Maldives police say key suspect in Nasheed attack arrested

MALE, Maldives — Maldives police said Sunday they arrested a person believed to be the prime suspect in an explosion that critically wounded the country's former president and which was blamed on Muslim extremists.

Police said they now have three of four suspects in custody. Thursday's blast targeted Mohamed Nasheed, currently the speaker of Parliament, who is recovering in a hospital after multiple surgeries.

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Nasheed has been an outspoken critic of religious extremism in the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation, where preaching and practicing other faiths are banned by law. He has been criticized by religious hard-liners for his closeness to the West and liberal policies.

Nasheed, 53, remains in the hospital after initial life-saving surgeries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs. A relative tweeted early Sunday that Nasheed had been able to have long conversations with some family members.

Police said they believe the 25-year-old suspect is the same person whose pictures were released Saturday to seek public assistance identifying him. He was caught after a tip from the public. The fourth suspect remains at large.

Police released security camera footage Sunday which they said showed the suspect pacing at the entrance of a small restaurant, then walking out to a road and apparently detonating the bomb that targeted Nasheed. Three men who were leaving the restaurant are then seen running back inside in fear.

A map with the suspect's alleged escape route was also released to the press, with police cameras capturing the suspect running and walking through different roads in the capital island, Male. Police said he went inside a mosque briefly, then met up with an accomplice near a public park. Police forces raided his home on the Hulhumale island near the capital earlier Sunday and arrested him.

Officials blamed Islamic extremists for the attack, although investigators still don’t know which group was responsible. Two of Nasheed’s bodyguards and two apparent bystanders, including a British citizen, were also wounded by what police say was a homemade explosive device containing ball bearings attached to a motorbike parked near the ex-president's car.

Shrapnel from the blast damaged Nasheed's intestines and liver, and a piece of shrapnel broke his rib, coming less than a centimetre (0.4 inches) from his heart, hospital officials said.

Officers from the Australian Federal Police were assisting with the investigation, following a request from the Maldives. A British investigator was also set to arrive in the Indian Ocean archipelago on Sunday.

Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, serving from 2008 to 2012, when he resigned amid protests. He was defeated in the subsequent presidential election, and was ineligible for the 2018 race due to a prison sentence, but has remained an influential political figure.

He has championed global efforts to fight climate change, particularly warning that rising seas caused by global warming threaten the archipelago nation’s low-lying islands.

The Maldives is known for its luxury resorts but has experienced occasional violent attacks. In 2007, a blast in a park in the capital wounded 12 foreign tourists, and was also blamed on religious extremists.

The Maldives has one of the highest per capita numbers of militants who fought in Syria and Iraq alongside the Islamic State group.

Authorities announced in January that eight people arrested in November were found to have been planning to attack a school and were in the process of building bombs in a boat at sea. Police said the suspects conducted military training on uninhabited islands and recruited children.

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Associated Press writer Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka contributed to this report.

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