily verified or researched through a quick Google search, something which Majlis Speaker Nasheed had very clearly neglected to do.
The presence of religious extremists in the Maldives is an undeniable reality. The solution to religious extremism is not, however, to disseminate false information or to pass draconian laws which curb individual freedoms. A better solution would be to formulate evidence-based policies; combined with reforming public education and initiating social programs which can reach out to young people to answer their questions and educate them on mainstream Islamic values.