The rebel Muslim leader who mistakenly thought that taking up arms against the state in tough economic times would have resulted in overwhelming popular support–or would even have made him prime minister–will take the stand next week at an official probe into events leading up to a July 1990 bloody coup attempt in Trinidad.
Former policeman Abu Bakr, who, with 113 other fanatical Black Muslims, tried to forcibly remove the government of Prime Minister Ray Robinson from office because its austerity policies were bringing hardship to the population, is the next key witness in line to testify at the commission of inquiry that authorities hope will finally bring closure to an open wound on the twin island with Tobago of 1.3 million.
Officials in Port of Spain, the island capital that President Barack Obama visited two years ago for a hemispheric summit, announced plans to depose Bakr during hearings next week as the nearly yearlong review of events leading up to the coup nears an end.
Bakr will take the stand just weeks after he walked away from a sedition trial because a hung jury could not give a clear verdict on whether he was guilty of demanding payment from Muslim members of the society for protection and to help to the poor. Early indications are that the commissioners will devote the entire week to allow Bakr to testify, as he has already indicated that he has a lot to say about the reasons for trying to overthrow an elected government in the Caribbean trade bloc.
Retired Barbados Chief Justice and Panel Chairman David Simmons has indicated that the team will want a proper explanation as to how Bakr and his men, including schoolboy Muslims, had escaped lengthy prison sentences because authorities had decided to grant amnesty to the group to end a standoff that lasted more than a week.
The group had stormed parliament while it was in session, holding several legislators hostage and shooting Robinson in the leg because he had refused to bow to their demands, including orders to announce his resignation while Bakr and his men held journalists, businessmen and other top officials hostage at the state television station and other facilities.
More than 20 people were killed, dozens were injured and large parts of commercial Port of Spain were burned to the ground as well as looted during the week of mayhem.
Two key reasons stand out for the coup: a major, and still unsettled, row with authorities over ownership of land at Bakr’s headquarters in the western section of the capital, and Bakr’s view that the policies of Robinson’s administration were oppressive and unnecessary, as the island is rich in oil and gas resources.
And so the commissioners have said they are anxious to hear both from Bakr, head of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, and from three key judicial officials who played a role in granting the coup makers amnesty, sparing them from certain life sentences and possible death sentences by hanging, as that form of capital punishment is widely supported in the Caribbean.