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‘No room for terrorists’
It’s lately been featuring on the global map as a region with beautiful beaches, hot women and great parties—all with the shadow of radical Islamic extremism lurking in the background.
But the Caribbean’s now had enough.
It was among the last to be “outed” as a location where the Islamic State (Isis) terror group had recruited members, but the region is moving to clamp down on further inroads.
“Terrorism represents a clear and present danger to Caribbean people and industries, including tourism. We’ve agreed to be resolute in our collective stand,” said Francis Forbes, executive director of Caricom’s Crime and Security Agency on June 12.
Addressing a two-day Counter-Terrorism Strategy conference in Port-of-Spain, Forbes told delegates: “Let’s send a collective message: Caricom has no room for terrorists.”
Representatives of Caribbean islands held the ground-breaking June 12-13 conference in T&T to network with international anti-terrorism experts aimed at halting Isis’ recruitment and dealing with the threat of terrorism and returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs).
Caricom, the 15-country Caribbean Community and Common Market grouping, helmed the conference, organised by its Crime and Security agency (IMPACS). The US State Department, European Union and the United Nations supported the initiative. The UN’s Development Programme (UNDP) has helped develop a draft Counter-Terrorism Strategy for the Caricom region.
Caricom stakeholders represented Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent/Grenadines, Suriname, St Lucia, and T&T.
International experts included from Interpol, the US State Department, US Southern Command, United Nations UNDP, OAS, European Union, the Cayman Islands, T&T, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the UK, United Arab Emirates, and France.
Caricom to discuss regional counter-terrorism plan
Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRoque told delegates that the Caricom leaders’ annual conference—next week in Grenada—will discuss and finalise the regional counter-terrorism plans and legislation, plus discuss action on returning FTFs and seizure of their assets.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley chairs Caricom’s Security Committee spearheading the matter.
T&T National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, in the feature address, said: “The Caricom model Anti-Terrorism Bill (based on T&T’s proposed anti-terrorism amendments)—and proposed agreement on the return and/or sharing of recovered assets—are important tools which the region should seek to finalise urgently...They’re proposed to be opened for signature at the (Caricom) meeting.”
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi subsequently told TTG that T&T’s anti-terrorism amendments—on which Caricom’s model is based—will be debated in Parliament in September.
LaRoque said, “We’ve recently seen the result of terrorist activity in the UK, Belgium, France, Egypt and Iran... For us in Caricom, the reality is that an act of terrorism or violent extremism in one member state will ... have repercussions throughout our region.”
Why the clamp-down now?
IMPACS’ director Forbes explained why the Caribbean is clamping down now. And it’s not only because 130 T&T nationals have joined terrorist activities overseas, as Dillon confirmed in March.
Forbes said, “A recent regional security brief stated that Islamic extremism represents a threat to all our shared national interests and in the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) area of responsibility, a primary concern is the increasing influence of the Islamic State in our region.”
“To date, with the assistance of US Customs and Border Protection, we’re tracking several hundred Isis sympathisers from the Caribbean and South America who’ve travelled to join Isis, in establishment of their self-proclaimed ‘Islamic Caliphate’.”
“Of these, 200-plus Caricom nationals are watch-listed as having travelled to Isis-controlled territories (including fighters and their families); approximately 130 of the overall figure are being tracked as alleged Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs), and several returning suspected FTFs are being actively monitored by respective law enforcement agencies.”
In March 2015, then-US Southern Command general, John Kelly—now US Homeland Security chief—cited Jamaica, T&T and Suriname as countries from where Isis recruits had departed. Kelly listed 100 Caribbean recruits then, concerned that Caribbean nations lacked ability to deal with returning FTFs.
Now, two years later, Caricom’s official figures show double that number of recruits.
Forbes said the exact means of Isis’ recruitment hasn’t been uncovered.
“But travel of key persons to countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in years prior to 2013/2014 when the FTF phenomenon evolved, have been observed. Persons suspected of participating in terrorist activities—those suspected of leaving the country in support of Isis—all belong to a close personal network.”
T&T’s Dillon told delegates, “The question for the region (on terrorism) isn’t a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’.”
Serious security concerns
Caricom’s draft Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Dillon said, listed main security concerns for the region posed by terrorism. These include:
• the Foreign Terrorist Fighter (FTF) phenomena relating to people travelling from this region to regions of conflict, and their subsequent return;
• the increasing influence of radical clerics and radicalised Isis sympathisers in Caricom states;
• the growing volume and accessibility of terrorist group propaganda on-line and via peer-to-peer networks; and
• the potential exploitation of the banking system to fund terrorist networks.
Dillon added, “This strategy, identifying how the region should address the issue, isn’t only timely but crucial to the region’s survival. Terrorism and the threat it poses has changed our world—no country is immune to impact. Our region must respond decisively.”
Forbes noted that returning foreign terrorist fighters could spread radical ideologies and violent extremism directed at Western interests and allies in the region. He said the ability of returning fighters to network with diverse illicit and military activities, exploit specialised skills and assets (including weapons and unconventional warfare training), and create new channels to support terror campaigns were all potential threats.
Forbes added, “Transnational organised crime and its attendant activities are well established threats in this region. The line between these activities and terrorism has rapidly become indistinct and provides fertile ground for terrorism funding, recruiting and the facilitation of terrorist activities.
“Trained, experienced FTFs represent a significant threat to the region for perhaps years to come. Our resolve must be to share information willingly and implement mechanisms.”
He urged Caribbean states to urgently work to reduce the “...seemingly ready pool of Isis volunteers among us... and win back the hearts and minds of young men now being recruited.”
Need to help vulnerable groups
To combat terrorism, Dillon has recommended an improved version of Caricom’s co-ordinated security approach, used in previous large-scale regional events.
He also advised regional governments to provide alternatives to violent extremism through community-driven activities and access to services to vulnerable groups.
He advocated empowering change agents—regional communities, youths and women—and stringent de-radicalisation programmes addressing children’s exposure to radical ideologies.
The rehabilitation and re-integration of returning FTFs must also be developed, Dillon said.
He’s also called for analysis of the impact of transnational organised crime, gang warfare, weak criminal justice systems and changing social conditions on Caribbean societies.
“Counter messages—developed with community, religious and civil society partners—must discourage use of violent extremism as a mechanism for vulnerable people to express grievances. Messages must also avoid causing mistrust in vulnerable populations,” Dillon said.
Will Caricom’s intended clampdown succeed? Time will tell.
Proposed anti-terrorism laws for Caricom
Caricom is proposing to adopt anti-terrorism law modelled on T&T’s upgraded anti-terrorism amendments being debated in this country’s Parliament in September.
While conservative TT Muslims support the TT proposals, some independent Muslim groups object to some clauses, which include:
• People who knowingly train or get instructions from a terrorist group, join such group, contribute in any form to committing a terrorist act or terrorism financing.
• The laws will criminalise travel for the purpose of committing a terrorist act, deeming such people “foreign terrorist fghters”. Government would designate a geographical area as an area of terrorism activity, deeming travel to/or being there, as constituting ”presumption that the travel was for a terrorist act.”
• Laws will address movement of children by FTFs to foreign terroritories.
• Laws will allow Government to designate a group as a terrorist organisation and allow for property seizure.
• Laws will empower T&T to propose names of culprits to the UN; and expand information-gathering powers of security agencies and the Financial Intelligence Unit.
• Laws will address provision of services for financing a terrorist act or committing it.
• Violations will carry million-dollar fines and lengthy imprisonment.
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