MP for Naparima Rodney Charles is calling on Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley to immediately suspend his vacation and state clearly T&T’s policy regarding the close monitoring of home-grown jihadists intent on fighting alongside ISIS. And he must also state what action his government intends to adopt regarding their re-entry into the country.
This matter is urgent and requires immediate and focused attention from a government that so far seems intent on just burying its head in the sand on a plethora of national issues. These problems will simply not go away.
Mr Charles stated that he was alarmed and deeply disappointed that at a time when the world is under constant threat from global terrorism and some of our nationals are eager to join terrorist forces that there are no clear answers from the Rowley PNM government about how to deal with this problem.
In a statement Mr Charles said “I wish to remind the population that the Opposition asked Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon in Parliament whether the Government would change or revise its policy of allowing free, unrestricted and unhindered re-entry of local jihadists returning from ISIS. His only answer was that “a conversation” was taking place with the Attorney General and that he was unable provide any more details.”
The MP added, “The latest comments from the Attorney General on the matter remain vague and non-committal. In media reports Faris Al Rawi is quoted as saying that legislation to address these security matters is under consideration and is expected to go to Parliament in September.”
But what about imminent threats and the clear and present dangers we face from jihadists, nine of whom have been arrested in Turkey and are being returned to Trinidad?
In April 2016, the Prime Minister was asked, in his capacity as the head of the National Security Council, about the steps the Government was taking to treat with the eventual return of T&T nationals fighting with ISIS.
His off the cuff answer that legislative changes would be required showed that his government had not given any thought to the problem. Several months later, the answer remains the same with the government’s position being that “we cannot deny them access to their home country” and that returning jihadists would be treated “as a security concern”.
Before getting into power Keith Rowley declared that there was no need to think about these international issues, he was heavily critical of former Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar’s decision to have Trinidad and Tobago co-sponsor the UN Security Council Resolution on global terrorism. Where Mrs Persad- Bissessar took the lead and sought to the deal with the threat frontally the Rowley administration remains myopic, short-sighted and lacking a plan. They will now simply react because they have no plan.
The terrorists are likely be on their way back to Trinidad and we still have no answers. What does treating them as a “security concern” entail? Will they be arrested? If so will they be held among the general prison population?
Given that we are in the verge of a crisis in the nation’s prison system, it seems ill advised that we place international terrorist on Fredrick Street.
In 2014, the world understood that gravity of the problem – that ISIS was a global threat. In September 2014, Belgium, tried 46 of its citizens – some in absentia – for their involvement with Sharia4Belgium, a group that helped send jihadists to Syria. Have our local intelligence agencies identified how persons are recruited from Trinidad and Tobago?”
The UK sought to deal with the threat by expanding their terror legislation. They considered special exclusion orders, which would have prevented suspected fighters from re-entering the UK unless they agreed to strict controls. While these suggestions were the topic of great debate, at least the Government presented ideas that could be scrutinized and adjusted to fit the needs of the population.
The city of Aarhus in Denmark has opted to go the route of counseling and rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago’s government is having clandestine “conversations” and cannot present a coherent policy to the country. This is the height of irresponsibility in the face of a serious national security threat.
If Trinidad and Tobago is perceived as being incapable of dealing with terrorists, or if we allow the threat to fester unchecked, there would be serious international consequences and our law-abiding citizens would be made to pay a heavy price for the Government’s incompetence. For example Schengen waiver status may very well be at risk.
In November 2015, Al- Rawi said that “we will apply existing anti-terrorism laws in tracking and monitoring of alleged Foreign Terrorist Fighters from T&T, and specifically cases concerning potential returns.” Now in August 2016, he is telling the population give them until September. Clearly they were not ready to govern.
Almost one year later we have heard nothing new on this important issue, just them pandering for more time. Meanwhile we have moved now from a case of “potential returns” to actual returning foreign terrorist fighters, and the government is still “conversing”.
Mr Charles stated that “The Government is clueless on how to deal with national security. Crime is spiraling out of control and unchecked, while the Prime Minister choses to go on an ill-timed vacation.”
He added “I call on the Government to clearly define its policy on how it will deal with these nine jihadists and others who might follow especially as reports indicate that there are at least 100 of our citizens fighting in Syria. The government must tell the population more about the legislation it claims to be working on. And it must tell us what measures it intends to take to prevent or minimize the recruitment of T&T nationals to ISIS.”
Member of Parliament for Naparima