Photo : Minister Edmund Dillon

The United States Department of State said in its July, 19, 2017 Country Report on Terrorism, 2016 that “Trinidad and Tobago is the highest per capita rate of ISIS recruitment in the Americas”.  It added that “Trinidad’s  government reported in 2015 that more than 100 Trinidad nationals including women and minors, had travelled to Syria and Iraq. A handful reportedly returned to Trinidad and Tobago”.  The Report continued that the security system is incapable to adequately deal with terrorism in Trinidad: “porous borders, established smuggling routes, and limited law enforcement capability were seen as hampering Trinidad and Tobago fight against terrorism”. The Report criticised the Government for not “developing a counter violent extremism strategy”.

Informed opinion in the country has put the number of Trinidad terrorist fighters who have left Trinidad as more like 400 persons.  The returned terrorists pose a serious threat to national security of the country and to friendly countries like United States and Canada.  In fact, in its assessment of Trinidad by American security Trinidad pose a threat to the United States, especially so since Trinidadians in the past, have been arrested and found guilty of attempting to carry out terrorist attacks on the United States, using Trinidad as their base of operation.

This negative image painted by the US Report on terrorism can be disruptive to innocent citizens in their travel, especially to the United States, a point not lost by reactions to this report.  Arnold Goopeesingh of San Juan, in a letter to the Trinidad Guardian (US Report On ISIS Not Good News July, 21, 2017 p 23) stated that “travellers from T&T can expect extra searches when they visit certain countries…. I do not think any human being would be comfortable living life in T&T when this type of information is out there”.  Gary Griffith, a former loquacious Minister of National Security in the last People’s Partnership (PP)government, commented in a Sunday Guardian reply (Clear The Air On Unbalanced Reports Of Terrorist Activities In T&T -July 23, 2017 p 18) wrote that “Failure to put these comments by the US into perspective can greatly affect the country not just by our citizens  being possibly unjustly profiled anytime  they enter the US based on Customs and Border Protection Officers seeing a T&T passport, but also the unwarranted impact it can have on the country, inclusive of trade, tourism and investment.  Apart from actual terrorist acts one of the most harmful effects of terrorism is the fear of terrorism in a country.”  He diminished the impact of the report by stating that “in total contrast to what was asserted in that particular US Report T&T is in fact one of the few countries in this century that has not felt the impact of terrorism”.  Gary Griffith is deluding himself and is taking a short-term view of terrorism, especially since 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States.

Terrorism in Trinidad

Trinidad and Tobago notoriety as the largest recruitment per capita of terrorist jihadists active in the Middle East couldn’t have occurred overnight. The country has a clear record of terrorist activities.  The first terrorist act was in August, 1983 when a national convention of Ahmadiyya Muslims held at the Marabella Senior Comprehensive school was bombed.  The Ahmadies are not considered as genuine Muslims, or as Muslims at all, by Sunni Muslims. This was clearly an intra-Islamic conflict with violent consequence similar to what occur in Islamic countries such as Pakistan.  This was followed by the assassination of an Ahmadiya missionary at the Freeport flyover.  His son who was in the car was spared. Another missionary was killed in Guyana soon after the Trinidad murder.  These events should have alerted the authorities to what was the development of Islamic extremism in the country even though its concrete expression was an intra-Muslim conflict.

An Islamic State In Trinidad

In July 27, 1990 the Jamaat-al-Musilmeen (JAM) attempted a coup d’etat against the government of the country. This was not the first attempt to do so and it may be profitable to put in context the 1990 attempted coupd’etat.  What is popularly termed the 1970 Revolution was the first attempt to remove the government. This was led by a collection of groups under the banner National Joint Action Committee (NJAC). Their strategy was to stage mass protests in the hope of bringing down the People’s National Movement (PNM) government led by Eric Williams. Their slogan was “Black Power” undoubtedly fashioned after what some African –Americans were shouting in the 1960s.  At the same time there was revolt by the Trinidad and Tobago regiment – the leaders such as Raffique Shah et al used the unstable environment to stage a coup d’etat.  Both attempts failed.  This was followed by the use of guerrilla tactics by groups such as the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF). Former Commissioner of Police Bernard in his little known book The Freedom Fighters has clearly identified the people behind these attempts to remove Eric Williams and the PNM – they were the children of the creole nationalists of the 1956 period who had come of age and were unhappy with the achievements of the PNM after a decade and half of continuous rule. 

The ideology of the groups was committed to the use of militant means to achieve power- they were not committed to the democratic process of fighting elections and winning the support of the electorate.  NJAC was clearly an African nationalist outfit which rejected western white models. They emphasised culture and return to ancestral roots. The army mutineers and NUFF were motivated by the various leftist tendencies of the time.  

The 1970s also witnessed the conversion of urban blacks to Islam, the American type Nation of Islam where Islam was the vehicle of Black Nationalism. The JAM is this type of organisation.  The Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the attempted coup d’etat in 1990 is very informative of this 1990 experience.  It stated that “the real and pre-eminent reason for the attempted coup was to overthrow the NAR administration and install an interim Government, Imam Abu Bakr including some members of his group.  In fact, “Imam Abu Bakr did harbour ambition to be appointed as Minister of National Security and even suggested how his appointed might be effected.”

Further “the Commission finds that JAM did dream of and harbour a desire for Trinidad and Tobago to become an Islamic State. It was a long term project as some witnesses characterised it. Certainly Imam Abu Bakr and Bilaal advocated the desire in meetings as is evidenced by Special Branch reports. And some of the insurgents alluded to it in discussions with some of the hostages.”

Several Islamic states assisted the JAM in its mission of making Trinidad and Tobago into an Islamic State. The Commission inform: “The plot extended beyond the shores of Trinidad and Tobago. Financing was obtained principally from Libya and Saudi Arabia. Key members of JAM were sent to Libya for military training and others trained locally in remote parts of Trinidad.” Libya financing through the World Call Society has ended with the removal of Gadaffi as leader of Libya but Saudi Arabia interference in the affairs continues through financing for the construction of mosques throughout the country. While in Trinidad secularism has placed religion in a position of non-interference of state affairs, in Saudi Arabia Islam is the ideology of the State and not a religion remote from governmental affairs and financing for mosque and other Islamic activities is the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian theocracy founded on Islam.  It is for this reason that Germany has stopped Saudi Arabia financing the construction of mosques in Germany.

The failure of the coup d’etat is not the end of the story.  Fundamentalist Islamic mosques continue to expand. The Commission identified two mosques in its report and from press reports several mosques have been established: Monroe Road mosque, one along the Southern Main Road, others in Carapo and Rio Claro. It was reported that Mr Edoo of San Fernando was murdered because of a conflict within a Marabella mosque which was taken over by fundamentalists.

It is this fundamentalist ideology which provided the motivation for Muslims from this country to leave to fight for the establishment of the caliphate in the Middle East. This Islamic fundamentalism is a particular interpretation of Islam, rooted in the Quran, the Hadiths and the life and example of Prophet Mohammed.  It is a theology, an ideology, a thought system which provides the psychology and motive for action.  Violence is given a theological support, and as a means to achieve Islamic goals.  This violence or Jihad is a central doctrine in the ideology of fundamentalist Islam. Jihad is a doctrine of permanent warfare directed against non- Muslim.

Crime and Gang Activity in Trinidad

A legacy of the 1990 failed coup d’etat is the increase in the crime situation in the country. The Commission reported on page 205/ 1.492 that “firearm offenses and drug offences proliferated after the acquittals of the JAM.  The Commission has no difficulty in accepting the expert evidence given in camera that, after 1993, substantial increases were seen in gun crimes, drug crimes, kidnappings and murder. Moreover, there is cogent evidence to lead to the conclusion that the JAM was involved in kidnapping, extortion and murder after their release.” The leadership of the JAM has never rejected this report about them. What one has observed is the multiplication of this type of criminal behaviour throughout the country by other actors.  Increasingly, one reads of the existence of “Muslim gangs” at war with another criminal enterprise called “Rasta City Gang.” This inter-gang warfare is not confined to urban Port-of-Spain.  Several examples can be given. The prison break by three prisoners two years ago was featured in the media in the context of no action being taken on those prison officers who may be complicit. Two of the escapees were Martin and Sandy. Both were killed and were given Muslim funerals. Martin’s funeral was held at the Monroe Road mosque and video footage of his burial showed that he was given a gun salute.  The men held in the murder of attorney at law Dana Seetahal were all Muslims, an observation made by Muslim activist Inshan Ishmael and are all connected to the Carapo mosque.  The situation in Enterprise concerning the breakdown of law and order and gang warfare shows a strong Muslim presence with Muslim personalities and groups in the fore. The murder of ‘Robo Cop’ and members of his family made front page news in all the newspapers. They were all devout Muslims.  The violence even visited a mosque when criminals murdered a young Muslim inside the Mucurapo Street mosque, San Fernando. There are innumerable other examples one can cite.

What is clear is a definite Muslim element in these criminal activities.  Black analysts view it as black on black violence.  One has to ask the question whether Islam is providing the Muslim criminals and Muslim gangs with an theological and ideological reason d’etre for their criminal action.  At the surface the criminal activity is tarnishing the image of Islam and there are hardly any outspoken voices about this. Instead we witness Inshan Ismael staging protests against Kevin Baldeosingh, former Guardian columnist, because of a column on Islam but is very silent about the “Muslim” being appended to individual criminals and gangs.

The Issue of Security

The security of the state and citizens is a matter of the national security service of the country. It is public knowledge that they are failing in this area. Citizens are being robbed and killed on the streets and there are innumerable reports of home invasion by criminals, the most recent being Member of Parliament Barry Padarath who was having a Hindu yagya at his home in Couva when a gang invaded his home and robbed members of his family.  He reported having  a feeling of helplessness and he had taken all security precautions such as having security and cameras. The security had left when the criminal invaded his home.  This is a clear evidence of the state of anarchy into which Trinidad and Tobago has descended.

Clearly, the solution is an increased vigilance on the part of citizens and an increased efficiency of the security service. One has to consider calling a state of emergency given the state of criminal anarchy.