Security experts have lauded the police for the large weapons cache they discovered in Santa Cruz on Wednesday, but said much more needs to be done to address the importation of illegal weapons.
The police found 13 firearms, including two AK-47 rifles, two Draco rifles, an M-16 rifle, two UZI sub-machine guns, a Beretta sub-machine gun, a Ruger 30-calibre rifle and a Ruger Precision 50-calibre rifle. The seizure also included 1,152 rounds of assorted ammunition: 45 mm, 50-calibre, 12-gauge, 7.62 mm, 9 mm and 6.5-calibre armour-piercing ammunition.
Several major firearm component parts were also seized, including ten laser pointers, 23 rifle stocks, 53 trigger guards, 13 selectors, 15 triggers, four rear sights and four buffers, as they investigated a shooting incident which had occurred hours earlier. No one was arrested in connection with the seizure.
Snr Supt Roger Alexander told Newsday on Saturday, “Due to the circumstances at the time, no one could be arrested. No one was present at the time when the weapons were recovered. The investigation is an active, ongoing one.”
Former chief of defence staff retired Maj Gen Ralph Brown said he agreed with the Prime Minister that the weapons could pose a possible threat to national security.
“I have been in the military for 34 years and I’ve retired about 23 years, and that arms cache was probably the most I’ve ever seen in TT, and the type of weapons – 50-calibre weapons and armour-piercing ammunition – that is a very serious matter, we’re heading into very serious matters.
“I don’t think the threat to the government is all that real.
"In 1990, (Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Yasin) Abu Bakr had 114 men with him and all of them had rifles. There are people in this country who might think of doing such a thing.
"The thing is getting out of hand and I think the government is moving in the right direction. While it might be a threat to the state, the army can handle that, together with the police, of course.”
Brown said countering the weapons threat meant depending on intelligence gathered by the state and people who know about illegal weapons reporting them to the authorities.
Former police commissioner Gary Griffith said he welcomed the find as it seemed to have made the PM more aware of the threat posed by these weapons.
“Police seize 800-1,000 illegal firearms annually, that’s about 16,000 we would have seized for the last two decades, and still there are tens of thousands left outside.
"He seemed not to understand that 99 per cent-plus of the murders in the last three years have been by illegal firearms, and he has done nothing to rectify the situation.”
Griffith said he recommended several measures to the PM to fight illegal firearms, including acquiring mobile scanners, drones and the formation of a border protection unit, but was ignored.
“One of those assault weapons the criminals have can kill 35 people in three seconds, that is how serious it is.
"Thankfully the one additional benefit we’ve seen from this raid is that Rowley has finally opened his eyes.”
CEO, Air Support Tactical Security Ltd, retired Major Dirk Barnes said criminals normally use the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle or the variations of the M-16 automatic weapons with the 5.56-calibre ammunition in close engagements.
“Some of the weapons I saw in that find are weapons normally used by law-abiding citizens, in terms of the pistols, and then you start to see some weapons that are normally used by specialised forces in the military, basically sniper weapons with a longer range of engagement, like the 50-calibre and 30-caibre weapons.
"So when you have that in criminal hands, you have to ask what do they plan to engage and from what distances? You really have to ask what do they plan to do with them.”
He said people continue to emphasise importers but not enough on how the guns entered the country.
“The person who actually brought it into TT would have bought it in the US through their contacts, and then paid off all the necessary people to pass it through Customs. It has to pass through two sets of scans and the documentation has to pass through all of these places to arrive in the end user’s hands for them to resell to criminals."
He said in his experience, importing weapons legally from the US is a headache, so bringing in weapons illegally meant many people would have to be paid off. He said bringing weapons through Venezuela meant even more money, as they would pass through multiple jurisdictions.
“The biggest importation of weapons comes through our legal ports of entry. It’s clear we have a Customs problem, and that’s what we need to fix."
Barnes congratulated the police on their good work with the seizure.
He said he knew of at least one instance where a co-operating witness in TT was killed after providing information to the police. He said the law enforcement apparatus in TT is a key part of these illegal importations.
“The Finance and National Security Ministries are failing us gloriously, as where they are supposed to be identifying the moles and leaks in their units, and plugging those leaks, getting rid of those Customs officers who are complicit in these types of importations, they are not doing that effectively, and that is why these weapons are coming in.”