TWO citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department on suspicion of financing ISIS under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those who support them. One man, Emraan Ali, is a TT-US dual citizen based in Syria and the other, Eddie Aleong, is a relative by marriage of Nizam Mohammed, an Imam from Tabaquite.
In response, Attorney General Faris al-Rawi said that the government will now make an application to the local courts to add them to a local listing of 353 individuals and entities that have or will have their assets frozen by local authorities. This brought a quick response from attorney and former PNM political representative Nafeesa Mohammed, who called on the state to protect its citizens from being wrongfully blacklisted.
This is a sensitive matter for this country, which is on record as being a surprisingly fertile source of young jihadists keen to join the cause of ISIS. A US state department report describes this country as having “the highest per capita rate of ISIS recruitment in the western hemisphere. In 2015 alone, more than a hundred nationals travelled to Syria and Iraq, and only a handful have returned to TT.
In August 2017, the Foreign Affairs Ministry declared in a press release that “Trinidad and Tobago remains a willing United States counter-terrorism partner” and reaffirmed its commitment to working with the US to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.
The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was passed unanimously in July, significantly enhancing the legislative tools available to detect, prevent and prosecute terrorism and the financing of terrorism in TT.
Nafeesa Mohammed’s concerns are also valid. Many anti-terrorism activities begin to look like efforts at targeting Muslims if care isn’t taken to ensure that such efforts are driven by hard data and reasonable areas of concern. Most Muslims in TT practice moderate forms of Islam which are harmonious with this country’s national creed of mutual acceptance and understanding.
This country should not be seen to be taking unduly hasty action on its own citizens only on the advice of a foreign power, remembering also that we face sanctions globally if our inaction forces the conclusion that we are harbouring terrorism.
But there is also no doubt that the US has greater resources available for tracking money transfers than this country does and if it is willing to offer local courts comprehensive, verifiable evidence of terrorism being supported, then it’s important that we should act appropriately under our own laws to support legitimate efforts to limit support for terrorist activities.