Jamaat al Muslimeen
The radical Muslim organization Jamaat al- Muslimeen (JAM), which is locally-based, was responsible for a violent, unsuccessful coup attempt in July 1990. Since then, JAM and its leaders have focused on Islamic education and a number of business ventures and have been linked to serious crimes, including murder.
A full decade before the horrific attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, the small Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago came under its own terrorist assault from a small fundamentalist Muslim group known as the Jamaat al Muslimeen [literally when translated it means Community of Muslims]. For six days in 1990, the country, a former British colony that had achieved its independence in 1962, was held for ransom as the terrorists launched an armed invasion of the sitting Parliament and the country's lone television station. The 1990 attempted coup was carried out by Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, and 113-114 followers. On July 27, 1990 a miltant Islamic organization launched an attempted coup d' etat premised upon a hostage situation to remove a democratically elected government from power in Trinidad and Tobago. The coup unleashed widespread looting and chaos, resulted in 24 deaths, and the shooting of the prime minister.
On 27 July 1990 Jamaat-al-Muslimeen gunmen invaded the Red House, the nation's parliament building, and took as hostages the then Prime Minister ANR Robinson, Cabinet Ministers, other Members of Parliament, officials and visitors. An explosion occured at Police Headquarters on St. Vincent street when a Jamaat-al-Muslimeen operative drove a car bomb into the building. A female police officer was killed.
Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, led another group in capturing the Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) studio on Maraval Road. The staff of Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) and other persons were taken as hostages. Radio Trinidad was also captured. The Imam appeared on television and after 6:00 pm announced the overthrow of the government. He promised that elections will be held in thirty days.
Looting and destruction of property occured even as the Regiment attempted to contain the situation at the Red House. Environment and National Security Minister Lincoln Myers and Education Minister Senator Clive Pantin appeared on television from Camp Ogden to re-assure the nation that the government had not fallen. Colonel Ralph Brown re-assured the nation that the Defence Force did not collaborate with “the perpetrators of this act.”
On 28 July 1990 Acting President Emmanuel Carter appeared on television and declares a State of Emergency. A dusk to dawn curfew of 12 hours was imposed in most areas. One of 22 hours was imposed downtown around the Red House and environs, the areas most badly affected by looting and fires. Piarco Airport was closed until further notice. Planning and Mobilisation Minister Winston Dookeran is released in the morning to start negotiations. Canon Knolly Clarke accompanied him to act as mediator between the government at Camp Ogden and security forces and the Muslimeen. MP Leo des Vignes, who was injured during the course of the assault, was allowed to leave for the hospital. Meeting of Cabinet Ministers took place at Camp Ogden.
On 29 July 1990 ministers who had not been captured appeared on television. Imam Yasim Abu Bakr sent messages to Camp Ogden demanding they stop jamming the television transmission. He threatened to place explosives on the hostages. Hostages at Radio Trinidad were released and broadcasting resumes from the temporary location at Camp Ogden. The curfew was extended to eighteen hours everywhere (6:00 p.m. to 12 noon), 24 hours around the Red House, and 22 hours (3:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.) around TTT. Negotiations take place and there were urgent appeals for Jones P. Madeira to communicate with either Radio 610 or the Red House.
On 30 July 1990 there were unconfirmed report that TTT was on fire, but government broadcasts stated that only the annex had been gutted. There were reports of an agreement between the hostages in the Red House and the Muslimeen. The terms included an amnesty for all Muslimeen members involved in the insurrection; the resignation of the Prime Minister; the installation of Winston Dookeran as interim Prime Minister; and the holding of elections within 90 days. The Prime Minister spoke to members of the local and overseas media to ask for the implementation of the agreement and the release of the hostages. Cabinet Ministers Dr. Brinsley Samaroo (Food Production) and Dr. Bhoe Tewarie (Industry, Enterprise and Tourism) returned from overseas and join their collegues at Camp Ogden.
On 31 July 1990 the Prime Minister was released from the Red House.
On 01 August 1990 reports arose of unconditional surrender by Abu Bakr and his men. The first hostages emerge from Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) at 1:00 pm. Youth, Sport, Culture and Creative Arts Minister Jennifer Johnson was the first hostage to be released from the Red House. Bakr himself emerges at 2:00 p.m. He lay down his gun and watched his men leave the building. The Defence Force drove the hostage takers away to Defence Force headquarters at Chaguaramas.
Lennox Phillips, aka Abu Bakr was a tough hood who played out a losing hand. Yet in the end he came out on top--barely. What other man could attempt high treason and escape with barely two years' imprisonment?
In September 2010, the government launched a formal inquiry with the establishment of a five-member Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt. Throughout its tenure, the Commission interviewed numerous individuals and held more than a dozen public hearings in an attempt to understand what led to the coup attempt. On March 13, 2014, the final report of the Commission was presented to the President and a day later to Parliament. In her address before Parliament, then-Prime Minister Kamala Persad-Bissessar stated: “The findings of the Commission of Enquiry will be to ensure that history will not repeat itself, and to see what can be done to ensure that if such an event arises again, it can be better contained for the benefit of you the Trinidad and Tobago people.”
Bakr mellowed in his old age, but he still relishes the opportunity to serve as a thorn in the side of the government with whom he has clashed for decades. Jamaat Al Mulsimeen is no threat, its leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr said 29 July 2015 in response to a memo circulation on social media, in which police officers have been told to investigate a purported threat by the group to attack Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. In a statement, Abu Bakr said “It has been brought to our attention that a document from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service was leaked today. We have unconfirmed indications that it did not emanate from the TTPS. We would like the police to clarify its authenticity. We also urge the TTPS to act within the constraints of the law and to take every precaution to avoid discrimination against Muslims".
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