Trinidad has the highest Islamic State recruitment in the Western hemisphere. The Islamic State’s latest Rumiya magazine issue featured an interview with a jihadi called Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi, in which he “urged Muslims in his homeland to attack fellow citizens” and to “terrify the disbelievers in their own homes and make their streets run with their blood.”
Trinidad and Tobago is also home to the only jihadist uprising in the Western Hemisphere and is only three miles off the coast of Venezuela. In 2015, Retired General John Kelly, “warned that Sunni extremists are radicalizing converts and other Muslims in Latin America, adding that ISIS may exploit trafficking organizations in the region to infiltrate the United States.”
“Trying to Stanch Trinidad’s Flow of Young Recruits to ISIS,” by Frances Robles, New York Times, February 21, 2017:
ENTERPRISE, Trinidad and Tobago — By the time he was 17, Fahyim Sabur had memorized the Quran.
At 23, he was shunning calypso parties and giving private Arabic lessons in his neighborhood here in Enterprise, about 20 miles south of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.
A year later, he was on the battlefield in Syria, where he died fighting for the Islamic State.
“He never spoke to me about it,” said his father, Abdus Sabur, 56, who sells meat patties on the street. “National Security called me one day and told me, ‘Your son is dead.’ ”
Law enforcement officials in Trinidad and Tobago, a small Caribbean island nation off the coast of Venezuela, are scrambling to close a pipeline that has sent a steady stream of young Muslims to Syria, where they have taken up arms for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
American officials worry about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States, fearing that Trinidadian fighters could return from the Middle East and attack American diplomatic and oil installations in Trinidad, or even take a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami.
President Trump spoke by telephone over the weekend with Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago about terrorism and other security challenges, including foreign fighters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said.
Trinidad has a history of Islamist extremism — a radical Muslim group was responsible for a failed coup in 1990 that lasted six days, and in 2012 a Trinidadian man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a plot to blow up Kennedy International Airport. Muslims make up only about 6 percent of the population, and the combatants often come from the margins of society, some of them on the run from criminal charges.
They saw few opportunities in an oil-rich nation whose economy has declined with the price of petroleum, experts say. Some were gang members who either converted or were radicalized in prison, while others have been swayed by local imams who studied in the Middle East, according to Muslim leaders and American officials.
The young men found solace in radical Islamist websites and social media.
And in the call to jihad.
In contrast to the laws of many countries, it is not illegal in Trinidad to join the so-called caliphate, though the government wants to change that. One hundred to 130 people have made the trip to Syria from Trinidad, which has a population of 1.3 million, according to a former United States ambassador, John L. Estrada, and Trinidad’s minister of national security, Edmund Dillon.
By comparison, about 250 citizens of the United States, a country with 240 times the population, had joined the extremists or attempted to travel to Syria by late 2015, according to a House Homeland Security Committee report.
Per capita, Trinidad has the greatest number of foreign fighters from the Western Hemisphere who have joined the Islamic State, said Mr. Estrada, who stepped down after the inauguration of President Trump last month.
“Trinidadians do very well with ISIL,” Mr. Estrada said. “They are high up in the ranks, they are very respected and they are English-speaking. ISIL have used them for propaganda to spread their message through the Caribbean.”
Much of the information about the identities of those who went abroad comes from American intelligence sources, although local imams and Islamic leaders all said they knew several people, including women, who had left.
“I know whole families that went,” said Imtiaz Mohammed, president of the Islamic Missionaries Guild, which does charity work in Trinidad and the Middle East.
Juan S. Gonzalez, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the bulk of Islamic State fighters from Latin America originated in Trinidad and Tobago. The numbers underscore a risk of lone-wolf attacks in the region, he added.
“As the United States continues to corner ISIS and defeat them, a lot of these guys aren’t going to feel they have safe quarters,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Is the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, prepared for these guys to return back to their countries? This is a real vulnerability.”
He noted that people in the Caribbean enjoyed visa-free travel throughout the islands, which makes it fairly easy to travel to the Bahamas, and from there make a “short jump” to South Florida.
The United States, which encouraged Trinidad to tighten its laws, has hosted meetings with Muslim leaders at the embassy in Port of Spain, and paid for several to attend anti-extremism workshops in the United States….