DDCom: Police could have prevented Rilwan’s murder

DDCom’s president Fareesha Abdulla speaks at a press conference on December 15, 2022. (Photo/President's Office)

Police were well aware of the threat against Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, and could have prevented his abduction and murder, state the Disappearances and Deaths Commission (DDCom).

Rilwan, 28, a journalist who worked for Minivan News (later renamed Maldives Independent), was last seen on August 8, 2014. According to DDCom, their investigation uncovered Rilwan was abducted from outside his apartment in Hulhumale’, forced into a car, and then into a dinghy and into a fishing boat, after which he was beheaded and thrown overboard.

In a press conference Thursday, DDCom’s president Fareesha Abdulla said that 2011 saw the emergence of clashes between people who harbored extremist views and those whose views did not meet with their own.

The same year, opposition parties launched a series of protests against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s rule, accusing the party of blasphemy and of advocating for secularism, after which social media arguments between extremists and those of opposing views grew increasingly heated, she said.

The protests led to the downfall of President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration in February 2012.

Fareesha said that gangs soon became involved in the arguments, and began intimidating and harming people they deemed to be committing blasphemy.

Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, 28.

Fareesha said DDCom’s investigation found the acts of violence were led by Ahmed Ismail (Ahandhu), 39, Ma. Faagafilage, K. Male’; and Ahmed Muaz (Gatu Mua), 40, Dhafthar no. RS8499, K. Male’.

She said that Muaz met with two government ministers in June 2014, and that the investigation uncovered then-Deputy Home Minister Mohamed Hanim, M. Fusthulhaage, K. Male’, played a role in setting up both meetings.

Fareesha said that Muaz met with then-Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed prior to the meetings.

“One thing the commission found is Ahmed Muaz had a close relationship with the then-Police Commissioner,” she said.

Fareesha said that though gang activities expanded, politicians from then-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s political party continued to deny existence of criminal gangs in Maldives, which served as further encouragement to the gangs.

Extremists and criminal gangs continued to grow more powerful, and in 2014, a protest was held in the streets of the Maldivian capital, with people holding up the ISIS flag and other writings associated with the terror organization, she said.

Fareesha said Maldives had been in political, social and religious turmoil as of August 4, 2014, with violent extremists and criminal gangs gathering power and influence.

She said that Rilwan had received multiple threats from extremists and gangs.

DDCom member Misbah Abbas said that because of the threats on social media in 2014 and the things that were happening in Male’ at the time, then-Deputy Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb asked the Serious and Organized Crime Department to investigate the threats.

DDCom’s member Misbah Abbas during a press conference on December 15, 2022. (Photo/President's Office)

“And there were also intelligence reports prepared by Maldives Police Service on what was happening to social media users at the time,” he said.

Misbah said the police were well aware of the credible threat Ahandhu and Muaz posed to Rilwan, and the police even had Rilwan’s phone tapped because of that.

“We found that before Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was killed, the Maldives Police Service, aware of the threat against him, had been listening to his phone calls under court order,” he said.

Misbah said that many things had happened between 2011 to Rilwan’s murder because of social media. And that the failure to stop the social media threats had led to additional crimes, including Rilwan’s murder.

“Ahmed Ismail and Ahmed Muaz had been the ringleaders [of what was happening in Male’ at the time]. The investigation established Rilwan had been their target. And that the police had been aware of this,” he said.

Fareesha added that the police had Rilwan’s phone surveilled for three months. They stopped when the court warrant expired, which was 17 days before Rilwan’s murder.

Justice for Rilwan, and blogger Yameen Rasheed, who was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his residence in Male’ City on April 23, 2017, had been one of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s electoral pledges. While Yameen Rasheed’s murder produced two convictions in January, there have been zero convictions in Rilwan’s case.

Ahandhu, Muaz, and a third suspect - Ismail Abdul Raheem (Isu), 30, M. Lagoon View, K. Male’ – were arrested for involvement in both murders in June.

Combined file photos of (from L-R) Ismail Abdul Raheem (Isu), 30; Ahmed Muaz (Gatu Mua), 40; and Ahmed Ismail (Ahandhu), 39. (Photo/Maldives Police Service)

Isu has been charged with two counts of aiding in the commission of an act of terrorism. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), he was pressed with the charges for stalking Rilwan and aiding in his kidnapping and murder, and stalking Yameen Rasheed and aiding in his murder.

Ahandhu was charged with conspiracy to carry out act of terrorism. According to PGO, he was pressed with the charge because he planned Rilwan’s murder, and had others murder him in accordance with the plan he made with his co-conspirators.

Meanwhile, Muaz was charged with conspiracy to carry out an act of terrorism in connection to both Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed’s murders.