The serenity of a popular tourist destination in the Maldives was ripped apart yesterday by the archipelago's first bomb blast, which injured 12 tourists including two Britons.
The home-made bomb exploded in the capital, Male, at 1.30pm local time, at the heart of its main tourist attraction, the Sultan Park. The British couple, Christian Donelan, a security consultant from Rotherham, south Yorkshire, and Jennifer Green, both 32, suffered the brunt of the explosion. The Donelans were believed to be on their honeymoon having married in Italy two weeks ago. Mr Donelan has had surgery to burns on his arms and legs, and his wife was said to have been more seriously injured.
Both were able to speak by phone to friends and relatives. Tim Bulleyment, a friend of Mr Donelan, told The Sunday Telegraph: "Christian sounded really rough but he said he was lucky to be alive."
Police in the Maldives said two people had been arrested in connection with the explosion. The two men, both Maldivians, were believed to have been caught at a Male blacksmiths.
The blast occurred just across from the island's main mosque, the golden-domed Islamic Centre, a popular stop on the tourist route. Residents said no Maldivians were caught up in the blast, prompting speculation that the culprits had been targeting tourists.
The injured included two Japanese and eight Chinese as well as the two Britons, who live in the Gulf state of Qatar. Mr Donelan works for Boartes, a consultancy firm in Doha. Mahmood Shaugee, the Maldives' Tourism Minister, said the British nationals "sustained significant burns, but are stable and out of danger".
Mohamed Shareef, a government spokesman, said the blast would be taken " very seriously because tourism is our life blood". It was too soon to tell whether the explosion had been intended to devastate tourism, he said.
The police investigation is to focus on whether an Islamist organisation was involved. Local reports said the explosion was caused by a home-made device using a mobile phone and washing-machine motor attached to a gas cylinder. A witness said he saw nails scattered in the park before the area was cleared by security personnel.
The park, which houses the National Museum in the remains of the former Royal Palace, is in the shadow of the Maldives army headquarters.
The injured tourists were thought to be staying at the Full Moon, Baros and Soneva resorts.
A spokeswoman for Universal Resorts, which owns several resorts including Baros, said the British couple were being looked after in Male's main hospital. "They have requested that they would like to go back to Qatar as soon as possible," she said.
A Foreign Office official flew to Male from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to provide consular service for the couple.
The Maldives is a tropical paradise and its 1,200 coral islands lure holidaymakers in their hundreds of thousands. Sir Philip Green, the Topshop billionaire, threw a multimillion-pound party for 100 friends to celebrate his 55th birthday on the island of Kunfunadhoo this year.
Just 200 islands are inhabited, including 88 on which are found some of the world's most exclusive resorts.
However, most tourists tend to bypass Male save for passing through Immigration. Apart from the Sultan Park, the island has little to attract visitors other than some sparsely stocked souvenir shops.
Although the reality of the Maldives normally lives up to its white-sand-beach image, there is a darker side. Economic inequality among its 300,000-strong population is fomenting what many Maldivians are calling a "social crisis".
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