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Stop them now

Published: 
Sunday, February 18, 2018

The announcement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that ISIS has a cell operating in Trinidad and Tobago is worrying but perhaps not surprising.

For the past few years, concerns have grown with the issue over how to deal with T&T citizens who joined ISIS in the Middle East, survived and have returned or may be in the process of returning to our islands.

If they were an issue before setting off to fight for the extremist organisation, they are an even bigger issue now, potentially brainwashed or mentally disturbed by what they saw or did whilst there (ISIS leaders in

Syria and Iraq had the habit of giving foreign fighters some of the most despicable and gruesome tasks to test their allegiance and because local recruits were less likely to comply).

There’s no easy answer for Trinidad and Tobago to remove the threat of such barbaric extremists and, even more critical, to deal once and for all with radicalisation in our country. But something must be done.

From the hearts and minds perspective, as a nation we must stop pretending that there’s no correlation between radicalisation, lack of youth support and gang culture. We need a comprehensive programme designed to nurture, support and coach young people (men in particular) to move them away from the ludicrous but tempting promises and assertions made by extremist recruiters. Many organisations already work in this field, with some degree of success. What we need is a focused approach.

From a crime control perspective, the government needs to focus hard on the financing side of radical organisations and leaders. Let’s call a spade a spade: extremist organisations are criminal organisations, many times deeply involved with the gangs and illicit trade where they operate.

To state the obvious, illegal organisations have to rely on illicit sources of income; that also means they normally engage with racketeering, smuggling, extortion and plain theft to be kept afloat. ISIS themselves used illicit routes to trade oil for the cash it needed to finance its military activities. It also stole money from banks wherever it attacked.

And this is where our authorities can play a key role. If they focus on the financing of radicalism in Trinidad and Tobago, they can not only stop what feeds these groups with the resources they need, but they can also disrupt other illegal operations, especially drugs.

Ridding T&T of ISIS and other radical influence on our youth is essential; that will be even better if, in the process, we also disrupt how criminal organisations operate in our country.

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