A turning tide? Terrorism and the Caribbean

Written by Sarah Reynolds on Tuesday November 21, 2017

If you were asked to think of the Caribbean, many of you would perhaps immediately think of crystal blue seas and white, sandy beaches, the cricketing prowess the region is known for, spectacular carnivals and the origin of reggae music. Some of us may even think of offshore financial centres, but terrorism would certainly be the furthest thought from our minds when thinking of this beautiful region.


How many of us, if we were then asked to think of terrorism and the Caribbean, would think back to the bygone era of piracy; of Calico Jack and mutiny on the seas? But this era ended around the 1830s so surely terrorism is something that now happens outside of the Caribbean, doesn’t it?  


The Caribbean’s history of terrorism

Actually, no, it isn’t something that happens to other countries: the Caribbean has not been immune to terrorist activity and has suffered its own heartache in this area. Terrorist attacks in the Caribbean have, to date, been relatively rare, and generally, have been born from regional political conflicts. Some incidents over the last 50 years include:

  • 1968, assassination of the Haitian Consul, Bahamas
  • 1969, attempted firebombing of Duvalier’s palace, Haiti
  • 1976, bombing of Guyana Consulate-General, Trinidad
  • 1976, attack on a Soviet ship, Bahamas
  • 1980, bombing at airport, Guadeloupe
  • 1983, bombing in Port au Prince, Haiti
  • 1987, bombing of Peace Corp offices, Dominican Republic
  • 1990, bombing of police headquarters, Trinidad
  • 1997, series of hotel bombings, Cuba
  • 2005, numerous street bombings (July, Sept, Oct), Trinidad


However, the most devastating terrorist incident within the Caribbean occurred in October 1976, when a bomb on a Cuban passenger jet was detonated over Barbados and all 73 people on board the flight were killed.


But what about the risk to the Caribbean today?


In more recent years, there has been a rise in cyber security incidents. In 2015 St Vincent and the Bahamas saw their government websites taken over by persons claiming to support ISIS, and occurrences of cyber attacks also occurred in 2014 and 2012 on sensitive government servers in Jamaica, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic.


The impact of terrorism in the Caribbean is a valid concern and as recently as August 2017, one of the regions islands, Jamaica, was linked to radical Islam when 53-year-old Sheikh Abdullah el Faisal (Trevor William Forrest) was arrested in Kingston.


The arrest is the first of a suspected recruiter for ISIS in the Caribbean and could potentially reveal a link between the radical group and its recruitment in the region. In addition, there have been indications that persons from the Caribbean, including Trinidad, travelled to Iraq and Syria in 2013 with the intention of fighting with terrorist organisations.


In April of this year, St Lucia’s National Security Minister, Hermangild Francis, voiced his concerns regarding terrorism and the threat it poses to the Caribbean in his address to members of the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce: ‘We do not have the exact numbers of ISIS fighters returning to their countries but we know that between 150 and 400 of these individuals, especially from Trinidad and Tobago, have returned’. 


Despite the obvious increased risk to the Caribbean in recent years, when the US Department of State Publication Bureau of Counterterrorism released its Country Report on terrorism 2016 in July, Trinidad and Tobago was the only Caribbean country listed in the Western Hemisphere, indicating that the risk is still considered to be relatively low.


The future

Many of the islands have had in place their own local terrorism and combating the financing of terrorism laws for many a year now, however, it is only in more recent years that governments are placing the risk of terrorism on their priority list, recognising the irreparable damage such a risk could cause to local infrastructures.


‘Terrorism represents a clear and present danger to Caribbean people and industries, including tourism. We’ve agreed to be resolute in our collective stand,’ said Francis Forbes, Executive Director of CARICOM’s Crime and Security Agency at its Counter-Terrorism Strategy conference in June.


Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister, the Hn. Maj. Gen. Edmund Dillon opened the conference stressing the importance of a structured terrorism defence: ‘The development of Caricom’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, as a roadmap identifying how the region should address the issue, isn’t only timely but crucial for its survival’.


‘Caricom countries must seek to criminalise and penalise acts of terrorism by nationals and non-nationals in a coordinated manner and regional anti-terrorism legislation must be equally stringent and consistent’.


Reflecting this recognition, in November 2016 the Caribbean Community for Crime and Security (CARICOM) released its Cyber Security and Cybercrime Action Plan (CCSCAP) which ‘seeks to address the cyber security vulnerabilities in each Caribbean country and to establish a practical, harmonised standard of practices, systems and expertise for Cyber Security to which each Caribbean country can aspire’, and in the fourth quarter of 2016 CARICOM/IMPACS took steps to develop a co-ordinated regional counter-terrorism strategy for the Caribbean, designed to ensure that ‘counter-terrorism measures in one country do not simply displace terrorists to less secure, more hospitable areas in the region’. The draft strategy is still under construction following the presentation of the first draft in June this year.


CARICOM has already demonstrated it has recognised that improvements can be made and is determined to address any previous weakness or vulnerability in this arena. The final counter-terrorism strategy will be an important milestone towards efforts to strengthen regional terrorism in all its forms.



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