CLINT CHAN TACK
PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday made it clear that the terror threat to disrupt this year’s Carnival festivities was real. At a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, after a Government retreat there, Rowley said, “There are some people who believe that this is a joke. There are some people who believe this is personal persecution.”
He said one week ago, Government received credible information from local and international monitoring agencies, about, “specific instances being contemplated for actions against Carnival parades.” Rowley said this information was subsequently corroborated by local law enforcement and this country’s international partners. Rowley, who is also National Security Council chairman, said when the Government indicates there is a credible threat to the country’s security, everyone must take this “very seriously.” On claims of religious and ethnic persecution, Rowley declared, “That holds no water with respect to the security services responding to criminal conduct on the part of any and every person in TT. There is no policy, no programme to persecute any group, ethnic or otherwise in TT.”
Rowley said TT remains as free as any other society in the world but there will be “resolute prosecution” of anyone who breaks law and order in TT. He confirmed that US law enforcement officers were involved in assisting their local counterparts with intelligence to thwart the threat. Rowley said this exercise is a continuous process.
However he said the personnel involved in the operation, “were 100 per cent TT security services.” Rowley said it would have been irresponsible on the Government’s part, “not to have intervened at that stage.” Saying the operation to deal with this threat is ongoing, Rowley said, “This is not simply a local problem but an international problem.” He said this may not be the last time TT has to deal with such a threat since it is no secret that some TT nationals have aligned themselves with certain organisations.
He also said Carnival is not simply “a wine and jam event” but an economic event in TT. Explaining that Carnival parades could provide potential targets for terrorists, Rowley said a disruption of Carnival in this way could have had far reaching economic consequences for the country as well. He said TT’s security forces were well positioned to deal with the threat and, “we didn’t panic the country.” He said there was a “thin edge” between providing the public with sufficient information about the threat and managing the information in a way which did not compromise efforts being done to deal with it.
Rowley said he understood there were legal challenges being filed for people now in police custody and the law will take its course. He said the country has anti-terrorism legislation and is hopeful the new Anti-Terrorism 2018 Bill now before a parliamentary joint select committee will enhance the existing law. Rowley said the threat did not prevent him from participating in the festivities. He said since before Carnival, he was very engaged and continued to be engaged, to ensure the situation was “being properly monitored.” He said he was out on Carnival Tuesday and had a very enjoyable Carnival. Rowley said while Carnival celebrations are not without “some element of bacchanal,” the overall feedback about the celebrations were good. While noting there were some murders and other crimes which took place during Carnival, Rowley said Carnival was relatively safe and security was effective. However he acknowledged there was room for improvement. On a lighter note, Rowley said he did not have a favourite song for the Road March title because he did not hear all the tunes. However he reiterated that the Carnival events which he did participate in were very well organised.