Late last week, the man who led the one and only attempted Islamist coup in the Americas in Trinidad 31 years ago collapsed and died at a local hospital just weeks after he had again made violent threats against the state.
Yasin Abu Bakr, 80, spent time in remand prison but was never convicted for staging an armed attempted coup against Trinidad’s elected government in July of 1990, as he and 113 other fundamentalists had railed against shortages of medicines, rising food and other prices, declining living conditions and a 22-percent unemployment level in the oil and gas-rich twin island republic with Tobago.
Bakr, a former policeman who had spent time in Libya, had apparently palpably miscalculated public sentiment and his own level of personal and national importance as he had figured that if he had successfully kicked out the administration of then Prime Minister Ray Robinson, he would have been hailed a national hero.
Reactions from the general public were quite the opposite when he and his men stormed parliament while it was in session, shooting PM Robinson and Security Minister Selwyn Richardson in their legs, invading the state’s television and radio station and other state facilities.
Taking advantage of the mayhem caused by the insurrection, rioters looted and burned large parts of commercial Port of Spain, the capital. Official figures indicate that 24 people were killed during the attempted coup and the six-day standoff with security forces. The coup plotters eventually surrendered and were offered an amnesty by officials as they worked to ensure no further deaths as well as relief, rescue and medical attention to those who had been held hostage in the house and other buildings. Astonishingly, Bakr’s Jamaat al Muslimeen group had demanded that he be made national security minister and called for fresh elections in 90 days. Lawmaker Leo Des Vignes was shot and killed during the mayhem.
Between July 1990 and last week, Bakr and the state had faced off several times, including a clash in 2012 when he faced extortion related charges for demanding that local Muslims pay Zakah or mandatory financial contributions to help the poor, failing which he would have dealt with the recalcitrants. Again, he was not convicted or jailed.
Last month, he attacked the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley and other segments of society for allegedly oppressing Afro Trinidadians and the less fortunate but many sensed that he had become smart enough by now not to attempt anything violent or disruptive again, as security forces have never forgiven him and were waiting for a chance at revenge.
“I am warning the government of Trinidad and Tobago, warning the police, the coast guard. I am warning everybody who is involved in the repression of African people. I am warning you today. This is your last day warning because it is coming to you,” he said, triggering an alert among security forces, long waiting for the day to move against Bakr once and for all.
Political pundits in Trinidad blamed both security forces and predecessor governments for not stymieing the growth of the Muslimeen organization, noting that gangland violence, drug trafficking, abductions and weapons smuggling have thrived in the aftermath of July 1990. Some of those who had stormed parliament were of high-school age, armed with AK-47 rifles.
Former minister Selby Wilson told the Express newspaper that his death now signals an end to Bakr and represents “a close to a painful period in T&T’s history. It is up to God to judge. I hope he made peace with God.”
The Jamaat says it has 10,000 registered members.