Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 31st 2013 Contents A10
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, May 31, 2013
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for MAY 29th 2013
PORT-OF-SPAIN---The Muslim cleric who
led a small army that stormed T&T s par-
liament in a blaze of gunfire is a free man.
Never convicted of any charges, he cheer-
fully presides over a mosque and school
complex in the country s bustling capital
and shares time among his four wives, the
maximum Islam allows.
Yasin Abu Bakr and his followers were
jailed for two years after the 1990 attempt
to overthrow the government of one of the
Caribbean s most prosperous countries. But
they were freed under an amnesty and
attempts to prosecute them failed even
though 24 people were killed. More than
50 people were taken hostage, including the
prime minister, Arthur NR Robinson, who
was bound and shot in the leg.
After years of lingering questions about
the attempted coup by Bakr and 113 armed
rebels, a commission appointed by the gov-
ernment in 2010 has been taking a fresh
look into the only Islamic revolt in the West-
ern Hemisphere. The commission has held
more than a dozen sessions over three years
in an effort to understand better how and
why the violent upheaval occurred. But the
panel has no subpoena power and the find-
ings are unlikely to lead to any arrests.
And Bakr isn t hurrying to provide any
The towering 72-year-old, who dresses
in a white robe and skullcap, recently gave
the Associated Press a rare interview.
Bakr said he hasn t decided if he ll testify
before the five-member commission, which
is expected to finish collecting testimony
by year s end. He said the panel won t learn
anything important unless he agrees to help.
"I am the architect; I am the leader of
the coup," Bakr told the AP at the Jamaat
al Muslimeen group s compound in Mucu-
rapo, where youngsters carried their books
from a two-story school and a group of
men chatted outside a spacious domed
"I know everything that happened. If I
don t testify to all the things that happened
everybody is just guessing."
Against this backdrop, United States Vice-
President Joe Biden visited Trinidad on
Monday for trade and security talks with
Prime Minister Kamala Kamla Persad-
Bissessar and other Caribbean politicians.
The commission s work is not on the agenda,
even though the failed rebellion by the Islam-
ic group still looms large for the region in
a post 9-11 world.
For some people in T&T, Bakr s group
remains a painful reminder of the deadly
uprising that staggered the Caribbean coun-
try s sense of itself as an easygoing land of
calypso, cricket and British-style democ-
"We need to unearth all the facts if only
from the point of view of recording history,
but perhaps we can also suss out any strate-
gic weaknesses that may still remain," said
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran,
who was held hostage on the first day of
the coup attempt launched July 27, 1990,
and who was instrumental in launching the
There is no evidence linking Bakr and his
group of mostly black converts to Islam to
international terrorism. US authorities scru-
tinized the group after discovering a failed
2007 plot to blow up jet fuel tanks at New
York s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Federal investigators reported that a Trinida-
dian imam and a US citizen from Guyana
who were convicted in the case had earlier
visited the Jamaat s Trinidad compound,
but no definitive connection was found.
Bakr undecided on enquiry appearance; admits...
As leader I know
Some researchers say that Islam isn t the group s
Jamaat "may be Islamist in its pedigree in that it
relied and continues in some respect to use Islamic
discourse and symbols ... but it was always more of
a revolutionary, pan-Africanist movement than any-
thing else," said Chris Zambelis, a Washington-based
risk management consultant who specializes in the
Middle East but has researched the Jamaat and inter-
viewed members in Trinidad.
Bakr s reasons for attempting to take over the gov-
ernment have never been fully clear.
A former policeman who converted to Islam while
living in Canada and who drew followers mainly
among poor urban blacks in Trinidad s slums, Bakr
has blamed the islands government in the past for
increasing hardship after world oil prices collapsed
in the 1980s. He told AP that he also blamed then-
Prime Minister Robinson s administration for the
slaying of a female police constable who he insists
had witnessed a cocaine transaction involving a gov-
Continues on Page A11
A group of soldiers who were keeping watch on the Red House during the 1990 attempted coup.
Yasin Abu Bakr
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