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Ex-Muslim insurgents unrepentant about attempted 1990 Trinidad coup

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 7/6/2011, 3:09 p.m.

A commission probing the July 1990 attempted coup in oil- and gas-rich Trinidad has been told that the more than 100 Black Muslims who attempted to overthrow the government 21 years ago this month had tried to rescue the nation from authorities who were oppressing citizens through failed developmental policies.

At least one senior functionary of the Jamaat al Muslimeen group, whose activists had stormed a live session of parliament and also taken over key installations like the state radio and television stations, has not given any assurances that he has renounced views on extra parliamentary methods to fight a government, as he pointed to current popular uprisings on the Middle East.

Jamaal Shabazz, a senior Jamaat official and respected international soccer coach, told the commission in the past week that the attempted coup was inspired by a belief that the then-administration of Prime Minister Ray Robinson had been oppressing the 1.3 million people of the most southerly Caribbean island when the group decided to act.

The resulting mayhem left more than two dozen people dead, a significant portion of downtown Port of Spain destroyed by fire, stores looted and life in the twin island republic with Tobago paralyzed for more than a week while both sides negotiated a peaceful surrender.

"I am not dropping out of the Muslimeen. Once I am in the Muslimeen and I have a voice, I will always speak to conciliation. But I would say that anytime a government oppresses the people, anytime a government is bringing about open oppression and violence against the people, I would stand with the people against such a government."

Pressed by attorneys, Shabazz turned his focus to the international scene in the Middle East and North Africa, pointing to popular revolt against monarchies, dictatorships and bad policies.

"I would say by whatever means become necessary to free [a country's] people and defend the rights of the people as we see in Egypt, Libya and all over the world. I did not subscribe to guns and weaponry. At the same time, I feel I will be betraying the country if I say here that I will never again stand up for justice and people's rights and freedom. I am not into coups, but we never know."

The two previous administrations had shied away from holding official inquiries into events of 1990 but the current effort had gone rather smoothly and has been instructive to the nation as to the chronology of events that led up to the coup.

Prime Minister Robinson was shot in the leg and brutalized by heavily armed insurgents as he was held hostage. The probe is continuing.