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High-Profile Arrests Ahead of Elections Raise Tempers and Eyebrows in Trinidad and Tobago

The insignia of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service; photo by Mark Morgan, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The insignia of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Photo by Mark Morgan, CC 2.0.

People in Trinidad and Tobago had to wait more than a year for it, but police finally arrested suspects in the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, who was gunned down in a carefully orchestrated hit on May 4, 2014. There has been tremendous public pressure on detectives to solve this high-profile murder case and today the police produced a name.

Yasin Abu Bakr, the mastermind behind the July 1990 coup attempt in Trinidad and Tobago, which left 24 people dead, is the man accused of murdering Seetahal. Police reportedly raided Bakr's home and mosque, detaining him and nine others for questioning.

Bakr and members of his Jamaat al Muslimeen surrendered to the authorities after signing an amnesty agreement. While the local courts upheld the amnesty, it was later invalidated by the Privy Council, though the insurgents were never re-arrested. The official reason was that too much time had elapsed, but some speculate it was in fact because of the considerable political influence wielded by Bakr and the Jamaat.

With Trinidad and Tobago's September 7 general elections less than two months away, the timing of the detentions is noteworthy. After Seetahal's murder last year, police were suggesting that the shooting could have been connected to her work as a prosecutor in the controversial murder trial of businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. Seven years earlier, three members of the Jamaat al Muslimeen confessed to being involved in Naipaul-Coolman's murder.

Reacting to the Bakr arrest, 96.1 WEFM‘s Facebook page posted the following update:

#BreakingNewsPolice searched the home of Imam Yasin Abu Bakr on Monday morning and detained the Imam for questioning…

Posted by 96.1 WEFM on Monday, July 20, 2015

Other Facebook users made quips about stocking up on batteries, candles, and food supplies, which was necessary after the attempted coup in 1990, when the country instituted a national curfew. One post on the Facebook group Johnnie Walker Talks questioned the motives behind the Bakr arrest:

Word to the wise in Trinidad and Tobago. Why arrest Abu just after Eid and not before? […] This government has something to hide by arresting this man presently just before Jack [Warner] speaks tomorrow. The motives has (sic) to be threefold.
1. Quiet him based on what Warner has to say.
2. Create panic and distraction and
3. Provoke civil unrest by citizens in order to effect another SOE [State of Emergency] since they know their business is extremely dirty.
People of Trinidad and Tobago read the signs. […] Let us all keep our eyes focussed on September 7th. DO NOT give this government what they desire – social unrest. […] Think about it. There is massive corruption, extremely slow police response to government alleged cases and absolutely no input from our excuse for a President. Our nation is in tatters and total disarray. These are the darkest days of our nation's history.

Comments on various other Facebook users also expressed skepticism about the arrests. Kendall Tidd noted:

Anything to enrage the population postpone elections and hold on to the power they not sure to have after Sept 7

Some users asserted that every year close to the anniversary of the coup on July 27 the police seem to “dig up something to detain” Bakr, while another felt that the current government needed to be “locked up,” instead. Keshav D. Ramnath suggested that the commentary was misfocused, asking:

Why so many of you saying the police looking for someone to pin it on? As if you are defending a man who was frankly a terrorist. Plus if the police arrested him after carrying out the search warrant then clearly they found something illegal. If the didn't then they'll have no case against him, simple.

Thomas Archbold Bingham felt that many people seemed “emotionally charged” with regard to the pending election, and put forward his own “conspiracy theory” about Bakr and Seetahal:

We need to do some legal background checks on both the Imam and Dana Seetahal S.C. They both have their legal history, which is public knowledge. Seetahal was bold and brave to challenge and put the Jamaat Al Muslimeen and Imam's properties up for sale to pay legal costs / damages to the state. Abu Bakr was never pleased about what Seetahal did. He felt insulted and disrespected and such is public knowledge.

A few netizens felt that no matter what the police do, they can't seem to win. Public confidence in the Trinidad and Tobago police force—and by extension, the judiciary—has steadily eroded as violent crime in the country has increased alongside abysmally low convictions rates.

Justin Abraham asks:

You know what I can't understand? Everyone asking how far the investigation reach and they want an outcome. The police doing their work and trying to solve it and look at the comments. Hmm

Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Security has issued a press release assuring citizens that the rumours about impending social unrest are untrue:

…In the event of any threat to the safety and security of our people, the Ministry of National Security will issue immediate alerts and guidelines to ensure the preservation of order and overall security.

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