The former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed has been left in a critical condition following an assassination attempt that also wounded four others, including a British national.
Police said they were treating the bomb blast, which occurred at about 8.30pm local time on Thursday evening, as an act of terrorism.
Nasheed, who was the country’s first democratically elected president and is the parliamentary speaker, was being treated at ADK hospital, a private facility in the capital, Male.
He has undergone 16 hours of surgery for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs, according the hospital, which said on Twitter Nasheed remained “in a critical condition in intensive care”.
Police said a device that had been fixed to a motorbike was detonated as Nasheed, 53, got into a car outside his home. Video footage from the scene showed the wreckage of the motorbike and wounded bystanders sitting on the pavement.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih described the blast as an attack on the country’s democracy and economy, and vowed the perpetrators “would face the full force of the law”.
Australian federal police investigators were due to arrive on Saturday to assist with the investigation, while officials from the United Nations office on drugs and crime have also offered support. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast.
Officials close to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic party (MDP) told Agence France-Presse they believed he may have been targeted in retaliation for his anti-corruption campaign.
Nasheed has pledged to investigate how $90m was stolen from the state’s tourism marketing board under the previous government of president Abdulla Yameen. “There are some dormant Islamists who could have collaborated with political elements threatened by Nasheed’s anti-corruption drive,” an MDP source told AFP.
The Maldives, known for its luxury resorts and pristine beaches, faces a continued threat from religious extremism. The country, which is mainly Sunni Muslim, sent the highest per capita number of foreign fighters 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 researcher specialising in security in south Asia.
While efforts have been made to stop radicalisation in the Maldives, these have not succeeded in tackling 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 been trying. Interpol has worked there, and many different partners have tried to at least put in some semblance of measures. 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, the British Foreign Office warned…