After an account by a German author, now back from examining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) in Iraq and who encountered recruits from T&T in Mosul, National Security Minister Gary Griffith has confirmed there are 12 T&T nationals who are with Isis, mainly persons who were involved in crime and gang-related activities in T&T.
Griffith was contacted yesterday following breaking reports from former German politician Juergen Todenhoefer, who spent just over a week in the Isis-controlled city of Mosul, Iraq, and two other similar areas in Syria and Iraq. Granted unprecedented access, he spoke to Isis fighters and child soldiers.Todenhoefer, 74, who had objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had negotiated for the visit with the radical Islamic group for seven months but at the end he said he returned home pessimistic.
He filed a report detailing issues he noted during his visit, including sex-slavery trauma, how extremist groups raised money and other matters.He said Isis was stronger, more brutal and harder to confront than he had expected and found Isis followers highly motivated and supportive of the group's brutality.He said he "met child fighters bearing arms" and encountered recruits from around the world, including US, UK, Sweden and T&T." The numbers included 14 Americans.
Todenhoefer said he was struck by their brutal zeal and the scale of their ambition to carry out "religious cleansing" and to expand their territory.He is quoted as saying: "They are the most brutal and most dangerous enemy I have ever seen in my life... (it's) terrible to feel people can be enthusiastic about killing hundreds of millions of people."There's an enthusiasm I have never seen before in war zones. They are so confident, so sure of themselves."
Todenhoefer warned Isis was bent on religious cleansing."It's their official philosophy. They are talking about 500 million people have to die," he added.He said there was a constant stream of men coming to sign up to fight. He explained: "When we stayed at their recruitment house there were 50 new fighters who came every day. I just could not believe the glow in their eyes. They felt like they were coming to a promised land, like they were fighting for the right thing.
"At the beginning of this year few people knew of Isis but now they have conquered an area the size of the UK. This is a one per cent movement with the power of a nuclear bomb or a tsunami. "I had the impression they want to show the Islamic State is working. I don't see anyone who has a real chance to stop them. Only Arabs can stop Isis. I came back very pessimistic."
T&T women being used as decoys
Contacted yesterday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith told the T&T Guardian apart from the 12 confirmed cases of people leaving T&T to fight with Isis' 30,000-strong Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) complement from over 80 countries, Government was monitoring T&T women who were going and acting as support for male T&T nationals.
"Some are accompanying the men to make it look like it's a family travelling normally to try to fool authorities that they are on legitimate travel purposes," he added.Griffith said intelligence reports have confirmed that the T&T nationals who have gone to join Isis were largely those involved with radical Islamic sects and who had been involved in crime locally.
He said security agencies have also red flagged a number of people of interest in T&T who were aiding and abetting T&T nationals in going to Iraq (via Syria), by providing financing and assisting with getting visas and travel documents for them. The route is usually through Europe and Turkey.Griffith said: "The situation means we cannot afford to heed, for instance, PNM protests and play possum. Those days are gone."
After co-sponsoring the UN counter-terrorism resolution in September, he said T&T was now examining ways to prevent the return to T&T of any FTFs. He said he was seeking meetings with the UK and US on that to pool information, since return routes could take people through such countries.He added: "If they want to be foolish enough to go there (Iraq), we don't want them to come back. Let them stay there."
"One thing I won't compromise on this is infiltration and the difference between intelligence and evidence on this could be a terrorist act in T&T so on this aspect we will act on intelligence and if this shows someone is or was involved in terrorist activity, we won't wait to arrest them."
Venezuela case ongoing
On the five T&T nationals detained in Venezuela since March 19 on alleged terrorist activities, Griffith said he had spoken with attorney Nafeesa Mohammed and their families, who have insisted the men are not involved in the alleged activity.Griffith said he intended to meet on the issue with the Venezuelan ambassador through the Foreign Affairs Ministry but he stressed Government could not force any sovereign state's hand on such issues.
Also contacted yesterday, Mohammed said she met Griffith two weeks ago on the issue. She said, however, that the case was still at a preliminary stage and no date was set for hearing.
The T&T Guardian had received reports at mid-year that at least one of the Trinis who had gone to Syria to fight last year was killed and the businessman's southern relatives had prayers for him.On the possibility that the passports or other ID material of such T&T nationals could be used by Isis members to enter T&T, Griffith said it would be difficult to manipulate local passports due to the electronic systems now in use.
Saying terrorists have shifted in recent years to "soft" targets involving lesser risk, such as the general citizenry, Griffith said it was particularly crucial to monitor certain T&T groups, organisations and families, as intelligence agencies have been doing, to track their assistance to terrorists.He noted the recent attack on the Canadian Parliament and that Australia recently thwarted an Isis plot on its home turf also.
He said T&T would also receive the armoured personnel carriers, similar to ones used to deal with the Canadian Parliament attack, in the next month or two.