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Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of Trinidad & Tobago's attempted Islamist coup, dies 31 years after failed insurrection

Screenshot of Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Trinidad and Tobago-based Jamaat al Muslimeen organisation, taken from the YouTube video “The Man Who Tried to Overthrow the Trinidad Government: Interview with Abu Bakr”, from the Vice News channel.

Yasin Abu Bakr, who led a failed coup d'etat in Trinidad and Tobago on July 27, 1990, has died. Early news reports suggest he first collapsed at home and later died at hospital. Bakr, who was 80 years old, was leader of the Islamist group Jamaat al Muslimeen.

The insurrection Bakr led 31 years ago resulted in the deaths of at least 24 people, and left many more both physically injured and psychologically scarred. The country also suffered millions of dollars of property damage in the looting that followed, and some have argued that the legal system's failure to convict Bakr for his crimes—despite a formal enquiry into the events—is a key contributing factor to the degree of lawlessness and violent crime the country has grappled with ever since.

On the 30th anniversary of the attempted coup in 2020, Bakr infamously maintained there was “nothing to apologise for,” reiterating that “the Privy council upheld our Amnesty and released us from prison.” Bakr also blamed local media for what he claimed were negative portrayals of the Jamaat al Muslimeen.

To at least one local journalist, however, news of Bakr's death seemed a fitting end to an already eventful week:

News of the Jamaat al Muslimeen leader's passing spread quickly on social media channels, with many public comment sections offering condolences and eulogising him as a hero, prompting Facebook user Bis Ram to quip:

Wait […] Clearly y'all born after 1990…🙏

Anees Rahman retorted:

Bis Ram let this be a lesson to you that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Life and justice [don't] fit into neat little boxes.

One Twitter user concluded:

Another agreed:

Facebook user William J Carter, who taught three of Bakr's children, countered:

I will state publicly that while I know some have diametrically opposite views, as Principal of his three sons […] my experience was of an entirely respectful, supportive and involved parent.

During his lifetime Bakr consistently embraced the role of the misunderstood revolutionary, telling Vice News in 2014 that his organisation was “cleaning up the drug trade,” in which he alleged several high-level politicians were involved. The victims of the 1990 coup and their families, however,  viewed him through a vastly different prism.

News anchor Dominic Kalipersad, who was on duty when Jamaat forces stormed the headquarters of state-owned Trinidad and Tobago Television and held him and the production crew hostage, simply marked Bakr's passing as “the end of an era.”

Maria Rivas-McMillan remembered the victims of the bloody insurrection, and praised a friend for correcting the media narrative:

Other netizens shared their memories of the horrifying event:

Other Twitter users took a less categorical view of Bakr's legacy:

On September 10, 2021, a 75-minute talk by Bakr was streamed live on Facebook, in which he slammed the state for alleged injustices relating its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and threatening “war” against the government. The police assessed Bakr's comments and deemed that they warranted no further action.

The incident brought up unresolved feelings for many, as evidenced by this Letter to the Editor published on the online news site Wired868:

There is no greater example of our misapplication of the national watchword, tolerance, than the way we treat Yasin Abu Bakr.

We tolerate a man who masterminded and led an attempted coup on our duly elected government; who was responsible for holding our parliament hostage unless his terms were met; whose people shot our PM, killed innocent police officers and destroyed our police headquarters; and who, in so doing, held us up to the world as another unstable democracy.

We gave him a get-out-of-jail-free card.

In the most amazing example of injustice, we allowed this man to walk free, deeming the ‘amnesty’ he held—while holding our PM at gunpoint—valid. If this was not a travesty of justice, I don’t know what was. […]

Things would be different, if he had expressed contrition for his attempt to overthrow the elected government and gratitude for his ‘amnesty’ and the way he’s been accepted into society. But he has done neither; and his latest diatribe on FB is just the latest example of the poisonous and ignorant invective he injects into his followers.

At least one Facebook user pondered the “power vacuum” Bakr's death has created and who might fill it. One Twitter user cheekily suggested that Bakr, along with another of Trinidad and Tobago's most polarising figures, the late Hindu religious leader Sat Maharaj, could still wreak havoc:

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