GUNSHOTS SHATTERED RIGHT LEG
By Andre Bagoo Thursday, January 31 2013
KENRICK THONG, a former Special Branch officer who was one of former Prime Minister ANR Robinson’s bodyguards, yesterday gave a harrowing first-hand account of the events of July 27, 1990, which saw him shot and left without a leg as he sought to protect the Prime Minister when Muslimeen insurgents attacked the Red House.
Thong told the Sir David Simmons Enquiry that he came under fire outside the Red House, felt the bones in his right leg shatter, fell to the ground, dragged himself to safety while firing back at attackers with an UZI machine gun and eventually lost consciousness. He later awoke at hospital without his leg, it having been amputated by doctors.
Testifying at the CCJ Headquarters on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, Thong said he picked up Robinson at the airport, where the Prime Minister had just returned from official business in Tobago, dropped Robinson at the Prime Minister’s Residence at St Ann’s and was then told the Prime Minister would attend Parliament that afternoon.
At the Red House, the Prime Minister was dropped off and the officer remained at the Prime Minister’s private entrance, facing Abercromby Street, where the Prime Minister’s official vehicle was parked.
“I heard gunshots on the north-west side and then I heard an explosion on the western side,” Thong said. “I saw a group of more than six men coming up with firearms. They were shooting indiscriminately. I recognised them to be Muslimeen because they had on these caps on their heads. While they were shooting at the Red House I opened fire. I went to the underground vault on the northern side and they kept firing. I felt an impact on my right shin bone and at that stage sat down to see about my foot. The bones were completely shattered.” He tore off his shirt-jack suit top, ripped apart his V-neck jersey and used the cloth to dress his leg. But he remained under fire and had to drag himself to a safer location.
“I was dragging on my bottom,” he said. “A civilian — or a man dressed as a civilian — saw me and started to shoot at me. I lay down in a drain and started to back-pedal. While I was dragging myself I was still firing. I started to drag myself to another vault on the southern side of the Red House instead.”
Thong eventually got to the second underground vault where police constables rescued him. At Hart Street, which is at the south of the Red House, he was placed in a private car which took him to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. But on the way he lost consciousness. He told enquiry counsel Avory Sinanan that when he woke, the leg he had tried to save was gone.
COUNSEL: “You lost consciousness and when you got up you realised the leg was amputated?”
WITNESS: “Yes sir.”
Thong also received wounds to his chest and body. He had to undergo medical treatment in Venezuela, where he got a prosthetic leg. He said this treatment was paid for by the State after approval was granted by former NAR National Security Minister Selwyn Richardson. He said it was only years later, in 1996, that he got compensation of $126,000 for being injured in the line of duty. However, the State has offered no further support to fund replacements to his prosthesis, replacements which are inevitable as the patient ages and the body changes. He said even after losing his leg, he had, “no ill feelings” toward the Muslimeen.
“Age brings reason,” Thong said.
The witness further said hours before the attack of July 27, 1990, he got a sign from God that something terrible was about to happen: crows attacking the Prime Minister’s official vehicle while it was en route to meet Robinson at the Piarco airport two hours before the Prime Minister went to the Red House.
“On July 27, 1990, something took place at the Prime Minister’s Residence,” he told the commissioners, including chairman Sir David and commissioner Diana Mahabir-Wyatt. “And I told another officer that something terrible is going to happen today. I got a sign.”
SIR DAVID: “A sign from whom?”WITNESS: “You won’t believe if I tell you. From some birds.”
MAHABIR-WYATT: “How did the birds tell you?”
WITNESS: “They started to attack the Prime Minister’s car. Plenty of them. It was a sign....a prophecy.”
SIR DAVID: “The Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”
But Thong did not have to rely only on divine prophecy to know something was amiss. The retired officer also recalled how, in the weeks leading up to the attack, he spotted Muslimeen men “marking” Robinson at several locations: at the Twin Towers and on the Priority Bus Route.
“You would see them marking the Prime Minister,” he said. “He had a usual time he used to arrive at the office at around 9 am to 10 am and when he arrived they would leave as soon as he arrived.” The same men were involved each time.
SIR DAVID: “You are observing some strange movements of the Muslimeen vis a vis the Prime Minister whom you are trained to protect. Forget the birds, did you report these strange incidents?”
WITNESS: “No sir. I had seniors working with me and I believed they would have observed these movements.” He said these incidents happened “one or two times”.
The witness also said when the Special Branch went to train at Macqueripe, Lady Young Road and at the Queen’s Park Savannah, they would see Muslimeen training as well.
Also testifying yesterday was another Special Branch bodyguard who spoke of jumping atop of Robinson to shield him, only to be pulled off, made to strip and to later be left to walk the streets of Port-of-Spain in his underwear.
Steve Maurice, who was also attached to the Escort Patrol of the Special Branch which guarded the Prime Minister, said Robinson was not supposed to be at the Red House that Friday. He said Robinson had been at Tobago in the morning because he wanted to be in his constituency after a storm had recently done damage. It was only upon returning to Trinidad that the bodyguards were told that Robinson would be at the Red House that afternoon. (The other witness, Thong, said he too was only informed of this in the afternoon and he then relayed this information to the Special Branch office.)
Maurice further said Robinson was supposed to leave the Red House after the 4.30 pm tea-break and this, too, did not happen. When Maurice returned from an errand, he was surprised to learn Robinson was still in the chamber. A few minutes later, he said he heard gun-shots, but thought bandits were being confronted by police outside.
“I did not see any police or bandits,” Maurice said. “I went back in and realised the bullets were being fired at the chamber.”
He continued, “Immediately, my mission was to protect the Prime Minister, move myself to where he was and make my body into a shield, whether it was a physical attack or a lethal attack. I went across and asked him to get down and lied down over him.” He was armed but did not fire, saying he assessed the situation and came to the view that it was too dangerous to fire given how many people were in the legislative chamber.
Maurice said when he was discovered by Muslimeen, he was dragged off Robinson and bound by the arms and legs. Later, the terrorists said the security officers were just “doing their job” and should be freed. The Special Branch officers were allowed to leave, but only after they were stripped. Other Special Branch officers were relieved of weapons. At least three weapons were added to the Muslimeen arsenal in this way.
“I did not offer to stay,” Maurice said. “At that point it would have been useless.” He walked to a guest house at Charlotte Street, in underwear. After getting clothes, he was later de-briefed at Camp Ogden.