2014_05_07_Bert_TT Top Lawyer Murder
Fear grips Trinidad. Hints about Muslimeen involvement in murder of top lawyer
Fear gripped this normally fete-loving Caribbean island of Trinidad in the past week following the precision but widely unexpected assassination of one of the region’s most respected attorneys and law professors with colleagues weeping openly, some magistrates expressing fears for their own lives and some of the lower courts suspending sessions to allow lawyers to grieve.
Dana Seetahal, 58, was gunned down in the trendy Woodbrook District in the capital on Friday night as she was returning home from a nearby casino that she frequented, plunging the country into a state of mourning and sparking fears that armed gangsters who have been roaming the country for the past 20 years are now targeting people in the higher echelons of society.
Seetahal was widely respected in the region as a law professor at the Trinidad Campus of the University of the West Indies, teaching and producing many of the state prosecutors, attorneys general and other highly regarded lawyers practicing in the regional trade bloc today. She was also the favorite person local and regional media would consultant for a legal or political opinion in events where a quick but neutral reaction was required.
Until Friday night, the victims of most of the murders police are forced to probe virtually every 36 hours are either people in the business community from armed robberies, gangsters involved in turf wars or people who hire them to settle grievances. Her assassination has set tongues wagging that this night well not be the case anymore.
The murder told up to mid week stood at 160 for the year so far placing the twin-island republic with Tobago on court for one of its bloodiest years to date. The recent average has been about 450 per year, proportionally among the highest in the world.
Shaken to the core like virtually everyone else in the oil and gas-rich island, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar called her murder “a direct attack on the justice system” while offering a reward of US$600,000 for information about her assassins and vowing that everything humanely possible would be done to find her attackers.
Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith said Trinidad will return to “the law of the jungle” if the judicial system is not overhauled and violent crime abated. The opposition Movement For Social Justice likened the situation to the wild west of old noting that “the execution of an individual of Ms. Seetahal’s profile is a clear attack on the institutions of the State and public figures. We are now in a new situation where public officials are, like in Colombia and Mexico, subject to the danger of assassination.” The governments of Grenada, Barbados and Guyana reacted to her death.
Meanwhile, security officials examining CCTV footage of her murder say they have identified three suspects, one of whom is known to be linked to an unnamed radical Muslim organization embedded in the country. He recently beat a murder charge and has gone into hiding after police began searching for him hours after Seetahal’s path was blocked by two vehicles and bullets pumped into her head and upper body.
She was executed just as she was participating in the trial of a gang for the murder of local supermarket magnate and was a special prosecutor in the sedition case against Jamaat leader and former 1990 attempted coup maker Abu Bakr but few in Trinidad have so far made any connections to Seetahal and the plethora of cases against the ex-policeman.