Mohamed Nasheed, 53, was injured in the explosion Thursday as he entered a vehicle outside his residence in the capital, Male. Images circulating on social media showed blood, debris and a mangled motorbike after the blast.
“Last night’s attack was a dangerous attempt on the life of former president Nasheed,” Maldives Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said at a news conference Friday. “All evidence indicates that this was a deliberate act of terror.”
The hospital where Nasheed, a prominent pro-democracy politician, was being treated said Friday on Twitter that he underwent multiple surgeries for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs.
“He remains in a critical condition in intensive care,” the ADK Hospital in Male said.
Four other people, including three members of Nasheed’s security detail and a bystander whom police identified as a British national, were also injured.
Police were searching for four people of interest “who acted suspiciously at the scene,” Hameed said. He added that the Australian Federal Police and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime were sending experts to assist with the investigation.
The current president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a close ally of Nasheed, condemned the incident as an “attack on democracy” in a televised address early Friday.
“We are treating this matter with utmost seriousness and the investigation is currently underway,” Solih said on Twitter.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, the first in the Maldivian capital since 2007, when a bomb attack injured 12 foreign tourists at a popular park.
Last year, three men with suspected links to the Islamic State were arrested for stabbing two Chinese nationals and an Australian on the island of Hulhumale.
The Maldives, a tranquil archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is home to some 330,000 people, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims. But researchers say that perhaps hundreds of Maldivian nationals traveled to Iraq and Syria in recent years to join militant groups such as the Islamic State.
Nasheed, who became the nation’s first democratically elected leader in 2008, has spoken out against what observers say is a rising tide of religious extremism there. He has also supported global efforts to combat climate change, and Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience in the 1990s when he was imprisoned for his work as a journalist.
The Maldivian economy relies heavily on tourism, which collapsed as the coronavirus pandemic curbed global travel.
The Maldives in recent weeks has suffered a surge in new coronavirus cases, registering an average of more than 500 new infections per day.