COURT BUILDING: The Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Caracas, Venezuela.
T&T Muslims appear in Venezuelan court
Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist
EIGHT male Trinidadian Muslims were among 14 men who appeared before an Anti-Terrorism Tribunal Court in Venezuela late on Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning.
The Express and TV6 News reported exclusively that the men were detained together with women and children at Plaza Hotel in Caracas last Wednesday after they were held by El Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) — the Venezuelan intelligence service as suspected terrorists.
The Express and TV6 News understand that the women and children will be deported back to Trinidad on an early-morning Caribbean Airlines flight today.
The Trinidadian Muslims accused of terrorist activities spent more than six hours at the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal Court in downtown Caracas.
Sources told the Express and TV6 News that the men were taken to the court by SEBIN around 10 a.m. on Tuesday, but their matter was not heard until 6 p.m. that evening, and lasted for more than eight hours, ending close to 2 a.m. yesterday.
The Trinidadian men, including the three imams, were represented by a lawyer Jose Angel Farjo. The Trinidadians, well-placed sources told the Express and TV6 News, appeared together with a Haitian, Guyanese and a Jamaican man together with three high-profile Venezuelans in relation to the same matter. One of the Venezuelans, sources say, works at a government agency.
Only the lawyers of the men, the interpreter, secretary and the judge who heard the matter were allowed inside the courtroom. The men, who were not handcuffed, sat for several hours listening to the case.
Intelligence sources told TV6 News that the hearing, held at Tribunal Court 36, allowed the judge to listen to information presented by the state as well as arguments from the lawyers pertaining to matters surrounding the arrest of the men.
The Express and TV6 News learnt that jihadist videos were viewed by Venezuelan authorities, which led them to the three Venezuelans.
The men after the tribunal hearing were remanded in custody, pending a 60-day period for investigations-as mandatory law states.
They were all taken to an undisclosed jail in Caracas.
A high-ranking intelligence source in Venezuela informed the Express and TV6 News that, following the 60-day period of investigations, if the men are charged and found guilty they can face up to 25-28 years in prison.
The men were held without a warrant at the hotel, sources say, because of the state of emergency now existing in that country.
Two senior sources in Venezuela told TV6 News that they believe “the three imams were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and have received several requests from Muslim organisations in Trinidad to have the imams released.
T&T Ambassador to Venezuela Anthony David Edghill, who spoke to the Express and TV6 News by phone yesterday, said, “We had only learnt informally about the detention of the 19 Trinidadians and had not been officially informed by Venezuelan authorities.”
He indicated their attempts to see the children were barred as reported by the Express and TV6 News and they were keeping abreast of the situation.
A team from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Security said they were unable to leave today, but will be heading to Venezuela early tomorrow morning.
Intelligence sources told TV6 News that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been informed of the arrest of the Trinidadians and other men.