Vulnerable Trinidadians Have Joined the Terrorist Group ISIS

Vulnerable Trinidadians Have Joined the Terrorist Group ISIS

By Dialogo
October 21, 2015

I can’t believe what’s going on in the world. So many massacres today. I am Argentine, but I suffer by everything going on in the world.

During the last two years, dozens of Trinidadian Muslims may have traveled to Syria to join the forces of the self-identified terrorist group Islamic State in Syria (ISIS).

The Ministry of National Security said it's aware that some Trinidadians have become ISIS members but could not confirm a specific number, while media outlets in the Caribbean country have reported the number is as high as 50.

There are “several nationals now linked to the group,” National Security Minister Gary Griffith said in a radio interview.

“There are approximately 30 Trinidadians in Syria and Iraq fighting with ISIS – I have video footage and evidence," said Candyce M. Kelshall, a doctoral fellow at the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies of Buckingham University who has written about the presence and role of radical Islam in Trinidad and Tobago. "There are also several mosques where whole families have left to go to Syria.”

In one case, for example, a Trinidadian named Shane Crawford left home in late 2013 to “fight on behalf of Muslim brothers and sisters,” his mother told the Miami Herald.

ISIS recruits vulnerable individuals

Though the numbers of Trinidadians who have joined ISIS may be small, it nevertheless indicates that the terrorist group has gained a foothold in the country, according to Meredith L. Patten, Ph.D., professor of the Institute for Criminology and Public Safety of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

“A few individuals have been identified, and at least one confirmed by family members, to be fighting for ISIS,” Patten said. “Much like what we have seen in the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago should be very aware and concerned of how the primary and secondary schools are places where ISIS can target those vulnerable individuals.”

Those susceptible of being recruited by ISIS may include individuals who are undergoing hardships and could be lured by promises of a better future.

“Much like gangs or any other kind of subculture group, ISIS is looking for easy targets – the more vulnerable,” Patten said. “Aside from religion and ideology, ISIS can focus on the hardships some Trinidadians may endure and capitalize on that, purporting to be able to provide a better life and, more importantly, a purpose.”

Concern throughout the Americas

The terrorist group's recruitment efforts in Trinidad and Tobago and other countries in the region have prompted concerns among regional officials that individuals who join ISIS may return to the Americas prepared to engage in illicit activities.

Authorities are worried that Trinidadians who join ISIS are returning to their home country “well equipped,” said Alana Wheeler, deputy director of the Ministry of National Security's Counter Trafficking Unit.

Officials with partner nations in the Americas have expressed concern over the increasing number of suspected Islamic extremists from the hemisphere who are traveling to Syria to participate in jihad (holy war), according to U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, the commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).

“When these foreign fighters return, they will possess operational experience, ties to global extremists, and possible intent to harm Western interests – and they will reside in a region rife with smuggling routes that lead directly and easily into the United States” Gen. Kelly said in a statement before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in March.

The threat of terrorism in the Americas is evolving, according to National Security Minister Griffith.

“It is no longer the case where 20 years ago what we saw as a terrorist ... was just someone with explosives around his waist and you pull a pin,” Minister Griffith told journalists in October 2014. “It is just not the actual terrorist, but it also involves persons who may become sleeper cells ... then there will be others who will be sympathizers to terrorist activity, then there will be others who will be training persons to be involved in terrorist activity.”

A small minority

Muslim communities in the region are important players in the fight against this evolving threat, according to Patten.

“I believe the Muslim community is aware of the situation and certainly those fighting with ISIS are a very small minority,” Patten explained. “We must also remember not to single out Muslims in terms of individuals being indoctrinated into ISIS.”

International cooperation is also crucial in the fight against terrorism. For example, in September 2014, Trinidad joined the U.S. in co-sponsoring UN Resolution 2178, an anti-terrorism initiative.

The resolution aims to prevent the recruiting, organizing, transporting, or equipping of individuals who travel to a state other than their states of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning of, or participation in terrorist acts.

“Trinidad and Tobago continues to fully cooperate on preventing the international flow of terrorist fighters to and from conflict zones,” the National Security Ministry said. “Our Trinidad and Tobago security apparatus continues to treat these and other matters effectively in the interest of public safety and security, and collaboration with international security agencies continue unabated.”

“This shows the commitment of the authorities to standing strong with the international community against groups like ISIS,” Patten concluded.