Trinidad's terrorism threat and Jamaica


Monday, September 24, 2018

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A few months ago I read an article in The Guardian entitled 'Trinidad's jihadis: How tiny nation became ISIS recruiting ground'. The article reported that more than 100 Trinidad citizens had left to join the Islamic State of Syria (ISIS), “including 70 men who planned to fight and die”.

I am sure this report would be a cause of alarm for Caricom countries and, more specifically, to us in Jamaica. No doubt the region's respective governments would have taken note and possibly put plans in place to counter any activity these Trinidadian jihadis would pose.

In recent days this subject has once again been put back on the front burner of security topics. A few days ago we had a report about the Trinidadian student pilot who hopped a fence and boarded a passenger jet at Florida's Orlando International Airport under suspicious circumstances. One is not sure about his motive; however, as the week ended, the USA named two Trinidad and Tobago nationals as ISIS financiers.

The threat

So, we not only know there are over 100 Trinidadians who have received training by ISIS, but that there are at least two Trinidadians involved in the funding of that terrorist outfit. Of what significance is this to us in Jamaica?

After all, Trinidad is over 1,915 km away from our country, and we would certainly never imagine our “Trini” cousins would waste their time and energy harming Jamaica. Why, then, would trained Trinidadian jihadis pose a terrorism threat to Jamaica?

Terrorism is no different from other crimes. It is a continuum, rather than a separate beast. Most terrorists start as petty criminals and, through a series of steps, end up as terrorists. To be a criminal of any sort you need to start with an environment and then mix in other factors. What sort of environment do we have in Jamaica? We certainly have the sixth-highest homicide rate in the world; we have over 250 criminal gangs; allegedly corrupt police; a flourishing illicit drug trade; high unemployment; disillusioned and abused youth who believe social status is defined solely by wealth, but who have no regard for the source of the wealth. And, as if to add fuel to the fire, we have politics that is tribal and divisive.

To stop criminality we must remove motive and opportunity. Law enforcement and the justice system must be geared to reduce the probability of criminals' success. This can be achieved by 'Deter, Detect, Assess, and then Respond'.

Of course this is much easier said than done, even if one has unlimited funds. For instance, the US failed to detect 9/11, so what chance does Jamaica or Caricom have of unearthing planned terrorism initiatives? Very little or no chance at all, given our present mindset and disposition.

Jamaica vulnerability

There is no doubt Jamaica's environment is conducive to terrorist activity. What could possibly be the motive of terrorists in respect of Jamaica? For a start, Jamaica is nearer to mainland USA than Trinidad. The target of these terrorists is to strike at the US or US interests. Would our flourishing tourism industry be a target?

There are no travel/visa restrictions on Trinidadian nationals to Jamaica, and a Trinidadian jihadi would blend easily into the Jamaican landscape and may possibly be given succour and support by those involved in the illicit drug trade, and happily by one or more of our over 250 criminal and armed gangs that our police, despite legislative enactments, have not been able to break up.

I was invited to join a commercial security organisation and this experience has given me some insights we could apply to reduce possible threats to our security. There must be a different approach to the selection process of those serving not only law enforcement, but also those involved in security services and others involved in any way with our two international airports. To this end, I strongly believe not only in polygraphing prior to employment, but also recurrent polygraphing. I also believe in closed-circuit television monitoring and quality control that separates audits from operations.

Whatever we do, let us not lose sight of the fact that the threat is real and could have devastating effects on our country. We must seek now to 'deter, detect, assess, and respond' in a meaningful way.

Colonel Allan Douglas is a retired officer of the Jamaica Defence Force. He is presently a member of an international aviation security company operating in 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Send comments to the Observer or

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