COLOMBO : Violent extremism poses “one of the biggest threats” to the Maldives’ national security, the president of the troubled honeymoon islands said Thursday, after a wave of Maldivians joined the Islamic State group.

Presenting a new national counter-terrorism strategy in parliament, President Abdulla Yameen said the government would work to tackle “violent extremism and terrorism” and safeguard the islands’ prized tourist resorts. While the president did not specifically mention extremism, according to the government nearly 50 people have travelled to war-battered Syria from the Indian Ocean archipelago, which is Sunni Muslim by law and has a population of about 350,000.

Defence Minister Adam Shareef told reporters on Thursday that 49 Maldivians had travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group (IS).

To date there has been no violence by jihadists in the Maldives.

However, Yameen told the People’s Majlis, or parliament: “Today, one of the biggest threats to the people and the national security of the Maldives emanates from the dangers posed by violent extremism and terrorism.”

The strategy focuses on drafting new national security laws, improving intelligence gathering, safeguarding tourist resorts - a major part of the archipelago’s economy - and beefing up its international cooperation on terrorism.

In its policy statement, the government said the “difficult truth today is that there are people, however small in number, in the Maldives who are motivated by and cultivate violent extremist and terrorist ideology”.

“It is distressing to note that a limited number of Maldivian men have travelled to fight in various overseas conflicts, and some of them have chosen to take their wives and children along with them,” the statement said.

It comes as the Maldives grapples with political turmoil that has dented its image as a luxury holiday destination.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year on a terrorism charge that has been widely criticised. He secured political asylum in Britain last month while on prison leave for medical treatment.

Nasheed has said that up to 200 Maldivians were fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria. Local media have reported the deaths of at least five Maldivians while fighting alongside IS.