Park Bombing in Maldives Wounds 12 Tourists, Two Locals Arrested

Maldives police arrested two local men after a nail-packed bomb exploded in a busy park and wounded 12 foreign tourists, a government spokesman said Sunday.

The homemade bomb detonated outside 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.

Government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said police arrested the suspects hours after the blast. No motive had been established yet, and it was unclear whether they would be charged.

"The Maldives has never had something like this before. We are taking this very seriously because tourism is our lifeblood," Shareef said.

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 a hospital and left the country, he said.

Shareef said it was too early to say whether the bomb was the work of Islamic militants, adding all possibilities would be investigated.

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.

The Maldives, with a population of about 350,000, is ruled over by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has governed with an iron fist for the past 29 years.

Tension and occasional outbreaks of violence have occurred in recent years between opposition activists and government forces.

Maldives is by far the wealthiest — and most orderly — country in south Asia. About 600,000 tourists visit the country each year, accounting for one-third of its economy.