JO - Calypso conspirators
Sunday, June 10, 2007
British and American media have worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement about a possible Caribbean al-Qaeda terrorist cell in the United States. It is alleged that there was a plot to blow up New York's John F Kennedy Airport.
US attorney Roslynn Mauskopf told a press conference that it was "one of the most chilling plots imaginable", and added, "Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction".
New York's police commissioner Raymond Kelly suggested the Caribbean connection opened up a whole new potential threat to the United States. "This is an area in which we have growing concern, and that I think requires a lot more focus," he said. So what lay behind it all? Do Islamic terrorists really have cells in the West Indies? Are West Indians in America the enemy within?
It is worth noting that all of the supposed Islamic terrorists are actually black Muslim converts. The four accused are: Russell deFreitas who is of Afro-Guyanese origin but is a long-time New York resident; Abdul Kadir (born Michael Seaforth) another Afro-Guyanese; Kareem Ibrahim (known as Pops) an Afro-Trinidadian and Abdul Nur (born Compton Eversley) another Afro-Trinidadian. deFreitas was arrested in New York and the others are being held in Trinidad. Of the four, Abdul Kadir is probably the most substantial figure and (at 55) the youngest. He is a trained civil engineer who spent his career in Guyana's bauxite industry. So he was probably the one with the most technical competence to carry out the plot they were accused of planning.
But he was also a serious political player in Guyana. A member of the main (Afro-Guyanese) dominated opposition party, he had been mayor of the well-known black town of Linden and a member of parliament. deFreitas, 63, has been described as "a small-time hustler who lived at society's margin"; 57 year-old Nur was deported from the United States in the late 1980s for drug offences and was described as someone who "worked odd jobs, smoked drugs at night and talked about Americans as oppressors"; while little is known about 61 year-old Ibrahim.
Islam in the West Indies is more significant than some might think. The countries with the most Muslims are Suriname, Trinidad, and Guyana. Trinidad apparently has the largest concentration of mosques in the western hemisphere - 85 in all. The first Muslims in the region were African slaves from West Africa. The majority now are from the Indian sub-continent. But in Trinidad, and Guyana in particular, some black people have embraced Islam.
A Guyanese politician, Hamilton Green, explained his conversion in these terms, "In the old colonial days, to gain access to public positions in the social service, and for social mobility, one had to be a Christian. In fact, many parents of today's Christian families converted as a prerequisite of acceptance. But I saw myself as an Afro-Guyanese. I recognised that my earliest ancestors who came to Guyana and the West Indies were not Christians. I took a personal objection that I was railroaded into a religion, the choice of which I had nothing to do with, and I chose the religion of my ancestors". He probably sums up the position of most black Muslim converts in the region. It is a political rather than a theological choice.
Much has been made about the alleged links between the New York plotters and a Muslim organisation in Trinidad, Jamaat-al-Muslimen. This notorious group is led by Yasin Abu Bakr (born Lennox Philips). In 1990, they staged an attempted coup in Trinidad. They stormed Parliament and the TV station and took the Cabinet hostage. Twenty-four people died. But the coup had more to do with Trinidad's history of racially inspired riots and revolutionary social protest movements than it had to do with Osama bin Laden.
Most recently, the Trinidad police say the group has had more to do with criminal rackets than political causes. And Abu Bakr emphatically denies any involvement in the plot.The dramatic news reporting about the plot obscured the fact that it had not got much further than long (probably inebriated) conversations on the telephone.
The plotters had no money and no explosives. The original plan had been to crash an aeroplane into several other passenger jets on the ground at Kennedy in order to create a catastrophic explosion. But the conspirators did not have the requisite skills (none of them could fly) and could not recruit anyone else, so they decided to set off an explosion at the airport's fuel tanks in New Jersey.
Apparently they hoped the pipelines would blow up and kill thousands. But a spokesman for the company which operates the pipelines pointed out that pipeline safety mechanisms and the difficulty of igniting jet fuel mean they could not have been ignited by an explosion at the fuel tanks. And US officials have admitted that there is no reason to believe that the four accused had the technical know-how, or the simple competence to carry out the plot they were fantasising about.
But if George W Bush is to continue his war on terror and justify the slaughter in Afghanistan and Iraq, he needs to keep the American population terrified with blood-curdling tales of terrorist plots. It is convenient that news of this alleged plot surfaced at a time when the American public's support for the war in Iraq is at an all-time low. It has suited the American authorities to hype up this ageing and penniless group of Caribbean conspirators. But I suspect we will find that their terrifying plot only really existed in their imaginations.