November 3rd, 1988. Ever wondered about the date? If you do, this is the perfect article for you. Two and a half decades since the date, we are once again celebrating our victory over insurgents; and what better occasion would it be to narrate the story once again with details you may never have heard before?
The 1988 Maldives coup d'état; led by Maldivian businessman Abdullah Luthufee to purge the regime of then President, Maumoon Abdul Qayoom left the bloodiest of stains in Maldivian history. Not only because the massacre saw the death of great Maldivian heroes, but because it was our own men selling our own nation for the glory of power.
The coup slaughtered 19 innocent Maldivians, injuring many others. Hundreds were held at gunpoint at the Republic Square, with some of them including the Imam of Islamic Center, acting Transport Minister Ahmed Mujthaba and his wife being taken as hostages upon the arrival of Indian Army under the rescue operation which was code-named "Operation Cactus".
Insurgents' arrival to the capital
The coup was assisted by the armed mercenaries of Tamil secessionist organization from Sri Lanka, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). The coup, however, failed. Mainly due to the immediate intervention of the Indian Army, sent by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The early hours of November 3rd, 1988 brought along the armed insurgents of PLOTE mercenaries. They came to the capital city, disguised as visitors in a speedboat.
“They left the north-western shores at about 8:30 a.m. in two 40-foot long fishing trawlers. Luthufee had the support of several key persons in the Maldivian military. The trawlers reached Male' at 4:30 a.m. on November 3, 1988, and having secured the beach without a fight, the group divided into over half a dozen groups and moved to specific targets, including the army barracks, the President’s house and the Deputy Defence Minister’s residence,” Sri Lankan journalist Shamindra Ferdinando wrote for The Island newspaper on the 23rd anniversary of the coup.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone. I believed those loyal to Gayoom would give up quickly. They wouldn’t have been a match for the experienced PLOTE cadres. Unfortunately, due to hasty action on the part of the group tasked with seizing the army barracks, we gave the game away,” Luthufee was quoted as saying during an interview for the newspaper.
Capital take over, failure to enter Henveyru ward
The insurgents were quick to gain control of the capital, including the major government buildings, airport, port and Television Maldives, however failed to take over the radio station and capture President Qayoom.
"After gaining control of the power house, they directed their attacks toward the headquarters [of Maldives National Defense Force]. They held their ground, fighting with those inside the building before dispatching a group to Henveyru, to conquer 'Radio Maldives'. However, they failed to enter the premises of the Henveyru ward and conquer the station, since the residents of Henveyru blocked all possible roads leading to the ward by placing blockades and several other objects," A witness of the incident, who had helped in placing the road blocks recalled her memory of the day.
Death of Martyr Hussain Adam, and retrieval of insurgents
Rumors have it that President Qayoom fled from house to house, and called for the military assistance of India, United States and the United Kingdom. Indian Prime Minister responded to the calls immediately, deploying around 1,600 troops by air to restore order in the falling capital city. The troops were able to reach Maldives in about nine hours following the appeal.
Martyr Hussain Adam, the fearless soldier who all of us indubiously remember was one of the key reasons why the insurgents failed to breach the main gate of MNDF. His courage, is perhaps the reason why the country is still independent. When the insurgents approached to take over the building, he was responsible for the security of the main gate and he held them back for as long as he could, until he succumbed to the firing after his bullets ran empty. Today, Martyr Hussain Adam is one of the biggest national heroes of all time, for his excellent presence of mind and his fearless courage during the terrorist attacks of November 3rd.
“During gun battles we lost two PLOTE personnel, while several received gunshot injuries. We retreated towards the Male’ harbour as Indian paratroopers landed in the capital. We didn’t have any other option other than to seize the Maldivian vessel, MV Progress Light. We got away at about 11:00 a.m. and left the bodies of two PLOTE cadres killed in action. Three PLOTE personnel trying to get away in a rubber dingy were captured," Luthfee had said.
Aftermath and release of Nasir
One of the accomplices of Luthfee, Sagaru Ahmed Nasir was released last August after serving a life sentence in prison. Upon his release, Nasir claimed that he was held hostage at a camp in Sri Lanka, before being 'forced' to take part in the coup. One of his claims include that he had not touched a gun even; a claim denied by residents and government personnel who had witnessed the actions of Nasir on that day.
Twenty six years later, the leader of the bloody massacre is still at large, hiding from the authorities. His name, mentioned once in a while as the escaped fugitive still brings back the memories of the day to those who witnessed it. It also raises the questions of another possible coup in the future perhaps? Some still fear, and these would only be put to rest with the capture of Luthfee.
November 3rd, 1988 was one of the darkest times in the history of the country; and that is why we celebrate our victory over the insurgents on a massive scale while paying tributes to our fallen heroes, who died protecting our nation. We have all heard the story, as narrated by our parents and grandparents, and we will continue to pass it onto the next generation, for it must never be forgotten.
Embedded in history, lies one of the greatest stories of the Maldives and it is the 1988 Maldives coup d'état. 26 years, and still fresh in our minds like we lived it.