Trial of ISIS Plot to Kill U.S. Ambassador to Suriname Gets No Coverage

Last year, a few foreign news outlets reported an alleged local ISIS plot to murder the U.S. ambassador to … Suriname. My curiosity was piqued -- an ISIS franchise in South America? -- but coverage has been extremely rare.

To date, no American media outlet has regarded an ISIS plot to murder an American diplomat in Paramaribo as newsy enough to send a reporter there, or even to ask around in Washington. These events are so unusual that the U.S. State Department's most recently released Country Reports on Terrorism, in its section on South America, doesn't even offer a section about Suriname.

Here’s what is known, as best as can be pieced together from local news outlets in the former Dutch colony of 500,000 Dutch-speaking people. (Suriname, by the way, is nestled between Guyana and French Guiana, which are on Brazil’s northern border to the east of Venezuela. One other terrorism-related oddity about Suriname: the son of former President Desi Bouterse -- who had ironically worked on the country’s national counterterror unit -- is currently in a U.S. prison serving time for attempting to support Hezbollah in a conspiracy to traffic in narcotics.)

This story broke on July 23, 2017, when “information from foreign intelligence agencies” and local sources led to SWAT raids and the arrests of two Dutch-Surinamese brothers, Raoul A. (35) and Nasser A. (31), who had started a Sharia law-compliant butchery. Several other suspects were arrested as well. A reported target of terrorist plotting was career diplomat Ambassador Edwin R. Nolan, who arrived at his appointed post in December 2015 and who apparently remains on post. There’s been some unresolved, contradictory reporting about whether the ambassador and embassy were credibly targeted, or targeted at all. But information has been scarce, and the American embassy has not commented.

The brothers were among five suspects “believed to be Muslim” who were initially arrested, according to local reporting. One of the suspects reportedly was the daughter of Ronnie Brunswijk, a member of Parliament and former guerilla commando. Brunswijk confirmed that his daughter, who was riding in the same car as the suspects, also was arrested but was soon released. The two arrested brothers, both born in the Netherlands before emigrating to their parents’ native Suriname a few years before their arrests, were charged with terrorism-related offenses and faced trial in Paramaribo.

Many months elapsed before more news was published about this caper. The May 23, 2018, issue of The Daily Herald, which describes itself as “the leading newspaper for St. Maarten and the Northeast Caribbean,” finally advanced the story by providing some initial trial coverage. It reported that the brothers regarded themselves as ISIS loyalists and actively recruited fighters to go to Syria, at least two of them from Suriname. At a hearing in May, authorities reportedly produced chat messages that showed Raoul A. had developed “tight relationships” with key people within ISIS. He was described as the “brains behind the Islamic State’s branch in Suriname” and said to run online chatrooms where radicalized locals could meet virtually. Both brothers reportedly were planning to relocate to Syria with their families, but were arrested first.

One of their recruits was a local woman named “Fiona S.” She actually attempted to reach Syria but was caught at the Turkey border and returned to Suriname.

Nothing further seems to have been reported about the targeting of Ambassador Nolen and/or the U.S. embassy. There’s been no news since late May on the trial proceedings.

Surinamese authorities did take seriously an “ISIS terror threat” posted on social media threatening mass killings if Raoul A. and Nasser A. were not released from jail, according to the Jamaica Observer. The posted threat: “Listen to me Suriname and listen clearly. This is a message from ISIS. Free our brothers. We will kill 50 peoples from Anton de Kom University, Santa Boma and Lyceum 1. If you do not take it seriously, we will kill more.”

Until now, Suriname had not been associated with Islamic terrorism or any plot such as this. But the plot -- and a presumably ongoing counterterrorism investigation there -- would register as significant on a number of counts beyond just the fact that Islamic terrorists possibly aspired to murder an insufficiently protected American diplomat, a la Benghazi.

American media ought to go down and ask some questions. Here’s why:

1. Suriname maintains close cultural, political, and trade ties to the Netherlands, which happened to be a source country for many passport-holding extremists who fought with ISIS in Syria. Dutch passport holders and thousands of other European Union citizens who fought with ISIS can hop a plane to Suriname without a visa, at a time when returning terrorist fighters are presumed to be widely circulating through the global bloodstream. As documented here, once Islamic terrorists find the easy breach into a Latin American nation like Suriname, they're in the smuggling lanes to the Texas border.

Furthermore, the State Department’s country reports on terrorism has this to say about Latin America:

Many countries in Latin America have porous borders, limited law enforcement capabilities, and established smuggling routes. These vulnerabilities offered opportunities to local and international terrorist groups ... Canada and the Caribbean -- particularly Trinidad and Tobago -- were sources of foreign terrorist fighters in 2016; the return of these trained foreign terrorist fighters is of great concern.

2. A viable Islamic terrorist cell formed in Suriname is certainly a national security concern. This thwarted plot demonstrates that the security of our diplomats and American tourists in sleepy, out-of-the-way corners of the world may no longer be taken for granted. Our national security apparatus may need to start extending a more penetrating view into obscure former European colonies with lax visa requirements -- like Suriname -- to keep Americans safe.

3. When American diplomats anywhere become targets of purported Islamic terrorist plots, that's a news story. Even with U.S. media facing dire criticism these days, many Americans would still prefer to get news from American outlets rather than small foreign newspapers that may be less reliable. As a former reporter myself, I would suggest to American news reporters that they should please get to it already.