Maldives President says opposition parties to blame for bomb attack

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Maldives police arrested seven men allegedly involved in a bomb blast that wounded 12 foreign tourists, a government spokesman said yesterday, adding that police were pursuing other suspects.

The nail-packed, homemade bomb was detonated outside the crowded Sultan Park in the capital Male on Saturday — the first such attack ever reported on this Indian Ocean archipelago renowned for its exclusive tourist resorts.

"Police have arrested seven men based on forensic evidence and now they have been named suspects. Some of them were trying to flee the country and were apprehended at the airport," government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said.

Shareef said the seven local men would be prosecuted over the attack. He said police would not yet release their names because authorities were still searching for other suspects.

"I spoke to the assistant police commissioner and he said they are very, very close to cracking this case."

The injured included two Britons, eight Chinese and two Japanese, all of whom suffered burn injuries, said Shareef. All except the British couple — who sustained burns over 40 percent of their bodies — were discharged from hospital and had left the country, he said.

Shareef said the bomb appeared to have been assembled by "a group of amateurs" but did not elaborate.

Some Western diplomats have expressed concern about the potential for violence in this Sunni Muslim country.

Half the population is under 18, reasonably well-educated and with few prospects for good jobs. Some young people have turned to drug use, while others have embraced a conservative strain of Islam that had been virtually unheard of on the islands just a few years ago.

Authorities will seek help from Interpol, the United States and India in investigating the blast, Shareef said.