Radicals arrested in Maldives

2007-10-09 11:48

Colombo - Authorities in the Maldives investigating a bomb attack on tourists have arrested at least 50 local people following violent clashes with Islamic radicals, the government said on Tuesday.

Security forces and police overpowered "70 masked men wearing red helmets, armed with wooden planks, spears, swords, bricks, iron rods and catapults" outside a prayer centre on Himandhoo island, a government statement said.

It said the island, 90km from the capital island Male, was surrounded following reports that suspects involved in last month's bomb attack in Male were hiding there, the statement added.

"Fifty people from the radical religious group from Himandhoo have now been arrested by the Maldivian National Defence Force and handed over to the police," the statement said.

A search of the island, which has a population of 600 people, was under way as part of an investigation into last month's bomb attack in Male where 12 foreign tourists were wounded.

"The radical religious group refuses to recognise the government's religious authority and has set up its breakaway 'mosque' in the island refusing to pray in the mosque built by the government," the statement said.

It added that Monday's clashes with the radicals left 15 security personnel and 19 policemen wounded.

"Many islanders have expressed relief that key instigators in the religious radical movement on the island have now been removed from their island," it said.

The Maldives is a chain of 1 192 coral islands and a top destination for well-heeled tourists.

The islands are home to 330 000 Sunni Muslims who practice a liberal form of the religion, and authorities said the September 29 attack was the first such incident.

Maldives has sought help from the US to probe the bombing, which left two Britons, two Japanese and eight Chinese tourists wounded.

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