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TRINIS HELD IN ‘COUP’ PLOT

Venezuela accuses detained local Muslims of planning to overthrow govt

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

THE TRINIDADIAN Muslims detained in Venezuela after a raid at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas last Wednesday are now being fingered in a plot to topple the Venezuelan government together with rogue Venezuelan police officers and other men. 

Intelligence sources within Venezuela told the Express and TV6 News that “President Nicolas Maduro had obtained crucial information about  the plot from members of the El Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) and they took the threat seriously”.

The eight Trinidadian Muslim men, along with six women and eight children, were held at the Plaza Hotel, Sabana Grande in downtown Caracas.

Intelligence sources privy to the information informed the Express and TV6 News that one of SEBIN’s very own was held in the exercise along with others.

They were identified as Rafael  José Durán of SEBIN, Gregorio Socorro Montañez of the Bolivarian national police and Fery Hernán Molina, from the Chacao police.

Their names were published for the first time in a Venezuelan newspaper late yesterday and sources say they were allegedly training the Trinidadian nationals along with a Guyanese and Haitian — both naturalised citizens of Venezuela — how to handle firearms.

The men were held in the hotel with not only military uniforms but what they claim are jihadist videos, and new information suggests they also found laptops and satellite phones, which they say may have been provided to the group by the Venezuelan police.

The Venezuelan media identified the Trinidadian men who appeared before the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal Court as: Dominic Clive Pitilal, Andre Joseph Battersby, Asim Luqman, Charles Wade and Leslie Doisely for the alleged commission of crimes of terrorism and criminal association.

After spending a day and a half in Venezuela, the Trinidadian delegation returned home yesterday afternoon after holding talks with SEBIN and other high-ranking officials pertaining to the Trinidadian Muslims who were detained in the raid. 

Also held were three imams.

Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall, head of the Trinidad and Tobago delegation, who spoke with the Express and TV6 News via phone just before boarding the plane in Venezuela said, “We are trying to have the imams extricated from this situation, and we are working on that but this matter is extremely sensitive and we have to be careful.”

Kelshall continued, “We hope  to secure a proper resolution to the matter, but I can’t discuss anything more about the men, since their case is before a Venezuelan court.”

Late last night, senior intelligence sources in Trinidad confirmed that the three imams, Salam Abdul, Hamza Mohammad and Sheikh Hamid Hassan, are expected to be released either Monday or Tuesday next week and cleared of wrong-doing.

Kelshall described the marathon talks as “receptive between the parties” and said “they ensured that the women and children were brought back safely”.

Intelligence sources in Trinidad said the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) did background criminal checks on all the women and provided SEBIN with this paperwork to show they had clean records, thus allowing them to return here.

Well-placed sources in Venezuela told the Express and TV6 News that Luqman, in an e-mail obtained by the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate in Venezuela through his lawyer, claimed he had fled to Venezuela with his wife and children, fearing for his life after his brother was murdered.

Authorities have not been able to confirm Luqman’s story thus far. Luqman was one of the men detained during the state of emergency for questioning into the alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

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