MALE/COLOMBO (Reuters) - Police in the Maldives have charged a Sri Lankan man with planning a sniper attack on President Abdulla Yameen just weeks after a blast ripped through his boat in an alleged assassination attempt, officials said on Saturday.
The chain of Indian Ocean islands has been plunged into political turmoil since the Sept. 28 explosion on the presidential launch as it was about to dock in the capital Male, injuring the first lady and two aides. Yameen was unhurt.
Yameen, who has accused several members of his government of being involved in the boat blast, drew international criticism earlier this week for imposing a 30-day state of emergency after officials said explosives and arms were found near his official residence and elsewhere in the capital.
Maldivian Home Minister Umar Naseer said the Sri Lankan suspect, a 27-year old man, was arrested on Oct. 24. Naseer linked the alleged sniper plot with September’s blast on the presidential boat and said the discovery of explosives near the official residence pointed to a third assassination plan.
“There’s a clear connection between the three. There could be further attacks planned. We’re verifying the sniper’s background,” Naseer told Reuters.
“Though a sniffer rifle hasn’t yet been found, police have recovered a telescope and bullet used in such rifles. It’s now established that the suspect knew that his target was the president. Investigations have confirmed that there was a planned sniper attack on the president.”
The Maldives foreign ministry said in its official Twitter feed that a Sri Lankan citizen was in police custody for conspiring to assassinate Yameen.
“Investigations reveals some Maldivians paid the Sri Lankan to carry out the operation,” the ministry said.
Government officials say evidence shows the boat explosion was caused by a bomb targeting the president, although the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation — asked by Maldivian government to examine the scene — said there was “no conclusive evidence” of a bomb attack.
The United States, rights groups and the Commonwealth of mostly former British colonies have called on the Maldives — a popular tourist destination — to lift the state of emergency and end a crackdown on dissidents.
Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Helen Popper