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PM confirms to House: T&T has ISIS cell

Published: 
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trinidad and Tobago has an ISIS cell.

The official confirmation came yesterday from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who was grilled by Opposition MPs on the recent threatened plot to disrupt Carnival 2018 and the causes.

Rowley fielded questions on the issue during yesterday’s monthly Parliamentary segment involving questions for the Prime Minister to answer.

On the threat to the Carnival festivities, Rowley maintained, “The threat we specifically responded to was a threat to take action against the Carnival parades by persons of interest to the security services.”

Rowley was later asked by United National Congress MP Bhoe Tewarie, “Is there anything in T&T that can be considered an ISIS cell or an ISIS satellite?”

Rowley replied, “It’s common knowledge across the world that T&T citizens subscribe to some of the doctrines of ISIS and persons from T&T have travelled to areas of combat in Iraq and Syria. Many have been intercepted in Turkey and Britain, some have been returned to T&T.

“Some are in custody in foreign countries—persons who seek to join ISIS. And in fact, as ISIS has dispersed in Iraq and Syria, that doctrine has now been spread to home-bound activities and therefore we have to be particularly concerned about such persons and the monitoring of such persons is an integral part of our national security.”

“... And the answer to the question is—yes,” Rowley added, ending his reply to Tewarie’s query.

UNC MP Rodney Charles asked how many T&T nationals with ISIS have returned home.

Rowley said, “The figure of how many terrorists have returned is a floating figure because not everyone who goes abroad and comes back is deemed to be a terrorist.

“The intent of persons will vary. However, in monitoring people who we have reason to believe pose a threat—I don’t know if it’s 63 or 100—we’re taking steps to ensure all persons so described are adequately monitored.

“It’s not possible to monitor 24 hours a day every citizen, but persons deemed to be such would be monitored. The guarantee we can give is that security services continue to pay attention to persons who threaten T&T’s stability.”

Hard to monitor terrorist activity

Tewarie asked if T&T security forces have the ability and capacity to monitor communication between an international ISIS operation and a local presence.

Rowley responded, “I don’t know any country is able to say that, as the communication is so varied and so technical.

“There’s an area called the ‘Dark Web’ where it’s said the criminals and terrorists are better able to handle it. But we do have and are improving our own ability to monitor.”

He added: “But people who are going down that road of attempting to become effective terrorists are not now only relying on those kinds of communications. For example, they rely on face to face communications and also other kinds because they know we’re monitoring them.”

The PM said many of them do not use systems as they know they’re being monitored, “They even use walkie talkies which aren’t on the phone system - they make their own systems. As they’re intent on criminal activity they continue to change their methods,”

On whether intelligence services have the wherewithal to protect citizens from surprise attacks from extremists groups, the PM indicated a surprise attack may be a surprise, whatever is in place.

“However, I want to give the country the assurance that we’ve improved our ability to monitor, intercept and respond. That ability is one of our primary efforts and we continue to improve in that area.”

He said the threat that T&T faces is a very amorphous one.

“It changes its shape, its size and location and Government, through its many agencies, is required to respond. We’ve improved the quality of our personnel, the training.

“We do so through international contacts, reports, we place persons on site who we communicate with and bring people to T&T to help with training and improve technical capabilities.

“But when you bear in mind that the nature of this particular threat which could lead to a surprise attack, is one that resides within communication in the Internet, phones and by the doctrines which are alien to us, this threat as it exist in T&T and the world will be with us for quite a while and challenge us continuously.”

However, Rowley said Government is operationalising a counter-terrorism strategy.

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