Politics, crime and the Muslimeen(s)

When Panday, with the assistance of ANR Robinsońs two Tobago seats, became the countrýs fifth Prime Minister, the first person he met with was Bakr. Bakr had reportedly been assured by Panday that the Muslimeen, who helped the UNC win the election, would be compensated for their losses suffered during the July 1990 coup-attempt.

However, one of the first bills to be laid in Parliament was legislation preventing the establishment of private armies. At the time the measure seemed to be specifically targeted at Bakŕs Muslimeen “soldiers” who had come out in full force in Woodford Square that afternoon in October 1995. By 1996, the relationship between the Panday regime and Bakr had soured. In mid-August 1996 rumours spread that the Jamaat had threatened to take “action” and had “launched an uprising” against the government of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday for not keeping their promise to compensate them for their losses suffered during the July 1990 coup-attempt. Although the government reportedly dismissed these rumours, security in the capital was increased, especially around the Parliament building.

In mid-March 1998, the government and the Jamaat were in dispute again over the Jamaat commune, which housed a primary and secondary school, a mosque, a dental clinic and other facilities. National Security Minister Joseph Theodore, who helped put down the July 1990 coup, went on TV and reportedly described the Jamaat as a “violent fringe group with the blood of many people on their hands.” After the Jamaat refused a compromise offer from the Port of Spain city council, the government eventually decided to fence off the land.

The lawyer for the group for the July 1990 coup members of the Jamaat, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who according to Bakr had promised to honour the court award if he were appointed to the government following the 1995 general election was now the country’s Attorney General. When things didńt go according to plan, Abu Bakr claimed he had tape recordings of conversations between Maharaj and members of his group, in which the Attorney General promised to honour the court award.

Bakr withdrew his support for the UNC, launching a verbal attack on Indo Trinidadians and spouting anti-Indian rhetoric, and he shifted his loyalty to the PNM in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 general elections. However, the relationship between the two became strained when in his Eid ul-Fitr message delivered on November 3, 2005 Abu Bakr threatened “war” against Muslims who did not pay zakaat next year. The statement was generally interpreted as a demand that the tax be paid to the Jamaat al Muslimeen. On November 8, Abu Bakr was arrested and charged with three counts of inciting extortion and one for sedition. The Jamaat al Muslimeen headquarters were occupied by the Army on November 10 and Abu Bakr’s office was demolished in a search for weapons and ammunition after metal detectors discovered objects below the building. A high-powered rifle, a hand grenade, walkie talkies and 700 rounds of ammunition were seized. In another matter, in 2006, he was found not-guilty for conspiring to murder two expelled Jamaat al Muslimeen members, Salim Rasheed and Adel Ghany.

Several reports over the years have indicated that the Muslimeen are involved in criminal activities such as murder, kidnapping, the protection racket and the illegal drug and arms trade. Jamaat members were reportedly also being used by citizens to “collect debts and provide security for business persons.” They even worked as private investigators to track down missing vehicles and persons. According to a March 1998 Inter Press Service article, many new members of the Jamaat included known criminals and dissidents.

The Muslimeen have for several years played pivotal roles in politics, according to one of the hostages in the Parliament during the July 27, 1990 attempted coup, Wendell Eversley. During his testimony at the Commission of Enquiry into 1990, he said that several key members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, including Bilaal Abdullah held top positions in the Office of the Prime Minister during former Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s term of office. Eversley also said the Muslimeen and its leader Yasin Abu Bakr assisted the United National Congress and People’s National Movement in the 1995 and 2000 general elections, providing crucial support to these parties to capture marginal seats.

“Both of them used the services of the Muslimeen to win the elections,” he said. They were an informal political force, he added.

Eversley said the Muslimeen provided security for the UNC and the PNM at the elections. “They went house to house canvassing in Tunapuna....St Joseph and on election day I saw (Jamaat al Muslimeen leader) Yasin Abu Bakr at Balisier House on the night of(the 2002) victory,” Eversley said.

In 2001, police in Florida uncovered a plot to smuggle 60 rifles and 10 submachine guns to the Jamaat in Trinidad. In 2007, US officials said four men charged over an alleged plot to blow up John F Kennedy airport in New York had connections with Muslim extremists, including the Jamaat al Muslimeen. In the same year, three members of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen confessed to their lawyer their role in the kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of the body of Extra Foods Chief Executive Officer Vindra Naipaul-Coolman in December 2006.

In June 2012, a thesis submitted by Brandon Oliveira and Darby Aviles of the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California postulated the following:

“After assessing JAM (Jamaat al Muslimeen), the authors have found that the threat presented by JAM as a terrorist organization has run its course. What began as a social movement with a political message, evolved into a terrorist entity, and has now dissolved with only its political affiliation and history to keep it on life support. The organization has been undermined by splinter groups and dissention. JAM has been unable to grow numerically and it has failed to expand its influence. Although dangerous as a criminal entity and slightly influential in Trinidad and Tobago as a facilitator of government corruption, Jamaat al-Muslimeen should no longer be considered a threat outside of its home country.”

Nevertheless, the Muslimeen and its splinter groups continue to be an increasing threat to the internal security of TT. Several gang leaders and hundreds of their soldiers presently involved in the turf war in the natiońs hotspots are reported to be Muslims, and recently a group of Muslims imposed a curfew in an area in Diego Martin. The growing number of Muslims leading and involved in turf warfare, illegal drug and arms trafficking, and other criminal activities would seem to suggest that a coup by stages is underway.

Bakr refused to attend the People Partnershiṕs Commission of Enquiry into the attempted coup on the basis that it would prejudice his sedition trial, at which he appeared accompanied by an entourage of Muslimeen members ominously dressed from tip to toe in black. In early July this year, Bakr also demanded to be paid in just the same manner as payment was being made to members of the Commission, chaired by prominent Barbadian jurist Sir David Simmons.

He told a local radio station, “If you want to take my time, you paying Simmons and the other people for their time and if you want to take my time you have to pay me equally for my time because without me they would not exist. Had I not been the author of this book they would not have anything to read,” he said, insisting “Yes I have to be paid equally with Mr. Simmons otherwise Mr. Simmons would not exist without me.”

“He exists because of me and so are the others and if you are paying them why you don’t want to pay me. That is slavery. You are saying my time is worth nothing but Mr. Simmons and Dianna Mahabir West, their time is worth something and you paying them for their time,” he said.

He told the programme hosts that only slaves work for free, insisting “I am a free man and I am not a slave”.

One of the terms of reference of the COE was to enquire into the continuing propensities for criminal activity arising from the attempted coup and the correlation, if any; between the attempted coup and the trafficking, supplying and possession of illegal drugs, firearms and ammunition.

Another was to make such findings, observations and recommendations arising out of its deliberations as deemed appropriate, in relation to, inter alia, the development of the capacity of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to maintain national security, democratic governance and the protection of the citizens and residents of Trinidad and Tobago and State property in the event of a future occurrence of an attempted coup or other acts of treason, terrorism or insurrection.

Yet Bakŕs refusal to attend the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup has not prevented him from overseeing the multi-million dollar exterior painting of officially condemned apartment buildings in crime ridden areas in east Port of Spain.

The contracts were awarded by the PP which established the Commission of Enquiry, an apparent contradiction. Bakr, now 70, continues to wield enormous influence in the political, if not criminal arena of Trinidad and Tobago.


"Politics, crime and the Muslimeen(s)"

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