Every year many Canadians flock to Trinidad and Tobago to escape the harsh winter climate. In addition, there are some 70,000 Canadians of Trinidadian stock, including one of the hosts of CBC’s The National, Ian Hanomansing, and pop singer Amanda Marshall. The ties between the two nations run deep.
Alas, these ties also extend to terrorism.
Few Canadians remember a serious terrorist plot that unfolded in Canada decades before 9/11, and even before the first World Trade Center bombing which was an attack that brought the terrorist threat from Islamist extremists to the attention of many. In 1991 five men, including several Trinidadians, were accused of planning to bomb an Indian cinema and a Hindu temple in the GTA supposedly to protest Indian control over Kashmir, but were thankfully stopped before they could set their plan in motion. They belonged to Jamaat ul Fuqra (JuF), an Islamist extremist group that is virulently anti-Indian and is believed to have been headed by a Pakistani cleric named Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani. JuF has been listed as a terrorist entity at various times and goes by the name “Muslims of America” in Canada, the US, and…Trinidad. They establish communes of like minded believers, including converts and released prisoners, where there are allegations of ‘paramilitary’ training: they even created one not far from my cottage in the Madawaska Highlands of Ontario.
Following their trials three were convicted and received prison sentences. The foreign members of the cell were later deported while the Canadians, including Glenn Neville Ford, who was acquitted, returned to the JuF compound in central/eastern Ontario. Tyrone Cole, a.k.a. Barry Adams, a Trinidadian living in Texas, was sent back to Trinidad where he most probably continued his work for JuF (there is a JuF presence on the islands).
What brought this up recently was a foiled attempt to attack Trinidad’s Carnival. Local police have not come out and clearly linked the plot to terrorism or to the JuF, but an event like this represents everything Islamist extremists loath: music, dancing, i.e. people having fun. More worryingly, Trinidad occupies the #1 spot of countries in the Western Hemisphere in per capita foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq (130 out of a population of 1.3 million) – I and many others have talked about the challenge of what to do about those foreign fighters if and when they elect to come home (and was the subject of my second book). One of the drivers of this wave of extremism is yet another group, Jamaat al Muslim, a largely African American convert sect in Trinidad that launched a failed coup attempt in 1990.
There are three primary lessons to draw from the incidence of Islamist extremism in Trinidad and Tobago and what it means for our country:
a) Islamist extremism can occur wherever there is a critical mass to draw in and direct supporters and where there is a charismatic leader (i,e, a Tyrone Cole) with the right stuff to provide ideology and inspiration. Thus even Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean country seldom associated with terrorism, can surge to the top under the right conditions
b) we in Canada have to ensure that our immigration system has the resources and knowledge to identify and keep bad actors out. Following from the earlier point, it is not just Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan you have it worry about since the threat can arise from anywhere
c) Authorities must have the power to remove people who pose a threat to national security or public safety. In this case convicted terrorists who were not citizens were deported on the termination of their sentences. Why can we not do the same in the national security certificate cases? And why do so many naive Canadians take up the fight for terrorists in this country? There are hundreds of thousands of legitimate immigrants and refugees and we cannot allow the few bad apples to spoil the bunch. They need to go.
I do not want to overplay the terrorist threat to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago. At the same time we need to acknowledge that the threat is variable and that we must remain vigilant.