Counter-extremism Expert Comments on Terrorist Threats in Trinidad and Wider Caribbean
By Nelson A. King / CMC
WASHINGTON – A United States-based counter-extremism expert is calling for an end to security threats from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in the Caribbean.
In a column published in the Newsweek magazine on Tuesday, Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, the executive director, North America, for Quilliam International, urged that local leaders in Trinidad and Tobago work with US Embassy efforts, including the International Visitors Leadership Program, “to create dialogue at the grassroots level between faith-based communities in Trinidad and Tobago and the US.
“Together they can attempt to find effective strategies to combat extremism. In addition, empowering local voices across societal lines on a range of topics will allow for long-term sustainability,” said Fraser-Rahim whose organisation is described as the first counter-extremism organization, with offices in London and Washington.
Fraser-Rahim noted that the Trinidad and Tobago government is “moving in the right direction and has begun some positive efforts to address the rising threat both internally and regionally.”
But Fraser-Rahim said the issue of violent extremism is “a bipartisan issue on the island-nation and is a public safety issue.
“By working across political divides, governmental officials have the opportunity to create a focused and effective policy that is not only government-supported but also includes an all-of-society approach,” he said.
“It is important to include civil society, inter-generational and religious communities, including representations from Afro-Trinidadian and East Indian Muslim communities, whose voices and diverse views are critical for long term success in the country,” he added.
Fraser-Rahim noted that, last Thursday, the US Southern Command, which oversees US military operations in the Caribbean, “aided and advised state security forces in Trinidad to apprehend four extremists who sought to carry out an imminent terrorist attack during carnival. “
He said the rumoured attack “represented a broadening of the threat from the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, which has disbanded into a network of ragtag insurgency movements after losing territory in its traditional strongholds in the Middle East.”
Fraser-Rahim said the fall of Raqqa in Syria last year, in which US-backed forces declared that major military operations against ISIS had ended, “marked the end of ISIS’s self-declared Islamic ‘caliphate.’”
But he said “it left the broader Middle East and the international community asking: What happens next?”
Fraser-Rahim said the apparent threat appearing in the Caribbean “went some way to answering the question.”
He said ISIS sympathizers, such as those found in the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, “a small nation off the coast of Venezuela, would continue to follow the established agenda.”
The counter-extremism expert said Trinidad and Tobago appeared on the radar of Western state security services in recent years, when it emerged that it had the largest per capita number of foreign fighters joining ISIS of any country in the western hemisphere.
“Though estimates of the true number of recruits vary from under a couple hundred to close to 300, the exact numbers are beside the point,” he said. “One individual is too many, and the greatest concern is how the fighters plan to utilize their newly-acquired skills after returning home.”
But Fraser-Rahim said this issue isn’t new to counter-extremism experts.
He said that, in 2011, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of one of the major Al-Qaeda franchises, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was created “because local black Africans wanted to carry out attacks inside their countries of birth, including Senegal, Niger, Mali and Chad.”
“They expressed that with their new technical skills and newly-adopted Islamist ideology, they were best prepared to carry out attacks in their homeland,” Fraser-Rahim said. “They placed special emphasis on the historical figures of Islamic West Africa—a strategy to gain new recruits from their region and to connect the broader extremist ideology with the local reality in which they lived.”
He said this precedent “gives major concern to governmental, civil society and grassroots community members in Trinidad and Tobago as the nation finds effective strategies to respond appropriately.”
Fraser-Rahim said he travelled late last year to Trinidad and Tobago “to engage with local communities, civil society and governmental officials to firstly understand the complexities of the situation and the measures that could be put in place to receive individuals who were likely to return home post-ISIS.”
He said his organization “explored what measures were put in place within government structures to rehabilitate,” and that they “needed to determine how communities at the grassroots level can aid in ensuring and encouraging the resilience against extremism.”
Fraser-Rahim said solutions are not easy to find, but added that having an opportunity to engage with local actors is key.
He said Trinidad and Tobago has decades of experience working with criminal gang and drug violence prevention, including the work of leading organizations, like Roots Foundation and Vision on Mission.
Fraser-Rahim said some of the organizations’ members were previously involved in the drug and gang culture, stating that “they can serve as a model to work alongside other counter-extremist organizations and networks.
“They can share good practices as they engage with the emerging Islamist extremist ideology,” he said, adding “finding a tailored and focused Trinidad and Tobago-appropriate response will allow for long term sustainability to combat the problem.” – CMC