Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 31st 2013 Contents A11
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The group was also in a dispute
with the government over the com-
pound s land.
Whatever Bakr s motivation, the
rebellion in the resource-rich repub-
lic off Venezuela s coast was among
the more bizarre events in the history
of the English-speaking Caribbean.
It started with a car bomb that
gutted a the old police headquarters
near parliament, and continued with
the takeover of the legislature.
After the rebels had held Robinson
and others hostage for six days, offi-
cials promised the insurgents
amnesty, then immediately arrested
them when they surrendered.
Trinidad s High Court later upheld
the amnesty on the grounds that
Jamaat members were the benefici-
aries of a presidential pardon, even
though the state argued it was made
under duress. Shocking many, Bakr
and his followers were freed after
two years in jail and never re-arrest-
ed.Among those killed were lawmaker
Leo Des Vignes, a policeman, and
security guards. Others died during
clashes between security forces and
looting mobs that swarmed com-
mercial districts to load up on tel-
evision sets and other consumer
items. Scores were wounded and
'I am not any mastermind...
God wanted some justice'
Political analysts believe
Jamaat members have escaped
convictions in part because from
the 1980s until at least 2002,
they were hired by both major
political parties to get out the
vote for their factions during
elections in poor, politically con-
tested communities. Some
experts believe the Jamaat cur-
rently counts just a few hundred
"All the parties used the
Jamaat, all," said Selwyn Ryan,
a leading Trinidadian political
scientist who wrote about the
siege in his book "The Mus-
limeen Grab for Power."
Zambelis, the Washington-
based analyst, said Bakr man-
aged to carve out an enduring
niche for himself and his move-
ment that cut across political
"I also think that Jamaat al
Muslimeen s ties to criminality
may also be playing a role in its
longevity and survivability over
the years," he said.
Jamaat members have been
charged with murders, kidnap-
pings, and gun and drug smug-
gling but few have been con-
victed. In 2005, one man who
took part in the failed coup was
sentenced to more than 12 years
in a US prison for trying to
smuggle guns into the country
from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Bakr himself was acquitted in
Trinidad in 2006 on charges of
conspiracy to murder two former
Also in 2006, Trinidadian
prosecutors dropped weapon
charges against Bakr after
authorities raided the com-
pound, bulldozed his office and
seized a rifle, hand grenade and
500 rounds of ammunition.
He currently is fighting sedi-
tion charges related to a sermon
he gave in 2005.
The imam has rejected charges
that his group engages in crim-
inal activities and describes the
Jamaat as solely a religious and
Bridget Brereton, an emeritus
professor of history at T&T s
campus of the University of the
West Indies, said she s hopeful
the commission can provide the
full truth about the coup
attempt, which she believes has
contributed to the country s
ongoing problems with gang
violence and crimes committed
"It introduced the notion of
violent, extremist behaviour, and
helped set the tone for the spi-
raling murder and crime rate,"
Commission members, led by
Barbadian jurist David Simmons,
said they will not comment until
the probe ends.
Although some Trinidadians
believe the inquiry into long ago
events is a waste of time, others
wonder why it took the govern-
ment so long to examine the cri-
"In the US, something like this
would have been interrogated
immediately because it s a mat-
ter of record. But in societies
such as this a lot of things go
a-begging," said Ryan, the polit-
For his part, Bakr asserts that
the armed uprising against what
he terms T&T s "corrupt gov-
ernment" was preordained.
"I am not any mastermind
because I led the coup, nor am
I any brilliant strategist or noth-
ing. It has nothing to do with
that," Bakr told the AP.
"I mean, God wanted some
justice in this matter and he just
took the people who were best,
just 114 of us."
Members of the public loot a series of businesses on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain during the 1990 attempted coup.
T&T/US green initiative soon---Page A14
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