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Imam held in Venezuela pleads for help from T&T Government:

By Mark Bassant CCN Senior Multimedia Investigative Journalist

IMAM HAMZA Mohammed, one of the eight male Trinidadian Muslims still incarcerated in a Venezuelan prison under the suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities, denied these allegations when he spoke exclusively to Caribbean Communications Network (CCN)—Express and TV6, via telephone yesterday.

“There people just come and lock up everybody...up to now they have not had or found any evidence that we are terrorists. We are all family people and I am a respected man in my community,” explained Mohammed, Imam of the Montrose Muslim Association of Masjid-Ul-Ansari.

The Trinidadian Muslim men remain in a Caracas prison despite assurances by local intelligence sources that at least the three imams—Salam Abdul, Sheikh Hamid Hassan and Hamza Mohammed—would have been freed yesterday.

Sources in Venezuela told CCN that the Venezuelan authorities were still doing background checks on the men and so they were not freed. 

The  other Trinidadian men who remain in jail are: Dominic Clive Pitilal, Andre Joseph Battersby, Asim Luqman, Charles Wade and Leslie Doisely for the alleged commission of crimes of terrorism and criminal association.

The men were arrested by officers from El Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) Venezuela’s intelligence service together with several women and children at Plaza Hotel in Caracas almost two weeks ago.

Mohammed, who said he was speaking on behalf of the entire group, explained that most of the group had arrived earlier in year, and he and the imams arrived in March, as they sought to secure visas for the group in Venezuela as well as others for Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year.

“All the money we had for these visas are all gone...we don’t know what the Venezuelan authorities did with it. We think it is really the money they wanted. They held us as we were returning from the travel agency in the car park. They found clothes that looked like military clothing in some of the rooms but we see prisoners in the jail we are in, wearing similar type of clothing and it is no big deal,” claimed Mohammed.

“Imagine the Venezuelan guy that was driving us around was also held and thrown in jail with us,” said Mohammed.

Questioned about whether he or any of the group members had knowledge about the police officers that were also held as part of the alleged plot to overthrow the Venezuelan government, he replied in the negative.

Mohammed said when they were first held they were told by SEBIN that their documents were illegal and they were not Trinidadian.

“We made a request through our lawyer the first time we appeared in court, which was the Sunday after our arrest, and asked the Venezuelan authorities to verify that we were Trinidadians with documented help from the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate, but up to now this has not been done,”stated Mohammed.

It was at their second court appearance last Tuesday into Wednesday, reported exclusively by CCN, he explained that they were told they could possibly be charged with acts of terrorism.” When we heard that we were confused because we didn’t know anything. They told us they had to keep us up to 45 working days in custody as they investigated the claims further.”

The imam’s voice cracked as he made an impassioned plea for help from this country’s government.

“We are crying out for representation from our country. Is it because we are Muslims that this is happening to us? Wake up Trinidad and Tobago, we are pleading with our Government to act on our behalf. We don’t know how long we are going to be inside here and we didn’t do any crime to deserve this,” Mohammed said, choking back tears.

Only last week a Trinidad and Tobago delegation visited Venezuela to speak with high-ranking Venezuelan officials about the arrest of the men, women and children. The women and children were later freed and sent back to Trinidad on a flight last Friday.

Mohammed said since their arrest neither of them have been taken outdoors. “We have not seen the sun or the moon and sometimes we don’t know what time of the day it is,” he said.

The men are being detained at SEBIN’s jail in Caracas.

Mohammed described the unpleasant conditions at the prison saying they are all crammed into one small jail cell.

“It is one little room, one toilet and one bathroom and twelve big men, what kind of treatment is this? But at least we get to pray,” Mohammed said as murmurs of discontent were heard in the background from other members of the group.

Mohammed is hoping the Trinidad and Tobago authorities do more to expedite their release.

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