PORT OF SPAIN –– Approximately 130 T&T nationals –– adults and family members –– have left T&T to get involved in terrorist activities in other countries, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon confirmed yesterday.
He gave the figure in the Senate in response to questions from Independent Senator Paul Richards.
“Based on our information at this point in time, there are approximately 130 nationals who have left T&T involved in terrorist activities in countries away from T&T,” Dillon said.
“Information at hand right now reflects about 70 adults and roughly about 58 family members.”
The figure given by Dillon is the latest confirmed estimate of the number of people who have left T&T to become involved in terrorist activities overseas, but represents an increase over previous figures.
Last April, after Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal said 400 T&T nationals were radicalised by the Islamic State and men, women and children had gone to Syria, the T&T Guardian obtained a security report with the names, backgrounds, dates of departures and routes of about 105 men, women and children who left to join ISIS over 2013-2015.
Up to last August, the Sunday Guardian had confirmed that 120 T&T nationals –– fighters plus family members –– had gone to ISIS zones up to then.
Yesterday in the Senate, Richards posed questions based on Dillon’s press statement on Monday, which indicated the involvement of T&T nationals in terrorist activity.
In that statement, Dillon confirmed T&T “is currently experiencing challenges with some T&T nationals being linked to terrorist groups internationally”. That statement came after another one issued that day by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, slamming US commentator Malcolm Nance’s recent accusation about T&T on MSNBC network.
Nance, referring to the US’ recent visa ban for seven countries, had said the US “hadn’t banned terrorists from Brazil and ISIS has dozens of members from Brazil or Trinidad or the Bahamas, who have more terrorist members than any of those [seven countries]”.
The Bahamas refuted Nance’s statement, demanding an apology.
Rowley meanwhile said Nance’s “broad and simplistic statement wasn’t supported by fact”.
Responding yesterday to Senate queries on whether Nance’s statements were correct, Dillon said, “We’re unable to say the correctness of Mr Nance’s statement for the mere reason that we don’t have information on the seven countries he’s compared T&T with.”
Dillon said he didn’t have information “at hand” on whether Government has asked MSNBC or Nance for evidence supporting Nance’s claims. On whether Government was going to demand that Nance apologise, Dillon said he wasn’t able to answer “at this time”.
Asked about Monday’s National Security press release about the involvement of nationals in terrorist activities and how many are linked to international terrorist groups, Dillon then confirmed the figure of 130 who left T&T and are involved in terrorist activities overseas.
Dillon added, “In terms of intelligence and information-gathering, people leave T&T sometimes for destinations not mentioned. For example, for England and end up in Syria, and the intended destination isn’t known to us.
“Therefore, we rely on international partners to give us the kind of information that will confirm they’re in a terrorist country.”
On whether Government has assessed what kind of impact such people may be having on local crime, Dillon said this was ongoing.
On measures to deal with nationals linked with terrorist activities overseas, Dillon said, “Government gives the assurance it’s working closely with international partners –– the US, Canada, UK –– on strategic areas such as intelligence sharing, concerning nationals found to be associated with any terrorist group, whether locally or internationally.”
Speaking to reporters, Dillon said local courts, based on applications by the Attorney General, have listed over 300 individuals/entities and their associates which were designated as terrorist entities by the United Nations’ Security Council. These are largely foreign entities to date.
National Security is also liaising with international counterparts who have offered collaboration to conduct programmes in “Countering Violent Extremism”.
T&T cannot condemn MSNBC commentator Malcolm Nance’s statements, Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.
Moonilal had raised the issue of T&T nationals linked with the Islamic State last April, when he said ISIS had radicalised about 400 T&T nationals and men, women and children had gone to Syria. He said Dillon’s statements were “something we warned Government about”.
Noting a December 2016 Elite Daily report quoting him and others on the issue of nationals joining Isis, Moonilal added, “We (PP Government) had information on the impending threat and warned Government to present a legislative/policy agenda to treat with this, yet they did nothing in 17 months.
“They continue liming and gallerying while citizens’ security is threatened at every level, from the doubles man onwards. Because of Government’s inaction, T&T can face sanctions from the Trump administration.”
He added, “Regrettably I was right and at this stage we cannot condemn Mr Nance and the Prime Minister can’t ask him to apologise as he knows the truth – we cannot sweep this under the carpet.”
The Elite Daily’s report on T&T was resurrected after Nance’s comments.