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V’zuela file sets off security alarm bells

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

IT HAS been more than a month and a half since eight Trinidadian Muslims have been detained by Venezuelan authorities under suspicion of terrorist activities.

The 14 women and children who were held with them at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas on March 19 were released some ten days later and sent back to Trinidad. 

This followed a visit of a Trinidad and Tobago delegation headed by Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall who met with Venezuelan authorities two days prior to their release.

Out of that meeting emanated a top secret document given to the Trinidad and Tobago Government. CCN has exclusively obtained this document which exposes some alarming security concerns that this country’s security forces needed to closely monitor. 

The document, outlines in detail, the day the Trinidadian Muslims were held at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas and shocking revelations about possible terrorist activities that can have far reaching consequences for this country.

Minister of National Security Gary Griffith spoke to CCN about the document in late April. “A secret document has been given to me through the delegation from the Venezuelan authorities and this is obviously a sensitive document and I would not be able to actually state what is in the document, it is sensitive correspondence,” Griffith said.

CCN however, subsequently obtained the document and sensitive it was, the 16-page document compiled by SEBIN—Venezuela’ intelligence service—not only warned this Government of potential security threats but even more alarmingly the document revealed possible photographic evidence of some of the men caught in Venezuela—in pre-jihad training.

In the top secret document, there are dates of the arrivals for all the Trinidadians who touched down at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Venezuela between January and March this year.

The raid on the Trinidadian Muslims at the Plaza Hotel first reported by TV6 News, authorities say, was brought to the attention of SEBIN “after a prolonged stay at the hotel” and the use of “cash to cover their bills”.

Further suspicion arose, SEBIN states, when members of the group were reclusive, as more persons continued to arrive and bills continued “to be paid exclusively in cash”.

Cleaning staff at the hotel were even debarred from entering the rooms, the top-secret report reveals.

SEBIN’s suspicion was compounded further as they “implemented surveillance on the group and observed that Dominic Pitilal was routinely changing large sums of US” currency.

It was then, SEBIN decided to make their move, executing a search warrant in the rooms occupied by “Pitilal and associates” and reportedly discovered: Two satellite phones, 20 mobile phones, two laptops, six tablets, army type uniforms, combat paraphernalia, firearm training paraphernalia, telephone video of several of the detained persons in firearms training in Caracas.

The imams Abdul Sallam, Mohammaed Hamza and Sheik Hassan Hamid who witnessed the search, according to SEBIN, later presented themselves for their rooms to be searched and the 66 passports seized.

Several alarm bells cropped up which SEBIN says they discussed with the Trinidad delegation in relation to the two groups detained, stating in the document: “One with a bona fide purpose in being in Venezuela to obtain visas for Umra and the other with a possible sinister agenda.”

SEBIN noted that Richard Ramoutar from the National Operations Centre who was part of the delegation “presented letters of authorisation for the imams to be in possession of the passports. He further viewed them and established that they were genuine T&T passports”.

Ever since the arrest of the imams with the other group of men which included Dominic Pitilal, Leslie Daisley, Andrew Battersby, Wade Shawn Charles Junior and Asim Coffie Luqman, several Muslim groups in Trinidad and Tobago have been clamouring for the immediate release of the imams.

But, SEBIN in its secret document noted in relation to the imams “additional suspicion was created when certain persons claimed not to know others, but their passports were in the others’ possession”.

However, later in the secret document SEBIN says it realised the imams were in fact there for a legitimate purpose. 

It stated: “SEBIN agreed to present the documents to the tribunal and make a plea for the release of the three imams and gave the assurance that the women and children would be released.”

But there was just one problem, “The director of SEBIN indicated that it was beyond his hands whether or not the release of the imams will be made by the tribunal.”

Based on the evidence before them, SEBIN in the secret document came to this conclusion: “From the information thus far, one can deduce that part of the group may have been attempting to travel onward, but were awaiting the opportunity to have their identities subsumed among a larger group applying for visas. This is supported by the fact that persons within Pitilal groups attempted to renew their passports whilst in Venezuela as there was not enough time before expiration to be landed for the standard three months in a foreign country.”

Umar Abdullah, head of the Waajiahtul Islaamiyyah Islamic Front who knows Pitlal and most of his group and was privy to excerpts of the document when he met with the Minister of National Security about a month ago, says he does not believe they had sinister intentions. “Based on the info we are getting there are some in the system saying they are in Venezuela for covert means and others who believe they went to Venezuela to seek visas to go to Umra in Saudi Arabia I would hold to that opinion, I stand firm by that.”

But the photographs retrieved by SEBIN from the cell phones of some of these men could put that theory to the test.

They say a picture tells a thousand words.

CCN confronted Minister of National Security Gary Griffith about these photographs.

MB:  Now it is my understanding that in the document there are actually pictures of a firing range where supposedly people were practicing to use firearms.

GG: Most definitely I would not bother to give any statement pertaining to what is in that document at this time.

MB: There were also pictures sent of the Trinidadians alleged in that document...

GG: If there were photos?

MB: There were also photos?

GG: Yes, we have seen photos of the individuals but other than that I cannot actually reveal what is in that correspondence.

What story exactly do these photos tell about these men?  And is there reason for serious concern?


TOMORROW: PART 2

—The Jihadist training 

captured on cellphone footage

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