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Returning foreign fighters pose risk to Trinidad and Tobago

25 April 2019 Jane's Editorial Staff

This is an extract from an article published in Jane's Intelligence Review and available as part of Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

Within the Western hemisphere, Trinidad and Tobago has the highest per capita ratio of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. Kemi Barca, analyst for Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, examines the threat posed by returning Islamic State fighters to the twin-island state.

Key Points

  • Territorial losses in Iraq and Syria may inspire foreign fighters from Trinidad and Tobago to return and conduct localised attacks, working with national and transnational networks.
  • Previous attempted Islamist attacks and the overlap of criminality and terrorism elevate the risk level, with UK and US citizens at particular risk because of their countries' counter-terrorism assistance.
  • The risk of improvised explosive device attacks is low, although illegal weapons trafficking increases the likelihood of a small-arms lone-actor attack.

Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside militants are "likely to pose a security threat on return."

On 25 February, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated a cautionary statement against travel to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, emphasising that the risk of a terrorist attack was "very likely". The FCO stated that lone-actor attacks could be indiscriminate in nature, likely conducted in crowded places and those frequented by foreigners, and conducted by individuals who may have been inspired by non-state armed groups such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.

According to the FCO, at least 130 citizens of Trinidad and Tobago travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside Islamic State militants from 2013 onwards and are "likely to pose a security threat on return". In a longitudinal study by Dr Simon Cottee published in the Journal of International Affairs on 1 March 2019, 34% of foreign fighters from Trinidad and Tobago were assessed to be male, 23% female, 9% teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15, and 34% children under 13. The number of citizens who have travelled - relative to the island's population of 1.4 million - positions Trinidad and Tobago as having the highest number of foreign fighters per capita from the Western hemisphere, with a rate six times higher than in the UK.

However, on 15 April 2016 the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported that opposition member of parliament Dr Roodal Moonilal had disputed the FCO's figure. During a 14 April parliamentary debate, Moonilal, a former minister, claimed that the figure was at least 400, based on a leaked security document that was purportedly shared with him. These citizens, Moonilal added, who had undertaken military training, indoctrination, and had subsequently been further radicalised, were the most "significant security threat" to the island.

Defining the threat

In a 2 February 2018 article in the UK Guardian, anthropologist Dylan Kerrigan stated that young men - the majority of whom were recent converts - were "drawn to the [Islamic State's self-declared] caliphate mostly by promises of money and a sense of community". In a New York Times article on 21 February 2017, former USambassador John Estrada observed that these individuals were "high up in the ranks, they are very respected, and they are English-speaking… [The Islamic State has] used them for propaganda to spread their message through the Caribbean".

Shane Dominic Crawford (alias Abu Sad al-Trindadi), who was one of the first reported Trinidadian militants to join the Islamic State, was a key example of this dynamic. During an interview with the Islamic State's currently dormant English-language magazine Dabiq on 31 July 2016, in which he claimed to be one of "many" snipers within the group, Trinidadi encouraged Muslims in Trinidad to "attack the interests of the crusader coalition … including embassies, businesses, and civilians".

This is an extract from an article published in Jane's Intelligence Review and available as part of Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.


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