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Controversy looms at coup probe

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 9/5/2012, 6:31 p.m.
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A major controversy is brewing in oil- and gas-rich Trinidad over the refusal by the country's leading Muslim rebel to testify at a commission of inquiry into a coup attempt in July 1990, of which he was the principal architect.

Yasin Abu Bakr should have been the star of the show during hearings scheduled for this week after authorities subpoenaed him to appear at the Caribbean Court of Justice building in the city for most of the past year.

But even as the twin island republic with Tobago celebrated 50 years of independence from Britain over the weekend, news filtered through that the former policeman-turned-Muslim leader and savior of the poor had told the nation that anything he says will prejudice any jury that sits in a retrial of his sedition case when it begins in the near future.

Bakr was set free early last month by a judge after a hung jury reported that it could not decide whether he was guilty in demanding zakat, or charity payments, from wealthy island Muslims to pass on to less fortunate brothers and sisters.

A new trial has been ordered and Bakr, nearly 70, is strongly contending that no one in the island of 1.3 million will forget the detailed testimony he would have given at the hearings.

"[My client will be unable to answer any questions posed to him at this inquiry," attorney Wayne Sturge told authorities. "The imam wishes to indicate he means no disrespect to the commission, and whilst he is willing to attend--unless and until there is a final resolution of his trial either by verdict or filing of a notice of discontinuance by the director of public prosecutions--the imam, in order to ensure for himself a fair trial, will be unable to answer any questions posed to him at this inquiry,"

How the commission will deal with this is left to be seen. The announcement was clearly overshadowed by activities related to independence celebrations last Friday, but all eyes will be focused on him this week when life returns to normal.

Bakr, head of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, also appears to be trying to leverage his attendance and testimony at the inquiry in exchange for the abandonment of a new sedition trial, as there are indeed fears that the details he could provide as to how they group plotted to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Ray Robinson and the deaths of more than 20 people, arson and looting in the commercial district could linger in the minds of possible jurors for years. This is because the coup attempt is still considered to be a raw, open wound in society, hence the decision by officials to have it over and done with once and for all.