Thursday, February 22, 2018

Meeting the ISIS challenge head-on*

THERE ought to be no question that the authorities here must see the urgency of the need to establish effective safeguards for the preservation of national safety and security, with the return home of persons who were enlisted as members of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

A report carried exclusive in this newspaper on Sunday revealed that men, women and children who had gone to Syria and Iraq, some of them having joined the terrorist organisation, had returned to Trinidad and Tobago. On the heels of this, as reported in yesterday's edition, the Attorney General announced plans to bring legislation to Parliament to deal with this potential threat.

Major clauses in this proposed new legislation call for the imposition of million-dollar fines, and terms of imprisonment of up to 25 years, for persons leaving this country to undertake such ventures.

The proposed new Anti-Terrorism legislation is expected to be tabled in the House of Representatives as early as this coming Friday. It contains clauses retained from a previous attempt at such legislation in which named regions of the world as areas in which there are “hostile activities” taking place. Those destinations will be clearly identified as “declared zones,” or “international hotspots.”

Persons leaving this country and intending to go to such places must declare accordingly, and where persons are found to have made false declarations in this regard, they face penalties as outlined above.

Signalling her intention to support such tough legislative action, the Leader of the Opposition has declared that we cannot afford the risk of remaining vulnerable to persons who may wish to import this brand of radical, murderous extremism, based on their prior exposures.

In doing so, she was taking issue, correctly, with one local Muslim cleric who is reported as having said that such returning nationals pose no threat to us. What if he is wrong, is a question that many of us will be expected to be asking.

From her stance going in on the proposed legislation this time around, the Opposition Leader appears to have indicated support in the Parliament for the new measures as highlighted by the attorney general, in a bill that will require a special majority.

We simply cannot afford to be found wanting, legislatively and in terms of administrative and human capacity, to meet head-on, the added threats to our national security, should they arise from this particular quarter.

That the country appears to be moving in lock-step with what has been emerging as international best practice in this fight against international terrorism, is more than welcome, in an environment in which we continue to grapple with increasing assaults on our domestic crime and security agenda.

We simply cannot afford to remain less than optimally prepared to face down these mounting challenges. And as a people we would welcome the sober, mature and conscientious deliberations of all our parliamentarians, to create the best possible outcomes for the right kinds of safeguards on this question.