Muslim Hate in Trinidad
ISIS in the Caribbean
Trinidad has the highest rate of Islamic State recruitment in the Western hemisphere. How did this happen?
DEC 8, 2016
This summer, the so-called Islamic State published issue 15 of its
online magazine Dabiq. In what has become a standard feature, it ran an
interview with an ISIS foreign fighter. “When I was around twenty years
old I would come to accept the religion of truth, Islam,” said Abu Sa’d
at-Trinidadi, recalling how he had turned away from the Christian faith
he was born into.
At-Trinidadi, as his nom de guerre suggests, is from the Caribbean
island of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), a country more readily
associated with calypso and carnival than the “caliphate.” Asked if he
had a message for “the Muslims of Trinidad,” he condemned his
co-religionists at home for remaining in “a place where you have no
honor and are forced to live in humiliation, subjugated by the
disbelievers.” More chillingly, he urged Muslims in T&T to wage
jihad against their fellow citizens: “Terrify the disbelievers in their
own homes and make their streets run with their blood.”
For well over a year and a half now, Raqqa, the so-called stronghold of
the Islamic State in Syria, has been subjected to sustained aerial
bombardment by U.S., French, and Russian war planes. In recent months,
the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition has reportedly killed more than 10,000
ISIS fighters, including key figures among ISIS’s leadership, most
notably its senior strategist and spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. It
has also launched an offensive, now in its second month, on the group’s
Iraqi capital of Mosul. According to estimates by American officials,
ISIS has lost about 45 percent of its territory in Syria and 20 percent
in Iraq since it rose to prominence in the summer of 2014. At the same
time, the flow of foreign fighters to the caliphate has plummeted, from
a peak of 2,000 crossing the Turkey-Syria border each month in late
2014 to as few as 50 today. Yet still there are people making the long
and precarious 6,000-mile journey from Trinidad to Syria in an effort
to live there. Just three days before the release of Dabiq 15, eight
were detained in southern Turkey, attempting to cross into
ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. All were female, and they included
In a recent paper in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism,
John McCoy and W. Andy Knight posit that between 89-125 Trinidadians—or
Trinis, to use the standard T&T idiom—have joined ISIS. Roodal
Moonilal, an opposition Member of Parliament in T&T, insists that
the total number is considerably higher, claiming that, according to a
leaked security document passed on to him, over 400 have left since
2013. Even the figure of 125 would easily place Trinidad, with a
population of 1.3 million, including 104,000 Muslims, top of the list
of Western countries with the highest rates of foreign-fighter
radicalization; it’s by far the largest recruitment hub in the Western
Hemisphere, about a four and a half hour flight from the U.S. capital.
How did this happen?
* * *
a 1986 travelogue essay about Saint Lucia, a Caribbean island north of
Trinidad, the British novelist Martin Amis described the place,
condescendingly, as “both beautiful and innocuous, like its people.”
“Even at its most rank and jungly,” he continued, “St Lucia has a
kiddybook harmlessness.” This is all very far from Trinidad, where away
from the tourist spots at Maracas beach and the Queen’s Park Oval
Cricket ground, you can feel an edge and menace on the streets,
especially after dark.
On the night I arrived in St. Augustine, a town in the northwest, there
was a double murder. The number of murders for the year was already 77,
and it was still only February. This was unprecedented, even for
Trinidad, where the “overall crime and safety situation” is currently
rated by the U.S. State Department as “critical,” with 420 murders in
2015. By late June, when I made a second trip to the island, the number
of murders for 2016 had soared to 227, a 15 percent increase on the 196
murders over the same period in 2015. Last month, on November 11, it
In 2011, the government declared a state of emergency, in response to a
wave of violent crime linked to drug trafficking and intelligence
reports warning of an assassination plot against the then-Prime
Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and senior members of her cabinet.
At-Trinidadi, along with several others, was detained on suspicion of
colluding in the alleged plot. In Dabiq, at-Trinidadi, alludes to this,
but denies any involvement. “That would have been an honor for us to
attempt,” he acknowledged, “but the reality of our operations was much
smaller.” He also credited a Muslim scholar named Ashmead Choate as a
formative spiritual influence. Choate, a fellow Trini and former
principal of the Darul Quran Wal Hadith Islamic School in Freeport,
central Trinidad, reportedly left for Syria between 2012 and 2013,
taking his family with him. According to at-Trinidadi’s testimony in
Dabiq, Choate, who was detained alongside him during the state of
emergency, was killed fighting in Ramadi, Iraq.
The last state of emergency in T & T was declared in 1990, when, on
July 27, a group of black Muslims, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, stormed
into the nation’s Parliament in the capital city of Port of Spain and
tried to overthrow the government, shooting then-Prime Minister Arthur
Robinson and taking members of his cabinet hostage. Around the same
time, another group of Muslimeen gunmen forced their way into the
studio of the nation’s only TV station. At 6:30 p.m. the Muslimeen’s
leader Yasin Abu Bakr came on television and announced that the
government was overthrown. This was premature: Six days later, the
Muslimeen surrendered, and the government regained control. But history
was made. As Harold Trinkunas of the Brookings Institution remarked to
The Miami Herald, Trinidad is “the only country in the Western
Hemisphere that has had an actual Islamic insurrection.”
In a telling comment his Dabiq interview, at-Trinidadi references this
cataclysm in T&T’s recent history, alluding to “a faction of
Muslims in Trinidad,” who “attempted to overthrow the disbelieving
government but quickly surrendered, apostatized, and participated in
the religion of democracy, demonstrating that they weren’t upon the
correct methodology of jihad.” In Trinidad, the Muslimeen is widely
excoriated as a “militant” group, yet it is instructive that
at-Trinidadi condemns it for not being militant enough, and for not
practicing the right kind of Islam.
The Islamic scene on the island is divided: There is the Indo Islam of
the East Indians, who first came to Trinidad in the mid-19th century as
indentured slaves, and there is the Islam of the Jamaat al Muslimeen,
whose members, many of whom were formerly Christians, are almost
exclusively black. These two groups do not tend to mix, still less
intermarry. But both, in their different ways, are far from the Salafi
Islam that the Trinidadian criminologist Daurius Figueira believes has
infiltrated T&T. Figueira, who is Muslim, has written widely on
drug trafficking in the Caribbean and, more recently, on the jihadist
ideologues Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi and Anwar al-Awlaki.
He attributes the growth of Salafism on the island to Saudi
proselytizing. “They’ve spent money and brought in all these Wahhabi
scholars from Mecca,” he told me when I visited him. “They’ve passed on
the doctrine, then they’ve started to take the young males and send
them to Mecca, and then they come back to Mecca and they continue, so
now you don’t even need to send missionaries again.” The most visible
sign of this infiltration, he said, is the full hijab: Before the
Saudis’ missionaries came, Muslim women in Trinidad didn’t wear it, but
now he said it’s relatively commonplace. Figueira was keen to
dissociate the Jamaat al Muslimeen from the militant Salafis whom he
believes are sympathetic to ISIS. “If you have any understanding of the
Jamaat al Muslimeen,” Figueira said, “you’ll understand that Islamic
State will have nothing to do with them because the Muslimeen does not
pass the test by Islamic State to be a Salafi jihadi organization.”
In a research paper on the Jamaat al Muslimeen, published in the
British Journal of Criminology, the sociologist Cynthia Mahabir
describes how the Muslimeen, after 1990, transformed itself from an
idealistic social movement—“a fraternity of ‘revolutionary men of
Allah’”—into an criminal enterprise, or “Allah’s outlaws,” to use the
title of Mahabir’s paper. Figueira puts it like this: “Yasin [Abu Bakr]
would never get involved with Islamic State and recruit [people] and
send them to Syria, because it’s bad for business! They [are] on a
hustle, they’re hustlers, they looking for a living.” According to the
analyst Chris Zambelis, this hustle has allegedly involved
“gangland-style slayings, narcotics and arms trafficking, money
laundering, extortion, kidnapping, and political corruption.”
On the two occasions when I was in Trinidad earlier this year I tried
to meet Yasin Abu Bakr, but he was unable to see me. However, I did
meet his urbane and charming son, Fuad, who leads a political party
called New National Vision. Fuad, who has inherited his father’s height
and striking looks, showed me around the Muslimeen compound on the
outskirts of Port of Spain. He spoke of his father with great warmth
and affection, describing him as “a genuinely good person” who has
spent his life defending the underdog and fighting injustice.
From what I’d read about the compound, I had expected to see Abu Bakr’s
scowling security detail policing the joint, but they were nowhere to
be seen. Instead, while I was waiting outside in the carpark with my
noticeably nervous East Indian cab-driver, who remained inside his
locked and glacially air-conditioned car, I was surveilled by a group
of giggling girls, no more than 7 or 8 years old, from an Islamic
school on the site. The compound was quiet, and has clearly seen better
days. “This place was full, it was a community, people lived here,
people were coming in droves,” Fuad said, referring to the period just
before the attempted coup in 1990. (Afterward, the group declined due
to internal feuds and law enforcement’s massive curtailing of their
activities.) He also spoke wistfully of a period of “communal living,
even community justice.” “If you had an issue, you came to the imam,
and he would send his guys and they would sort it out.”
Tentatively, I asked Fuad about ISIS and whether there were recruiters
in T&T working for the group. According to local news reports, the
recruitment hubs are located in Rio Claro in the southeast and
Chaguanas in central Trinidad. “Listen,” he said, “there are
facilitators, people who are there [in Syria], they communicate to
friends. Trinidad is small and the Muslim community is even smaller, so
it’s basically friends, people you know, who are saying to you, ‘you
know, do you want to come?’ No big, bad recruiter.” Yet this not quite
the picture I received from one source within the Ministry of National
Security, who said there was one particular imam playing the role of
“big, bad recruiter.”
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Trinis who
had gone to Syria since the outbreak of the civil war included an
entire community of Muslims from Diego Martin, a small town north of
Port of Spain. “An entire community,” he repeated. He also claimed that
some leavers had received military training in Trinidad before they
left. “There is mujahideen training, or there has been mujahideen
training going on in T&T, since about 2007. I was made aware of
that in 2009.” He received this information, he said, from a trusted
confidant from within the Muslim community, and added that it wasn’t
the Muslimeen, but a more radical faction of Salafis that had
splintered from them. I had heard this rumor many times when I was in
Trinidad, but this was the first time I’d heard it from a source within
the security services. Mark Bassant, an investigative TV journalist in
Trinidad, also suspects that some of those who have gone to Syria have
undergone weapons training in Trinidad.
When, in the summer of 1498, Christopher Columbus approached the shores
of Trinidad, he would have been struck by the richness of the island,
with its tropical climate, flowering vegetation, flashing birds, rivers
and waterfalls. For more recent visitors, who reach the island by air,
it is the richness of Trini culture, vividly exemplified in its annual
carnival in February. To outsiders, Trinidad can look like a paradise.
But for those many Trinis who are blighted by its high crime rate,
rising unemployment, pockets of abject poverty and endemic corruption
this proposition is routinely put to the test. This may explain why
Islam, with its call to end corruption and oppression and to return to
a simpler, more just society, appeals to so many of those from whom
Trinidad’s myriad blessings are withheld. But this doesn’t get us any
closer to understanding why so many Trinis have been captivated by the
brutal and hallucinatory Islam of ISIS.
A more immediate question, and one that’s easier to answer, is how so
many were able to leave Trinidad to join ISIS. The answer to this is
that they were allowed to. Nobody was stopping them. In fact, this was
state policy. It was state policy when the conflict first started in
Syria, in 2011, and it is still state policy in late 2016. As Roodal
Moonilal flatly explained to me, over a drink in the Hyatt in downtown
Port of Spain, “ISIS is not proscribed in T&T, meaning that you can
go and train with ISIS for 2-3 years and come back here with all the
rights and privileges of a citizen of T&T.”
Gary Griffith, who served as Minister of National Security between
September 2013 and February 2015, told me, when we met earlier this
year, that his “concern as Minster of National Security was not them
[fighters from T&T] going across—they were free to go across, if
they wanted—my concern was to ensure that they do not come back.”
Griffith is particularly critical of his successor and political
opponent Edmund Dillon, for what he sees as Dillon’s evasiveness in
dealing with the issue of returnees from Syria. Griffith, by contrast,
is emphatic: “They should not be allowed re-entry. … If they know that
it’s a one-way ticket to hell, that is the ultimate deterrent.” He also
expressed indignation that his own proposal to create “a
counter-terrorism intelligence unit” for monitoring terrorist threats,
launched when he was minister, was blocked by the current government.
Dillon, he said, has “a good heart and means well.” But “he’s burying
his head in the sand. He thinks God is a Trini.” Dillon did not respond
to my numerous requests for comment.
In addition to turning a blind eye to ISIS recruitment, the current
government has done little to challenge the spread of Salafi Islam in
in the country. Moonilal believes that this, more than derailing ISIS
recruitment networks, is the greatest security challenge facing
T&T. Yet there are few signs that it will be taken up any time soon.
“We have beautiful sunshine, we have oil and other natural resources,
arable land, we have a blessed country,” Fuad Abu Bakr told me. But it
evidently wasn’t enough for at-Trinidadi. A woman identifying herself
as his mother told the Trinidad Express that, since he left, “His life
is better. He has purpose.
by Nalini Thursday, June 18 2015
Trinidad and Tobago Newsday
prison officers and seven inmates at the Remand Section of Maximum
Security Prison in Golden Grove were injured in a violent confrontation
during a routine search of cells by prison officers.
of the injured prisoners have been identified as Christopher Lewis,
Ijah Braithwaite, Hakeem Brathwaite, Ryan Stephen and Jason Raymond.
Newsday was told that at about 7.30 pm on Tuesday, officers of the
Special Operations Group from within the prison began searching cells
at the North Wing Remand and the North Deep Wings.
to sources, prisoners began to resist the searching of their cells and
began retaliating claiming religious victimisation because they were
Muslims. Shouting, Allah u Akbar (God is Great) the defiant prisoners —
some brandishing improvised weapons — attacked officers leading to one
being stabbed, another officer being cuffed in the eye while three
other officers were beaten. Other officers went to the rescue of their
colleagues and during attempts to subdue the fighting prisoners, seven
of the inmates sustained injuries. During the brawl, the wing was
placed under lockdown and officers called for backup from the police
and the National Operations Centre (NOC).
personnel were also alerted and the five injured prison officers as
well as seven prisoners were taken in ambulances to the Arima hospital
where they were being treated up until yesterday amid heavy, armed
decision was later taken to lockdown the entire prison and this
continued all of Tuesday night. By 10 am yesterday the lockdown was
lifted and prisoners were served meals, allowed to be taken to court
while some were allowed airing out. Remand prisoners who were
identified as the main instigators of the violent clashes remain in
prisoners telephoned Newsday claiming the prison officers unfairly
targeted them for being involved in illegal activities behind bars. The
prisoners claim they are being persecuted because they are Muslims.
They further alleged that real trouble makers who are not Muslims are
allowed free rein in the prisons by officers.
is not the first time we have been targeted and no one seems to want to
know the truth, so we have to do what we have to do to defend ourselves
from this unfair practice from within prison walls,” said a prisoner
who claimed he witnessed the confrontation. One prisoner identified as
Christopher Lewis who was injured in the fracas was able to alert
relatives of his plight and photos of his injuries were sent to friends
and relatives. The photos are now believed to be in the hands of the
Newsday understands that officers seized a quantity of marijuana, cellphones and improvised weapons during the searches.
yesterday for comment, Prisons Commissioner Sterling Stewart confirmed
the incident but said that all systems have been put in place to
protect the lives of prison officers as well as inmates.
Commissioner of Prisons I take cognizance of the fact that my officers’
lives are always at risk. We are in a volatile environment, but we have
an objective.” The searches have to continue, he added, because at the
end of the day, “we are responsible for all shareholders and
stakeholders, inmates, officers and servants of the prison, and we
cannot allow any group or persons to take control of the nation
Trinidad and Tobago prison.”
He said that operations at the prison had returned to normalcy and prisoners were taken to court a bit late.
Trinidad Muslims travel to Venezuela for jihadist training
Published on May 13, 2014
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Cellphone images
seized by SEBIN, Venezuela’s intelligence service, allegedly show
Trinidadian Muslims arrested in Venezuela engaging in what SEBIN
described as “pre-jihad training” on a firing range using high-powered
weapons, the Trinidad Express reported.
The images were reportedly extracted from
the cellphones seized from some of the Muslims in a group that
travelled to Venezuela from Trinidad and were later arrested in a raid
at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas on March 19, together with women and
children, who were later released.
The training resembled what takes place in
the Middle East as Muslims prepare for what they term jihad, or holy
war, an important religious duty for Muslims that includes armed
struggle against persecution and oppression.
Intense military, arms and ammunition
training is part and parcel of their routine and some of this kind of
training, SEBIN alleged, was taking place in Venezuela by some of the
In a top secret document prepared by SEBIN
and sent to the Trinidad and Tobago government, the pictures in
question were taken by three Venezuelan police officers who were later
arrested. There are at least six photographs showing the men.
Eight Trinidadian Muslims are currently
detained by Venezuelan authorities on suspicion of terrorist
activities. The 14 women and children who were held with them at the
Plaza Hotel in Caracas on March 19 were released some ten days later
and sent back to Trinidad.
This followed a visit of a Trinidad and
Tobago delegation headed by Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall who met with
Venezuelan authorities two days prior to their release.
Out of that meeting emanated the top secret
document given to the Trinidad and Tobago government, which the
Trinidad Express reported exposes some alarming security concerns that
the country’s security forces need to monitor closely.
The document outlines in detail the day the
Trinidadian Muslims were held at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas and
revelations about possible terrorist activities that can have far
reaching consequences for Trinidad and Tobago.
Minister of National Security Gary Griffith spoke about the document in late April.
“A secret document has been given to me
through the delegation from the Venezuelan authorities and this is
obviously a sensitive document and I would not be able to actually
state what is in the document, it is sensitive correspondence,”
In the top secret document, there are dates
of the arrivals for all the Trinidadians who touched down at the Simon
Bolivar International Airport in Venezuela between January and March
The raid on the Trinidadian Muslims at the
Plaza Hotel, authorities said, was brought to the attention of SEBIN
“after a prolonged stay at the hotel” and the use of “cash to cover
Further suspicion arose, SEBIN stated, when
members of the group were reclusive, as more persons continued to
arrive and bills continued “to be paid exclusively in cash”.
Cleaning staff at the hotel were even barred from entering the rooms, the report revealed.
SEBIN’s suspicion was compounded further as
they “implemented surveillance on the group and observed that Dominic
Pitilal [one of the group] was routinely changing large sums of US”
It was then SEBIN decided to make their
move, executing a search warrant in the rooms occupied by “Pitilal and
associates” and reportedly discovered: two satellite phones, 20 mobile
phones, two laptops, six tablets, army type uniforms, combat
paraphernalia, firearm training paraphernalia, telephone video of
several of the detained persons in firearms training in Caracas.
According to the Trinidad Express, the accusation of jihad is only the beginning of something more profoundly troubling.
Sources within the Muslim community in
Trinidad told the Express they have received information about
Trinidadian Muslims fighting in the Syrian civil war as part of the
Sources said every individual is paid US$150,000 to come to Syria and fight.
The subject is rarely discussed in certain
Muslim circles in Trinidad, some fearing if they say anything, their
lives might be in jeopardy. It is also a case that Muslim women know
about, but are not willing to inform on friends or family members.
Well-placed Muslim sources who met and
spoke with the Express in the last few weeks on the condition of
anonymity say some of the women and children who were detained in
Venezuela were in transit to Syria.
Three well-placed sources say people had confided in them about how the operation would go down.
One said, “What they do is buy plane
tickets showing travel from Venezuela to China in transit through
Turkey. When the plane stops there they get off and cross the border
into Syria, but many would be thinking they have gone on to China as
the ticket states.”
Another indicated that a named Trinidadian
Muslim now in Syria has been in contact with family members in Trinidad
and is also in constant contact with another local Muslim man.
Intelligence sources said they have been monitoring the movements of certain people, but would not commit to a solid answer.
When asked about Trinidadians using
Venezuela as a stepping stone to head to Syria to fight in the jihad,
Griffith said, “We most definitely have intelligence of all matters of
national security but pertaining to that quite obviously, I would not
be able to actually state what intelligence that we have for obvious
In the last three weeks, the UK Guardian
has carried stories about Muslim men leaving the United Kingdom to
fight the war in Syria with young women also trying to follow. When
they return to their countries they could be a serious security risk
and the Anti-Terrorism Unit in Britain is closely monitoring the
CNN in a recent report online entitled
“West’s biggest threat: Battle hardened homegrown terrorists”, warned
about American Muslims leaving to fight in Syria and returning as a
potential threat to the US.
Intelligence sources in Trinidad also said
they are fearful that some of those fighting in Syria will return to
Trinidad with the radical ability to carry out violent acts there.
In fact, SEBIN in its secret report made
specific recommendations to Trinidad’s national security ministry
indicating it should pay closer attention to particular mosques.
Concerns outlined in the report also included:
• The increase of illegal diesel trafficking.
• Increase of the volume and flow of narco-trafficking and arms and ammunition trafficking.
• Increase of persons from the Middle East entering and transiting Venezuela onward to Trinidad.
SEBIN also revealed to the Trinidad and
Tobago government that “British and US sources have expressed through
official channels that there is an uneasiness relative to chatter
emanating from Trinidad and Tobago at this time.”
Griffith said, “When we get types of
intelligence that can be perceived as individuals being enemies of the
state or trying to have any plan to overthrow the government, or any
democracy as we know it, we would have that pre-emptive strike. We
would be aware of what is happening and we would ensure that we do it
to them before they do it to us.”
Attempts to assess the level of US concern
in relation to the security of the Caribbean generally – a region that
is variously described as America’s “third border” and America's
“backyard” – by means of official comment have largely proven to be
There has been the so-called Third Border
Initiative (now apparently moribund) and the more recent Caribbean
Basin Security Initiative but the latter has largely focused on
maritime interdiction of drug traffickers while seemingly ignoring the
fact that the vacuum left by US financial and political inattention has
been quickly filled by the Chinese (economically), Venezuela
(politically and economically) also acting as a proxy for Iran, and
more recently by the Russians for their own reasons.
Apart from the fact that questionable
individuals from these and other countries are using the economic
citizenship programs of many of the small Caribbean countries to
obscure their real nationality and background, there is the concern
expressed by intelligence sources in Trinidad that some of their
nationals fighting in Syria will return with the radical ability to
carry out violent acts in that country – i.e. part of America’s “third
The so far unanswered questions posed to
various US House and Senate committees that ought to have an interest
in this area have tried to address the apparent inattention to the
situation in the region itself, thus allowing hostile elements virtual
freedom of movement in an area up to the actual border when, with a
fairly modest effort in the overall scheme of things, the situation
could be dealt with much more effectively.
With all the ex post facto hand-wringing
over events in Benghazi, an increased level of congressional interest
and concern in working to prevent other potential problems closer to
home might have been expected but is apparently thus far non-existent.
crackdown on Muslim group
A radical Muslim group in
Trinidad that staged an attempted coup in 1990 is under fire from the government
for allegedly inciting violence.
Joe Mozingo jmozingo@MiamiHerald.com
Sunday, March 12th 2006
ago, a radical Muslim group firebombed the police headquarters here, hijacked
the nation's only television station and held Parliament hostage for six days.
coup by Jamaat Al-Muslimeen - the only Islamic revolt in the Western Hemisphere
- left 24 dead and the prime minister with a gunshot wound in his leg. The
attackers were given amnesty two years later, and the group and its charismatic
leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, have since retained a measure of influence here through
nebulous political connections.
But now, as
public outrage over a rash of kidnappings, murders and bombings threatens the
ruling party, the People's National Movement (PNM), authorities are focusing on
the Jamaat and the 64-year-old Abu Bakr as never before.
month, the government sued Jamaat for an estimated $5 million in damages caused
by the coup attempt, seeking to seize about 10 properties owned by the group's
three weeks before, a judge ordered Abu Bakr to stand trial on terrorism and
sedition charges stemming from one of his sermons last November - just seven
months after a jury deadlocked on another case, in which he was accused of
conspiring to murder two former Jamaat members who allegedly refused to share
with him the spoils of their crimes.
sermon was televised at his mosque; Abu Bakr threatened ''war'' against rich
Muslims who don't give 2.5 per cent of their income to charity, a tithe called
zakaat that is required by Islam.
arrested November 8, and two days later, the police and army stormed Jamaat's
compound on Mucurapo Road and two of Abu Bakr's homes. They dug up the floor of
his office, looking for weapons and explosives connected to the bombings, which
injured 28 people in the second half of last year.
found a rifle, some ammunition, a hand grenade and walkie-talkies, but no
evidence on the bombings, officials said. Abu Bakr has remained in jail ever
since as a judge repeatedly denied him bail. Jamaat representative Kala Akii Bua
says that the group has become a convenient scapegoat for a government under
fire for its inability to control crime. ''The easiest solution is to blame the
Jamaat Al-Muslimeen,'' he told The Miami Herald.
people in Trinidad were relieved at Bakr's arrest, believing that he has been
behind the crime wave and wondering if his political connections would save him
from punishment. Last year, a record 380 people were murdered and 70 were
abducted for ransom in Trinidad and Tobago, a two-island nation of 1.3 million
turmoil is rattling Trinidad and damaging its carefully coiffed reputation as a
tourist destination - the languid land of Carnival, calypso and quiet Caribbean
coves. "The fear is ever-present in people's minds,'' said Martin Daly, a former
police blimps now hover over the capital, monitoring the streets for crime. And
the FBI and the Miami-based US Southern Command are watching the situation
closely, given Trinidad's position as the largest supplier of liquid natural gas
to the United States. The FBI is helping local police by analysing bomb
fragments and residue.
the point of view, Abu Bakr, a former police officer with a powerful build and
intense manner, is a saviour or a demon. Born Lennox Phillips, he was educated
in Canada, became a Muslim convert and took control of Jamaat Al-Muslimeen,
which means Society of Muslims, in the 1980s.
are known to have received training and funds from Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi.
And Jamaat has been closely scrutinised since 9/11 because of its image as a
radical Muslim group.
Patrick Manning took heavy criticism for courting the group during the 2002
election. After Jamaat campaigned for him, Manning offered Abu Bakr land
adjacent to the Mucurapo compound that had been in dispute for years, but a
public outcry prompted him to retract the offer. According to the newspaper
Trinidad Express, Abu Bakr has since amassed a small fortune, with four homes,
one for each of his four wives.
has recently appeared to be trying to distance itself from Jamaat. But the group
is still believed to have members serving in the Unemployment Relief Programme,
a make-work initiative long associated with political patronage and corruption.
''I think the government is trying to disengage, but it's not that easy,'' said
Selwyn Ryan, a professor at the University of the West Indies and author of The
Muslimeen Grab for Power.
officials, journalists and academics in Trinidad blame Jamaat - or some of its
members, at least - for kidnapping, extortion, gun-running and drug trafficking.
thugs,'' Ryan calls them.
that Jamaat has several hundred members, although no one knows how many
supporters it may have in addition, and its reputation for violence looms large.
2003, Aub Bakr was charged with conspiring to murder two former members who had
publicly accused Jamaat of kidnapping. A Jamaat member testified that Abu Bakr
ordered him to deliver an AK-47 assault rifle to kill the pair. Shortly after,
one of them was attacked but survived.
In 2004, the
Trinidad Express reported that Jamaat was illegally quarrying a plot of land and
had chased off government inspectors who tried to confront them.
Jamaat member Clive Lancelot Small was convicted in Miami of trying to ship 60
AK-47s and 10 MAC-10 submachine guns and 10 silencers from Fort Lauderdale to
Trinidad in 2001. In court papers, US prosecutors said the guns were both for
Jamaat and for resale.
November 4, Abu Bakr delivered the sermon in which he told his followers to
demand the tithe from Muslims who were not paying it. In a country divided
evenly - and sometimes bitterly - between the descendants of African slaves and
East Indian indentured servants, the sermon was seen as a threat to the Muslims
who are Indian, and who do not identify with the predominantly black Jamaat.
"I foresee a
war,'' Abu Bakr said, according to an official who has seen the video but asked
to remain anonymous out of fear. "Lives may be lost.''
attorneys have said he was simply paraphrasing parts of the Koran, and his group
insists it is a legitimate religious organisation helping the urban poor passed
up by the country's oil and natural-gas booms. Its school serves about 300
On a typical
day, the halls are hushed, the students disciplined. The boys wear traditional
Muslim caps, and girls wear hijab scarves. The curriculum is a mix of religion
and basics - math, music, English, social sciences.
On the walls,
images of Islam commingle with Big Bird and Burt and Ernie.
secretary Gail Alonzo says the government has been trying to shut it down. On
November 10, when police raided the compound, they searched the school, too.
find anything,'' Alonzo said. "They just ate the children's snacks.''
WORD FAITH INDEX
CATHOLIC CHURCH INDEX