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Terror in Paradise: Trinidad and Tobago Is Now a Jihad Hotspot

The Ministry of Tourism for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago hosts a website extolling the many exquisite charms of the “true Caribbean” to be found there. The islands offer rich history, culture, biodiversity, and lodging with views “to die for.”

Of late, though, a diaspora of Trinidad and Tobago emigres have preferred the views in Syria and Iraq, and the company of Islamic terrorist group ISIS. At least 130 of T&T’s 1.2 million citizens left their white and turquoise shorelines to fight with vicious Islamists half a world away. How did that happen? “Entire families went,” including at least 42 children, according to findings in a recent study by UK professor Simon Cottee of Kent University.

While the answer to how this pocket of Islamic terror developed is complex, now that ISIS is territorially defeated and its thousands of surviving foreign terrorist fighters are dispersing to all points, a more pressing question has arisen. What will T&T returnees and their sympathizing community do next without a pressing, defined cause like promulgating an ISIS caliphate?

The United Kingdom, which governed the tourist-heavy islands until their independence in 1976, has this to say on its “Foreign travel advice” website:

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Trinidad & Tobago. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in crowded spaces and places visited by foreigners.

Closer to American interests and overland smuggling lanes to the U.S. Southern border, the United States and some of its allies in Latin America are worried about T&T, too.

Shia groups like Hezbollah, along with its sponsor the government of Iran, have long held criminal and intelligence footholds throughout South America, as I explained in a recent update on the subject. This has included Venezuela and its offshore island of Marguerite, about 150 nautical miles from Trinidad.

But Sunni extremists like ISIS? That’s a newer upward trend, as I wrote recently when recounting a suspected plot by local ISIS sympathizers in Suriname, just around the coastal bend, to kill the U.S. ambassador in the former Dutch colony. Sizeable communities of South and Southeast Asian Muslim communities live in Suriname, Guyana, and Panama. A steady stream of migration from the Middle East dates to the early 2000s, attracted by free-trade zones in the region, according to the Jamestown Foundation and other sources. Visa-free travel is allowed throughout the Caribbean.

Trinidad & Tobago is a hotspot fitting the profile. Only about five percent of its population is Muslim, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. But this five percent are causing outsized global security concern. A hardline Sunni Islamist mosque and its imams have been accused of ginning up all kinds of trouble for decades. In 1990, a Muslim organization known as Jamaat al Muslimeen attempted a coup against the government. More than 40 Islamist insurgents stormed Parliament, taking the prime minister and most of his cabinet hostage for six days. In 2007, members of Jamaat al Muslimeen were tied to a plot to bomb New York’s JFK airport; one of its members was sentenced to life in prison.