United States military troops participated in anti-terror raids in the Caribbean have helped in capturing four “high value targets” aimed at disrupting Trinidad and Tobago carnival, according to reports.
Two US military officials from the Miami-based US Southern Command, which oversees US military operations in the Caribbean, advised and assisted local Trinidadian security forces in apprehending the four extremists who are believed to be part of a network engaged in plotting terror attacks, according to CNN.
It said the US troops did not participate in any direct combat.
Trinidad and Tobago police official, Michael Jackman, told reporters on Thursday that police uncovered a threat to disrupt the carnival activities and detained “several persons of interest.”
“The public, as usual, should remain vigilant,” Jackson said.
On Thursday, the US Embassy in Port-of-Spain, the Trinidad and Tobago capital, issued a security alert saying that a terror plot has been thwarted, according to CNN.
“US government personnel are advised to exercise additional caution and increased situational awareness if they participate in carnival events,” the US Embassy statement said.
British authorities are also warning that terrorists are “very likely” to carry out attacks during Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival.
“The Trinidad and Tobago authorities have arrested some individuals who planned to carry out attacks against carnival on 12 and 13 February,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement on Friday.
Despite the arrests, the Foreign Office warns of a continuing threat.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Trinidad and Tobago,” it said, urging British visitors to “remain vigilant and avoid crowded places and large gatherings”.
About 30,000 United Kingdom citizens visit Trinidad and Tobago each year, the Independent said.
It said while some visitors have family links with Trinidad and Tobago, but most are tourists heading for Tobago.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both fly twice-weekly from Gatwick International Airport to Tobago.
“While the Caribbean is generally regarded as terrorist-free, Trinidad and Tobago is an exception,” the Independent said, alluding to data from the Foreign Office in which more than 100 citizens are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Isis and “are likely to pose a security threat on return”.
The recruitment rate, relative to Trinidad and Tobago’s population of under 1.4 million, is about six times higher than in Britain, the Independent said.
“As Isis crumbles in Syria, there are fears that returning jihadis could bring terror to the islands — with the additional risk that people who have been radicalized but failed to travel may turn on their fellow citizens,” the paper said.
“There’s also a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh and al Qaeda, to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places,” the British Foreign Office.
Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost nation in the Caribbean, is a diverse nation, with substantial numbers of people of African and Indian heritage, as well as Chinese, European and Arab minorities, the Independent said.
“Some of the major beliefs include Christianity, Hinduism and Islam,” the British Foreign Office said.
According to the 2011 census, about 5 per cent of the population are Muslim, most of them moderate and well-integrated.
But the Independent said a small group, known as Jamaat al-Muslimeen (“Community of Muslims”), launched a coup attempt in 1990, led by a convert named Yasin Abu Bakr.
He is now an Imam in the twin-island, and according to the group’s Facebook presence, has a weekly 90-minute slot on a Trinidad radio station, the Independent noted.
It said violent crime is an underlying problem in the nation, with the Canadian government also warning its citizens about traveling to Trinidad and Tobago.
“Shootings, kidnappings and other gang- and drug-related violence occur,” the warning states. “There is a risk of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crimes of opportunity tend to increase during the annual Carnival celebrations.
“There is little visible police presence in most areas of Trinidad,” it added.
Trinidad and Tobago has long been an area of concern for the US military and intelligence communities, as it is assessed to be home to ISIS sympathizers with officials saying that some of its citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join extremist groups, according to CNN.
In April 2017, US Navy Admiral Kurt Tidd, the commander of Southern Command said “some of the individuals who left Trinidad-Tobago” have shown up “on film engaged in terrorist acts” and have committed murders in Syria, reported CNN.
An October report by the Soufan Group, a security consultancy that tracks foreign fighters, said that about 130 Trinidadians have traveled to Iraq or Syria to become foreign fighters, CNN said.