Trinidad and Tobago’s Struggles Against the Jihadist Resistance

On February 24, 2016, news reports indicated that Trinidad and Tobago saw an increase in financial transactions funding terrorism. The impoverished country has a historical struggle against jihadist networks.

The Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (FIUTT) noted that suspected terrorism transactions tripled in the past year. The number of suspected terrorism-financing reports went from 5 in 2013-2014 to 16 in 2014-2015.  The FIUTT has received both domestic and international information in regards to financial transactions and believe that up to 100 people are in involved in supporting terrorist activity.

Francois had noted how FIUTT’s analysis of suspected terrorist financial transactions for 2013-2014 were at $698 million, but declined in 2014-2015 to $354 million. Terrorism financing not only supports terrorists to carry out their operations, but also pays for living expenses, travel, training, and recruitment activities.

The Caribbean is a useful location for terrorist networks, in part thanks to its proximity to the United States, permeable borders, and high poverty rate. It also has major issues in crime and drug trafficking which the governments have done little to resolve, and thereby, makes conducting terrorism more feasible. Trinidad and Tobago has the largest population of Muslims in the region at 78,000, along with 85 mosques, providing a sizeable community within which jihadists can operate.

Trinidad and Tobago is a quarter century removed from a violent failed coup led by an Islamist group that attempted to overthrow the government.

On July 27, 1990, a group Muslim group called Jamaat al Muslimeen (JAM), an Afro-Trinidadian Muslim movement, instigated a coup against the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Forty-two insurgents stormed the parliament taking Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Raymond (ANR) Robinson and most of his staff hostage. Another seventy-two insurgents stormed a local police station, and at 6:00 PM JAM leader Yasin Abu Bakr told the public the government had been overthrown.

During the four-day siege in which 24 people were killed, JAM agreed to surrender in exchange for amnesty.  Abu Bakr and 114 of his followers were granted presidential pardons, which were later retracted, but no JAM members from the coup have ever done jail time in connection to the attack.

In 2005, The group was suspected of being linked to a series of bombings in Port-a-Spain and also for a group member arrested in the United States for attempting to ship 70 assault rifles from Fort Lauderdale to Trinidad.

Abu Bakr was investigated in 2007 when the reports of an attempted bombing attempt at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport linked JAM to one of the perpetrators, a Trinidadian national. The suspects reportedly asked Abu Bakr for assistance in carrying out this plot. Abu Bakr and JAM deny any connection to participating in the plot.

In 2014, eleven JAM members allegedly participated in the assassination of Dana Seetahal, an independent senator.  During the trial a Special Branch intelligence memo featuring an unconfirmed report was leaked to social media. The report indicated that law enforcement feared violence from JAM amid reports the group may have been moving arms in preparation for an attack on police stations. No attack materialized however.

On July 14th, 2015, JAM members launched an armed jailbreak of the suspected assassins in the Seetahal case. During a shoot out one police officer and one JAM member were killed.

JAM and Abu Bakr’s influence has waned somewhat with the rise of IS has made its presence known in the region. 89 Trinidadian and Tobagonians’ have already pledged allegiance to the group and a group of Salafists attempted to assassinate the prime minister.

Despite Trinidad and Tobago’s historical struggle with jihadist networks, including JAM, its security services remain largely underdeveloped to address the threat, as they are largely overwhelmed by street crime and drug trafficking that it is does not put much emphasis on terrorism prevention. If they cannot do something to address the growing Islamist movement whether financially sponsoring or going abroad the nation will be a haven for western jihadists.