Major arms find in Trinidad frays nerves

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A Real Avid kit for building and customizing AR-15 rifles is displayed at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, California, U.S., April 12, 2021.

The discovery of two fairly large shipments of high powered rifles and other weapons, along with gun accessories and hundreds of rounds of assorted ammunition in Trinidad in the past week, have pushed authorities to suggest that an unidentified criminal or terrorist group is organizing to create mayhem in the republic.

With the memories from the July 1990 bloody coup attempt still fresh in the minds of local politicians and enforcement officials, the policing community and cabinet say they are taking the latest discoveries seriously and think the planning by the perpetrators might not have much to do with criminal gangs or ordinary law breakers. More than 20 people were killed in the botched attempt by a Black Muslim group, parts of the commercial city were burned and looted and as the coup makers stormed parliament, the local television stations and other state institutions.

For one, Minister of Security, Fitz Hinds thinks that that there could be “a more sinister, deeper and darker plot to harm the people of this country,” while Lyle Alexander, the head of the local port authority told the local Newsday newspaper that “we all as citizens have to be concerned,” about the latest developments.

One of the shipments was intercepted at the main Piarco International Airport while the second was spotted via electronic scanner at a warehouse in Couva District, outside the capital, Port of Spain in the past week.

Trinidad has been on a heightened security posture for years as gangland violence has ravaged the country. The twin-island nation with Tobago has averaged more than 450 murders annually in the past decade, much of it linked to gangland warfare, to the drug trade and robberies among other violent crimes. Police recorded more than 520 killings last year, the second highest on record after 550 in 2008. The 2018 figure had also crossed the dreaded and depressing 500 mark.

Minister Hinds says that authorities are particularly worried this time around as the cache does not appear to be the types used in ordinary robberies.

“It doesn’t appear as though that was anything in terms of settling gang affairs because those things have happened before, because the quantity and nature of the things that were found on those two occasions demonstrate that there might be, as the police have explained, a more sinister, deeper and darker motives,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “I am not a police officer and they assured me they are investigating it because surely the people of T&T would want to know who would want to accumulate that kind of weaponry, but we know that the difference between those people in their illegality and our forces, is the discipline and the training and the moral posture that we stand on to do what is right in the protection of the people of T&T.”

Part of the reason officials are very worried this time has to do with the assortment of weapons, ammunition, accessories and police equipment unearthed in the discoveries.

These included police sirens, blue flashing lights, bullet proof vests, magazine holders, parts for an AR-15 rifle, the favored types for mass killings in the US, bullets for a large range of weapons, a rifle with night vision equipment loved by assassins and equipment to convert hand guns into rapid firing systems like rifles.

Two arrests have been made. In both cases, addresses for senders and receivers were listed on its shipped packages and police are looking for a male who had turned up to collect one of the shipments but left before he was nabbed.

Meanwhile, Deputy Police Chief, MacDonald Jacob suggests that intelligence officials will be better able to determine the reasons the weapons were imported in the coming days as sleuths are probing deep into the underworld to make a determination.

“In time we’ll be able to say more as our intelligence is working on it but we don’t have anything so far to say that something like that (referring to the 1990 coup) is developing,” Jacob said.