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T&T saturated with discontent

Circumstances now differ from 1990
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Police Headquarters on fire during the 1990 attempted coup. Photo by:GUARDIAN FILES

The circumstances which led to the 1990 attempted coup were completely different from what is taking place in the country now, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr said yesterday as he responded to a warning by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to citizens of the possibility of another coup d'etat against the Government similar to insurrection by the Jamaat al Muslimeen.

However, Bakr said the country was currently "saturated with discontent" because of our current economic situation and is a powder keg ready to explode.

"If you have a house and a man strikes a match and throws it in the house that match is not going to do anything, you can out that match quickly, but if you saturate the whole of the house with kerosene or gas or something, from the time you strike that match and throw it the whole house will burn down because the kerosene has saturated the place. The state we reach now, one grain of match can set the whole prairie on fire," Bakr said.

On July 27, 1990, Bakr led 113 insurgents in a failed coup to overthrow the then government of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) led by Arthur NR Robin­son. Twenty-four people died during the siege.

"The genesis of 1990 is a whole different thing from political aspirations or anything. It had nothing to do with that," Bakr said.

Bakr said the security forces of the State and the Jamaat were in continuous conflict before the attempted coup because of the shooting death of WPC Bernadette James under mysterious circumstances, days after she confessed to him that she witnessed a drug transaction involving high-ranking officials, as well as a stand-off over the Mucurapo Road property.

"They wanted to force a conflict, a military conflict, and so they got a military solution. That had nothing to do with politics. It was us against them and they not obeying the rule of the law which is anarchy," Bakr said.

Bakr said Rowley should tell the country what information he has which would have led him to make such a statement.

"If Rowley said that, then he needs to tell the population what information he has that will allow him to say that, so that people can take their own precautions because at the end of the day every man is responsible for his own security," Bakr said.

"He knows what I don't know. I don't know about anything, but what happened in 1990, we didn't run in any bank, we didn't try to rob anybody that has nothing to do with this situation, it was not about somebody wanting to take over the country for political expediency. The genesis was entirely different so he knows what he is talking about, I don't know," Bakr said.

Present day terror attack will not follow 1990 mould

Daurius Figueira the author of Jihad in Trinidad and Tobago, July 27, 1990 yesterday told the Sunday Guardian that if a terrorist attack is to take place in this country now it would not follow the lines of what took place in 1990.

"We have to separate an attempted coup a la July 27, 1990, from a present day terror attack because anybody in Trinidad and Tobago who would attempt a terror attack on Trinidad and Tobago out of Islamic extremism will not adopt the methodology of the Jamaat al Muslimeen in 1990," Figueira said.

When Bakr led the 1990 attempted coup, gunmen stormed the only television station TTT and the Parliament where prime minister Robinson and other MPs were held hostage for six days before a surrender was negotiated via an amnesty, later declared to be invalid.

"They don't believe in the need for that (kind of attack), the Jamaat had a specific need and that is why they chose that method, their position today especially those who abide by the teachings of the Islamic State is that you have to inflict maximum civilian casualties which then rocks the political structure," Figueira said.

"Just look at what they did in Paris and in Brussels and that will illustrate their agenda, so if we have any attack in Trinidad and Tobago we have to expect that it will be an attack that would target civilians in a weak and acceptable environment and to carry out an attack that is especially violent, blood letting, where the media of the world will carry it. They want maximum impact locally and internationally," he said.

Figueira said that is why Carnival would have been a "major target."

"Remember, they (extremists) will have multiple ways of doing it so you can very well have Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) placed at the side of the road etc, but more importantly we must understand in a situation like that the latest technique they use now is IEDs combined with suicide bombers," Figueira said.

"So that is what we have to look at, the use of suicide bombers in conjunction with IEDs. So they will plant those ideally in any area where the crowd is thick from wall to wall on a street and then the suicide bombers will go into the crowd and that is how they will detonate it."

'You can never have 100 per cent readiness for the methods they are using'

Figueira said no matter what, a country could never be 100 per cent ready for that kind of attack.

"First thing we have to accept is that you can never have 100 per cent readiness for the methods they are using because in order to pick up on it you have to have somebody from within coming to tell you, or they are being very sloppy in the way they are doing it. So that is the first thing if we want to expect 100 per cent readiness that is pie in the sky."

Days before this year's Carnival, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) announced that there was a threat to disrupt the celebrations. In all, 15 people were held and eventually released.

Figueira said the TTPS handled the situation in textbook counter-terrorism technique.

"What happened prior to Carnival was ratcheting up the level of engagement, so you see what you must understand is when you go and pick up people you send a message out, and they (potential terrorists) now have to sit down and wonder if they are next and this puts them on the back foot.

"What it does, is it does not give them free space to plan, to operate and to execute," he said.

Figueira said in counter-terrorism circles this technique is known as "beating the brush."

"It followed the play book, the methods used followed the play book," Figueira said.

Counter-Terrorism Unit needed

Former National Operations Centre (NOC) executive director Garvin Heerah said as chair of the National Security Council the PM would be privileged to certain information that would and can prompt his statements.

"Our armed forces are quite equipped both in training and resources to address threats and attacks of certain levels. What is a cause for concern, however, is our failure to coordinate national operations. Utilising the technology and the inter-agency collaborative framework. Our capacities remain siloed without an integrated approach. In a crisis such as a terror attack, this could very well work against us," Heerah said.

He called for the establishment of a Counter-Terrorism Centre/Unit.

"To effectively deal with Counter-terrorism T&T needs to establish a separate Counter-Terrorism Centre/Unit. A dedicated established platform with a highly trained response force. An intelligence capability with technologically driven resources. This centre must be modelled against a backdrop of international best practice and be able to look at Counter-terrorism holistically, involving foreign language and border control measures. That we should know, such planning and policy-driven strategies are all part of the Homeland Security Concept," he said.

Heerah also warned that the authorities need to pay attention to the the increase of young men and women being recruited and now being identified as jihadists here.


Muslim Cleric Imam Rasheed Karim has called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to act on any evidence that he may have on terrorist activities in T&T.

Karim, head of the Masjid ul Furquaan, was speaking with the Sunday Guardian yesterday afternoon.

“If the Prime Minister of T&T has that type of evidence I think surely he should act upon that evidence.”

Karim said the Qu'ran (Islamic holy scriptures) dictates the way in which people should live and conduct their affairs. He said the Qu'ran preaches peace and not hatred or terrorism. He said the entire Qu'ran should be read in context. He said “A lot of people read Qu'ran as a cafeteria book in the sense we read only what we want knowledge of.”

Karim said terrorism was being used as a scapegoat globally by governments that are not performing. He said when people’s rights are trampled upon they may chose to rise up. “Who next?" he asked. "We have seen that the Government had done certain raids and they have not as much as collected a nail clipper.”

—Shastri Boodan



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