A big problem for a small country?: ISIS and Trinidad and Tobago

There are the estimations that perhaps even 130 citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have joined ISIS. This is probably not a small number for not a very big country. Is this also a broader security problem for the region, Caribbean, the US or is it primarily a problem for Trinidad and Tobago? Read few comments.

Trinidad and Tobago

Anthony T. Bryan, Professor, Institute of International Relations, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago

1. From the perspective of international relations, this is a broader security problem for the region and one that will affect Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) relations with the new US (Trump) administration. In 2016 General John Kelly who is now the new Secretary of Homeland Security warned of ISIS militants from T&T that could travel to North America to carry out domestic attacks, to target tourists on Caribbean islands or installations at home. This is important because Trinidad is a heavily industrialised country that has within its national territory the world’s largest ammonia, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and methanol plants.Natural gas provides almost 100 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption and processing, and LNG is a major revenue earner making T&T the 5th largest LNG producer in the world. A large portion of these investments is American and European companies. Needless to say, it would be a remarkable target.

2. The ISIS fighters who are citizens from T&T cannot be prohibited from returning home. The government has anti-terrorism laws in place to track and monitor returnees and cooperates with the international intelligence agencies to provide the relevant information. These laws criminalise membership in the Islamic State and similar extremist organisations. The military, navy and police have been modernised and expanded to deal with security threats. We are a small country, with the largest and most modern military forces in the English-speaking Caribbean, but would find it difficult to deal with any large-scale attack. In 1990 T&T faced the first Moslem led attempt in the Western Hemisphere to overthrow a democratic government. It failed then!

3. Most of the Islamic community in T&T (citizens who follow the Moslem religion) are opposed to ISIS and parents of those who have gone to fight (some taking their families) have openly expressed regret.

4. Intelligence sources in T&T have revealed that a number of those who have gone to fight are from the criminal fringe in the country and NOT from the conservative Muslim society!

In sum, this is a big problem for a small but wealthy country.

José de Arimatéia da Cruz, Professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics. Armstrong State University, Adjunct Research Professor, U.S. Army War College

This is a regional concern at this state since there no other indication that any other citizens from Latin America or Caribbean have decided to join ISIS/ISIL. The Government of T & T has acknowledged that national T & T have joined ISIS/ISSL. Obviously, that is a concern especially if those individuals were to return to their county and attempt to infiltrate the U.S. to carry out nefarious activities. So, both the governments of T &T and the U.S. are concerned. Current Homeland Security Director General John F. Kelley (ret.) is quick familiar with the situation since he was commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), a position he held until January 2016. Most of the recruits also happens to be T & T Muslin and most come from society’s segments that have been ignored by the T & T government. So young poor and without a future perspective men are the primary target of ISIS/ISIL to join the Caliphate. Also given the fact that most Latin American and Caribbean countries do not have the technology, law enforcement capabilities to monitor and track those criminal elements, that also represents a national security to the countries of Latin America, Caribbean and the U.S.

W. Alejandro SanchezInternational Security Analyst

I do not believe that Trinidad and Tobago has a security problem with ISIS, namely its citizens joining this terrorist movement. Certainly there have been some alarming incidents, but we should not overreact. Also, the story is not actually new, since at least 2014 the Caribbean press has reported about some T&T nationals that have joined ISIS so the current wave of coverage has not uncovered some secret topic that people did not know about.

Interestingly, these international media reports have not been covered by the T&T media. The New York Times article mentions a telephone conversation between T&T PM Keith Rowley and US President Donald Trump. While the NYT piece focuses on how they discussed terrorism, the T&T media has focused on the alleged story that the T&T government paid a US lobbyist to facilitate that phone call – the T&T government denies this though.

Personally I am more concerned about drug trafficking through the country’s maritime territory. The Trinidad Express recently reported that the T&T Coast Guard seized a vessel carrying TT$837 million worth of cocaine. I see drug trafficking as the country’s clear and present danger.

Andy Knight, Professor of International Relations, University of Alberta

You are right. 130 foreign fighters from Trinidad and Tobago is a disproportionately large number of extremists from a small country like Trinidad. Its population is just over one million. This is not a widespread problem across the Caribbean. Trinidad’s situation is unique. It has a small Muslim population and in 1990 there was a coup attempt that almost overthrew the government, led by Jamaat al Muslimeen. Since then, there have been rumors of a small al Qaeda sleeper cell around 2007. Now today there is some penetration by radical Imams who are spreading the hateful ideology of ISIS.

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One Response

  1. [ Smiles ] 130 is quite a large number of people.

    I would speculate by saying that there are ISIS members in every country on the planet.

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