The National Alliance for Reconstruction Government's failure to deal with the drug problem in the country was yesterday cited as one of the reasons why the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen felt justified in its attempt to overthrow that administration. And this feeling was strengthened by a report from deceased policewoman Bernadette James that she saw former national security minister Selwyn Richardson, former minister Herbert Atwell and former senior military personnel Major Thompson in a room at Piarco airport with cocaine.
This was the testimony of former Muslimeen insurgent Jamal Shabazz at the Commission of Enquiry yesterday. Asked whether the drug situation was one of the factors that led to the attempted coup, Shabazz said: "Definitely... We saw a Government who was prepared to turn a blind eye... We had a woman police officer bringing information implicating Government members... our perception of an NAR Government that tolerated the drug trade, was one of the causative factors."
Shabazz said James, who was killed in an expedition in Tucker Valley, had complained to the members of the Jamaat about her predicament before her death. He said James was not the only police officer to have visited the Jamaat. He added that he did not believe that James' death was an accident.
Shabazz said the Muslimeen "played police" in dealing with the drug situation in the 1980s. Focusing on drug dealers in the East-West Corridor, he said the Muslimeen members would raid the areas, taking drug dealers to the Jamaat compound, destroying their drugs and seizing their weapons, with a warning to them to stop their trade or else there would be dire consequences. If a dealer was very aggressive, "he would get some licks. The brothers would soften him up", Shabazz reported. Some aggressive drug dealers retaliated, he said, citing the King brothers and Tooks and Bulls. But he denied that the Muslimeen was responsible for their death. "Anyone who wanted to wage a war against the Jamaat, we were up to the task," he said. This "heavy intimidation" bore success. There were no "repeat offenders" and between 1988-89, the East-West Corridor was "subdued" in terms of the drug trade, Shabazz said.
However, Shabazz said the Jamaat subsequently found that some of the drug blocks were controlled by police officers. And because of the Jamaat's anti-drug activities, the police retaliated by making raids on the Jamaat, he said. He also admitted that the Jamaat had its own rogue elements, with members going out on their own anti-drug campaign, "brutalising" people and trampling on their rights. "The (anti-drug) programme became unmanageable and a lot of brothers were charged and faced matters before the courts as a result of it," he said. He said the NAR should have sought to engage the Jamaat constructively "but this was not done. We were further attacked and isolated".
Shabazz said he became aware at least two weeks before the coup attempt, that the Jamaat planned to take action aimed at the overthrow of the Government. He said the police were warned about the bombing of Police headquarters. "And the way it was done, there was ample time, if the police had followed the information given to them, to evacuate (the building)," he said. Chairman of the Commission, Sir David Simmons, reminded Shabazz that the sentry on duty was shot before the building was bombed. Shabazz said he also knew that there were to be other car bombs and Yasin Abu Bakr called them off because he did not think it was necessary.
While he was "truly sorry" for all the death of "innocent bystanders", Shabazz stressed this was what happened during an act of war. He said he was told before the coup attempt that the army was in support of the insurrection and would not engage the Jamaat in combat. He was also told that SOPO (Summit of the People's Organisation) was supportive and would be "part of the aftermath" of the takeover. Under questioning from lead counsel Avory Sinanan, he conceded that both of these claims proved to be false.
Questioned by Sinanan about the weapons, Shabazz said the guns used in the coup attempt came from the US. Shabazz, who also stated that he learnt how to use firearms from the day he became a Muslim, said the members of the Jamaat did some training under Guardians of Islam, a paramilitary group. He said others went to the Middle East and had Islamic training, which involves military training as well.
Shabazz said while 114 insurgents came out of the Red House and TTT, fewer than that number were involved in the assault. He said when a lot of Muslim members saw what was going on on the television, he came down to TTT and the Red House to assist the Muslimeen members there. He cited Latif, a calypsonian, who wasn't even a member of the Jamaat. He said when Latif was questioned by them in the prison, he said he saw what was happening and "wanted to do his part". He said 14-year-old Nigel Bragston, who had become a Muslim prior to the coup attempt, was not part of the assault, but saw the Imam on TV and came down to TTT. Bragston had a relative who was a senior police officer and he had had access to his weapon and had learnt how to use a gun.
Shabazz said by the time of the attempted coup there was an ideological position in the Jamaat that every Muslimeem brother and every Muslimeen family needed to have a weapon to be able to defend themselves. But, he said, he was not aware of any cache of arms down at the Mucurapo Road compound.