Less than a week after Trinidad observed the 26th anniversary of the bloody 1990 coup attempt by a rebel Muslim group, authorities are now forced to deal with a problem of a different kind-gathering intelligence on dozens of locals with strong links to ISIS.
Security Minister Edmund Dillon said this week that while police are grappling with a string of murders and other serious crimes, much of their time and energy are being devoted to the growing threat from locals who are sympathetic ISIS and other Middle Eastern terror groups.
He talked about a “recent emergence of Trinidad nationals interested in participating in conflicts overseas,” noting that “the security environment was very dynamic and evolving.”
Concerns in cabinet and the halls of the police service heightened as the week began because an Islamic publication featured a well known Trinidadian Muslim by the name of Shane Crawford as saying that it would have been an honor on his part to have assassinated then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and other cabinet ministers back in 2011. He also called for the murder of Christians who fail to convert to Islam.
The leading Express Newspaper detailed a story carried by Islamic State in Syria, an online publication, of Crawford chatting about various topics including executing senior government officials and unrepentant Christians because the Bible had been corrupted by Christian leaders. In the article, he is named as Abu Sa’d at Trinidadi.
“The only thing between you and us is the sword,” Crawford said of what he called unrepentant Christians.
Minister Dillon in the meantime said that while authorities are closely monitoring locals with known sympathies to rebel groups, they are also trying to confirm reports that nine Trinidadians had been detained by Turkish police in the past week as they were headed to mid east battlefields.
They were expected to be deported back to Trinidad sometime this week.
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi vowed that the men would be under 24-hour surveillance by intelligence officials as there have been calls for sympathizers to launch attacks on local soil.
Officials are also trying to determine what if any charges can be brought against the group when the return to the island with its past history of acrimony between government and some Muslim groups.
“At the end of the day anybody in an alleged circumstance of terrorism has to face the courts. There is due process and it must be done fairly but at the same time you have to take an intelligence-based approach to this,” Al-Rawi said.
The men were detained and rounded up while traveling in a truck in Turkey on July 27, the anniversary of the 1990 coup.
But even as officials in Port of Spain are liaising with counterparts in Turkey, a serious problem is arising as there are no non stop flights to Trinidad from Ankara.
Security officials in London and The Netherlands have already made it clear that they would not be allowed to transit those capitals, leaving officials in a quandary. Police held up the truck based on a tip that foreign fighterss were aboard and were headed either to Iraq or Syria.
Successive governments in Trinidad have put the figure of the number of locals fighting overseas at about 400, far more than any other neighboring CARICOM member state.