updated 9/30/2007 7:41:54 PM ET 2007-09-30T23:41:54

Seven local men have been arrested in a home-made bomb explosion that wounded 12 foreign tourists in the Maldives, an official said Sunday. Some were detained at the airport allegedly trying to flee the country.

The nail-packed bomb exploded outside a crowded park in the Maldives capital, Male, on Saturday. It was the first such attack reported on the 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,” government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said. “Some of them were trying to flee the country and were apprehended at the airport.

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

The motive for the attack was unclear. Shareef said the bomb appeared to have been assembled by “a group of amateurs” but did not elaborate. He said police informed him they were “very, very close to cracking this case.”

A British couple, eight Chinese and two Japanese tourists suffered burns from in the blast, said Shareef. All except the Britons — who sustained burns over 40 percent of their bodies — were discharged from hospital and had left the country, he said.

Some Western diplomats have expressed concern about the potential for violence in the 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.

In recent years, there has been tension and occasional outbreaks of violence between opposition activists and government forces controlled by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has ruled the country for 29 years.

The opposition Minivan News reported on its Web site that witnesses said they saw nails, presumably from the bomb, scattered in the park, which is located near the country’s army headquarters.

The Maldives, with a population of about 350,000, 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.

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

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