The Caribbean is not immune
The sensitivesubject of terrorism in a Caribbean context is a matter this column hasaddressed before with some caution. However, following recent events in Europeit is clear that it is an issue that now needs to be taken more seriously inthe region as those who wish harm to the world begin to deploy their ‘foreignpolicy’.
As Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua’s Ambassador to the US made clear two weeks ago in speech aboutthe Commonwealth’s global role for good, the Caribbean “should not linger inthe false notion that small countries are immune from the conflicts that engulflarger and more powerful states”.
“Myworst nightmare for our idyllic islands of the Caribbean is that the tactics ofterror so casually utilised by extreme groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS)will be deployed within them,” Sir Ronald, a candidate for the post ofCommonwealth Secretary General, said.
Hiscomments preceded the appalling events in Paris on November 13 when 129 people wereruthlessly murdered at the command of nihilistic individuals with a warpedinterpretation of a peaceful religion, who will stop at nothing to obtain andweaponise whatever will kill the greatest numbers of those who do not share theirextreme views.
Ifanyone is in any doubt and believes the Caribbean is immune from what hasbecome a global problem they should consider developments in the last two weeksalone: An ISIS video featuring four Trinidad-born fighters urging Trinidad andTobago’s Muslims to take up arms to fight in Syria; news that between eighty to130 Trinidadians and their families have now travelled to Syria to fight andlive in the so called Islamic state; the arrest in St Maarten three people probablyof Syrian origin travelling from Haiti on false Greek passports ; and in theFrench territories in the Caribbean the declaration of a state of emergency.
Inaddition in March, General John Kelly, the Commander in charge of US SouthernCommand wrote in a report to the US senate that he was troubled by theoperational and financial overlap between criminal and terrorist networks inthe region. At a press conference at the time he spoke frankly about theextremists involved in radicalising some young Caribbean people and the dangersposed if they returned to countries, as he put it, where there is little capacity totrack radicalised and potentially dangerous returnees.
There isalso earlier well documented evidence that others from the Caribbean and theDiaspora, often radicalised in prisons, are in Syria.
To understandwhat is now happening internationally it is important to recognise that Daesh -a more appropriate name for ISIS – made clear earlier this year that it was focussingon the development of a ‘foreign policy.’
Accordingto analysts and security experts, Daesh is looking abroad to strengthen itsposition. To do so, it is seeking through a carefully thought through policy, waysin which it can destabilise its neighbours and export terror to its far enemies.
Writerson security issues suggest that while the group remain focussed on Iraq and itsnear enemies in the Middle East, the group is increasingly dedicating resourcesto developing an international strategy. For instance, in a well sourced recent article in the Financial Timesits security editor, Sam Jones, quoted Nigel Inkster, the Director of Transnationalthreats at the think-tank The International Institute for Strategic Studies anda former senior intelligence officer as saying: “They now have a department ofexternal attack planning. They are clearly thinking about things like cyber.And while we are seeing signs of the old al-Qaeda franchise model we also seeIsis [proactively] moving out to new areas from its core.”
In otherwords events in Paris show an organisation carefully scaling up its capabilityto conduct global campaigns.
Whilethe primary target may be the United States and its citizens, the Caribbean andCentral America’s geographic location and it porous borders and in some casespoor or corrupt policing make it an attractive area to operate out of or in.
While the likelihood of an event or anyone being involvedin any incident is statistically minimal, what is disproportionately at risk is theregion’s tourism economy, its reputation for tranquillity, and its quality oflife. As events in Tunisia, more recently in Egypt and now Paris demonstrate, tourism is the firstcasualty.
So what should be done?
At its most obvious it requires an abundance ofattention at Caribbean airports and seaports and locations where large numbersof visitors gather; greater co-operation at an inter-regional level and with externalpartners; support for resolutions being prepared for the UN laying out aninternational approach to defeating ISIS; and legislating modern laws thatenable governments, when required, to address everything from cybercrime to thetaking of DNA samples from prisoners.
It also needs thought being given to the equally politically sensitiveissue of prison reform, what is causing radicalisation of small groups andindividuals within some Caribbean nations, and the steps that might be takenwith outside support to address this.
There are also many other issues of detail that have gone unaddressedfor too long that need considering. For example there is the problem of socalled breeder documents for obtaining a passport as a consequence of therebeing no common secure single recordable system in the region relating to birthand death certificates. There also needsto be greater certainty surrounding the robustness of the processes involving Citizenshipfor Investment programmes that have the effect of granting passports and visa freetravel within region and beyond.
No one would deny these and other requirements involve often considerable expense for smallcountries and may have seemed less necessary when the likelihoodof events of the kind that have happened elsewhere were remote. However, the indications arethat the global pictureis now changing. Inaction now, whether at a national or regional level, may therefore be consideredan unforgivable gamble with the region’s economic future.
DavidJessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
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