The alleged murder of Woman Police Constable Bernadette James after she saw former National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) national security ministers Selwyn Richardson and Herbert Atwell in a room at Piarco Airport with cocaine on a table was a major cause of the 1990 attempted overthow of the Government by Jamaat al Muslimeen insurgents.This was revealed by senior Jamaat member Jamaal Shabazz as he gave evidence before the commission of enquiry into the coup d'etat, at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday.Shabazz, who led the takeover of Radio Trinidad, was one of the 114 insurrectionists who were charged for the uprising.Further, the NAR's alleged indifference to the thriving drug trade and subsequent attacks on the Jamaat because of its anti-drug campaign were other reasons that led to the attempted coup, Shabazz told the commission.
He said in August 1987, WPC James visited the Jamaat and told senior members that she saw Richardson, Atwell and Major Thompson in a room at the airport with the cocaine.In his witness statement, Shabazz said Richardson had something on his finger which he tasted and said: "This is the real thing but we have to put a lid on this. If we allow them to be charged, it will be a big scandal and a lot of big people would be affected."James said she was chastised for entering the room and ordered to leave."Her opinion was that a large quantity of cocaine was intercepted by the police and it belonged to an influential family and moves were afoot to cover it up," Shabazz said.
He said James said she was confused and feared for her life.In October 1987, James was summoned to do a MOPS (police) operation in Tucker Valley where she was reportedly accidentally shot and killed in a training exercise.Shabazz said the Jamaat immediately called a meeting to discuss the matter."We felt she was murdered," he said.The Jamaat made a decision to help stamp out the cocaine trade by going after pushers on the blocks, Shabazz said."It was causing destruction in the land," he added.
He said police officers with whom Imam Yasin Abu Bakr spoke about it, said "this thing is bigger than us" and were unable to help."We focused on the East-West Corridor and took a very militant stance," Shabazz said."We seized pushers' drugs and took it to Trinidad & Tobago Television to destroy it in front of the media."When we identified a pusher, we would make a raid and bring them in."We threatened them and warned them to stop within three days or there would be more serious consequences."
Shabazz said they used heavy intimidation and succeeded in getting most of the pushers they targeted to stop the illegal trade."Aggressive hostile persons would get some licks," he said.Shabazz said with the exception of Tooks and Bulls and the King brothers, who retaliated with a war on the Muslimeen, they managed to subdue the drug trade on the East-West Corridor.Questioned by lead counsel Avory Sinanan, Shabazz denied that the Jamaat was taking the cocaine and selling it.He admitted that rogue elements in the organisation raided blocks on their own for their own benefit and claimed the Jamaat also had to deal with them.
He said sometime after their war on the cocaine trade, the police began arresting Jamaat members on trumped-up charges."They instructed the police to come down on us like a steam roller," Shabazz said."All our methods to stamp out the drug trade were met with harsh retaliation by the NAR. "They destroyed a bakery we had in an abandoned DEWD building in Laventille saying we were trespassing."We had information from national security that the army and the police would come to the compound and an accident would take place and we would be killed."The NAR tolerated the drug trade...The drug situation definitely led to the attempted coup," Shabazz said. (See Page A6)