Stabroek News

Trinidad: More than 42 children taken by parents to ISIS battlegrounds

Dr Simon Cottee, professor of criminology from the University of Kent, interviews Nazim Mohammed, of the Boos Village Jamaat, Rio Claro

(TRINIDAD NEWSDAY) More than 42 children were taken by their parents from their TT homes to ISIS battlegrounds in the Middle East over the last three years. This is revealed in findings by a UK professor of criminology who came here recently to undertake a study on TT as an exporter of ISIS fighters. Children comprised the highest number among all those who were recruited.

“One of my most striking findings is the block recruitment of Trinis to ISIS,” Dr Simon Cottee of Kent University told Sunday Newsday. “Entire families went. It was mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. According to my estimate, about 30 per cent who went were men, about 30 per cent women and the remainder –40 per cent– children.”

Whether all the adult males took up arms for the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, is clouded in mystery, as is the speculation that many may have been killed. Sunday Newsday met Dr Cottee a few weeks ago when he journeyed to Boos Village, Rio Claro, to meet with former Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member Nazim Mohammed, 77. Cottee interviewed Mohammed who is the imam of the Boos Village Jamaat, about his daughter, her husband and their three daughters with their husbands who are currently holed up in Iraq and Syria. Cottee also interviewed some of the families of the 130 suspected ISIS fighters, senior Special Branch police and government officials, in what was the last of eight two-week-long research trips from London to TT.

Cottee told Sunday Newsday his study revealed that a total of eight TT families left to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2016. He found that they were recruited from jihad networks in at least three areas in the country. He cited parts of east Trinidad, Diego Martin and east of Chaguanas, as ISIS recruiting hot-spots.

Cottee questioned Mohammed about him being labelled an ISIS recruiter in Rio Claro, but the imam vehemently denied having prior knowledge that his daughter, Aneesa Mohammed, 53, her husband Daud Mohammed, 56, together with their daughters and their husbands were leaving for Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department blacklisted Mohammed’s other son-in-law, Emraan Ali, 51, and another national, Eddie Aleong, 34, of Enterprise, Chaguanas, on suspicions of financing ISIS.

Ali is married to another of Mohammed’s daughters, Shaloma, and they both are in Syria. Aneesa and her daughter Sabirah Mohammed Kumar, 24, are serving 20 years in a jail in Iraq, for illegal entry into that country.

Two other daughters, Aidah and Azizah, are holed up in Iraqi detention centres with their children for illegal entry. Sabirah’s husband, Umar Kumar, 29, is also serving a jail term but Aneesa’s husband, Daud, is believed to have been executed by Iraqi authorities.

Cottee, who was once a visiting professor of criminology at the UWI, left TT last week and intends to write about his findings in the British Journal of Criminology. It will be based on the theme: How and why 130 or so Trini Muslims left Trinidad, a relatively wealthy country with full religious freedoms, to join ISIS at the peak of its ascendancy in 2014-2015, and why they choose to make that costly sacrifice.

Based on his interviews which also included speaking to leaders of some Islamic organisations, Cottee told Sunday Newsday before leaving for the UK that while ISIS fighters came from Europe in which some families joined the terrorist group, most of them were young men. But his study in TT revealed that a unique situation existed in which a very large percentage included children.

“This is pretty unique, because you don’t see this elsewhere. In Europe, for example, you’d have some families who joined ISIS, but in the main it was young men,” Cottee said.

He told Sunday Newsday, “My findings revealed that all these families from Trinidad who went knew each other; they were connected. And the Trinis who first went were in communication with Trinis back home. They helped facilitate their travel, providing them with the relevant contacts in Turkey and Syria and Iraq.”

Cottee dismissed the notion that TT ISIS travellers were motivated by money. However, he explained, there is no single profile for a TT Muslim fighting for ISIS because in his investigations, he found some were wealthy, others not so rich. He further dismissed the notion that most of the 130 TT nationals were converts to Islam and of African descent. Quite a few were Afro-Trinis who had converted to Islam, but many were born-Muslims from wealthy families of East Indian origin. Some had criminal records or pending court appearances, while others were law-abiding and came from respectable families.

Cottee also examined what motivated TT nationals to seek jihad in war-torn Syria and Iraq, saying that there were some local Islamic clerics who promoted the idea of holy war.

He said, “A lot has been said about how Trini ISIS travellers were motivated by money – ISIS, it was said, were paying big dollars for foreign fighting talent. I don’t buy this at all. I think the motives of those who went were complex and mixed. Redemption through violent self-sacrifice is a pretty big draw, but I also think a lot of those Trinis who went, truly believed that the ISIS caliphate was the real deal, a kind of Islamic utopia where they could go with their families and be spiritually saved.”

He added, “There are lots of other threads that I’m looking at, particularly the role of Islamist clerics in Trinidad in promoting the idea of jihad and the caliphate.”

TT is a co-sponsor of the UNSCR Bill 2178 which was passed in September 2014, and which aims to prevent the recruiting, organising, transporting or equipping individuals who travel to a state other than their states of residence, or nationality, for perpetrating, planning or participating in terrorist acts.