WE NEED not disentangle the multiple and sometimes contradictory statements made over the last few weeks by the Government, the Police Service and State officials on the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) to know this fact: terrorism, in general, poses a threat to the peace and stability of Trinidad and Tobago.
In terms of national security, globalisation has irreversibly changed the theatre of war.
A risk posed in one country can easily spill to another. And for this to happen, actors need not cross boundaries. It has been widely reported that the modus operandi of terrorist groups such ISIS is not limited to indoctrination of people who have made pilgrimage to the Middle East. The ISIS strategy also involves radicalisation through the internet. Nationals who have travelled to Syria pose a risk even if they do not come back.
Therefore, whether or not there is presently an “ISIS cell” operating in TT, we cannot ignore the possibility of attacks by individuals or groups who share the beliefs of fundamentalists. Warped ideology is the real threat.
While there is considerable interest in the question of whether terrorists from Syria have travelled thousands of miles and returned to Trinidad and Tobago, it should not be forgotten that known terrorists are already here. The country is still traumatised by the attack of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen in 1990 for which no person was ever brought to justice. Equally, we have had a dangerous situation in our financial sector. Lax controls, as embodied by reports of money laundering and the collapse of enterprises, have meant terrorist financing is a real possibility. Funds, not just weapons, are vital tools for fundamentalists.
However, the Government does itself little good by making contradictory statements on these issues. Doing so creates unease in the population in relation to a matter of utmost sensitivity. Further, it undermines the morale of members of the law enforcement fraternity who cannot speak for themselves.
Failed criminal proceedings also engender distrust and create the impression of abuse of power. It should not be forgotten that throughout history, abominable abuses have taken place under the aegis of “anti-terrorism” measures. A good example is very close to home: Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, regularly deems his political foes “terrorists.”
While the liberty of the human being is of paramount importance, it is equally unsatisfactory for religious leaders to hyperbolically allege prosecution when there is no evidence to support such a contention.
In the end, we must maturely come to terms with the need for special provisions to: disrupt indoctrination attempts; stem terrorism financing; empower courts to balance rights; and protect citizens from abuses which, unfortunately, are also a real threat to our democracy.