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Independence Day plot to kill Robbie

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, March 16 2014

MEMBERS of the Islamic sect the Jamaat al Muslimeen (JAM) plotted to assassinate former Prime Minister ANR Robinson during the annual Independence Day celebrations of 1989, according to intelligence reports received by the Special Branch, the Sir David Simmons Report into the events of 1990 has found.

The Report, which was tabled in Parliament on Friday, rejects outright a claim once made by Muslimeen leader Lennox Phillip (now Yasin Abu Bakr) that the attack on the Parliament and on the capital in July 1990 was “spontaneous.” Further, the Commission finds that far from being an act of retaliation for a raid on Muslimeen property, the plot to overthrow the government had been set in motion long before.

“The Commission finds that the JAM had been planning to remove Mr Robinson from office for a long time,” the Report finds. “They had a personal hatred of Mr Robinson and (then Minister of National Security) Mr (Selwyn) Richardson. The latter had caused the outpost of Army and Police personnel to be set up outside the JAM’s compound at 1 Mucurapo Road on April 21 1990. This angered the JAM.”

The Commission rejected the evidence given by Imam Abu Bakr in proceedings brought in the USA against Louis Haneef, that the insurrection was spontaneous. The Report discloses:

*Special Branch reports revealed that, in August 1989, the JAM were discussing the assassination of Prime Minister Robinson during the period of Independence activities that year;

*In September, Imam Abu Bakr, Bilaal and Salim Muwakil were actively plotting the assassination;

*In October 1989, the JAM were collaborating with members of the Munroe Road Mosque to join with them in a revolution. The JAM were cultivating support for the violent removal of the Government and Imam Abu Bakr was himself negotiating with persons in Libya for money, weapons and ammunition;

* In October 1989, Bilaal began arranging with Louis Haneef in Florida, the acquisition of weapons and their export to Trinidad and Imam Abu Bakr had negotiated the rental of a warehouse for storage of the weapons in Trincity;

* Feroze Shah, a Customs Officer and member of the JAM, abused his office and facilitated the illegal entry of the weapons into Trinidad and Tobago;

By April 1990, the JAM had accumulated a large number of weapons for distribution. Bilaal masterminded and coordinated plans for the insurrection along with Imam Abu Bakr and Hassan Anyabwile.

The Report states that while an amnesty document later shielded the Muslimeen for their actions, they amnesty did not apply to the pre-July 1990 conspiracy and the insurgents could have been charged for conspiracy. However, it notes that any action is now barred and would be deemed an abuse of process since more than 24 years have elapsed.

In addition the Report states that Jamaal Shabazz’s evidence, corroborated by Lorris Ballack, was that the JAM further intended “to overthrow the government and install a new government”.

Even before the State moved on to the Muslimeen compound on July 24, 1990, the group had planned to attack the government, the Report discloses for the first time.

Bakr chose the date of July 27, 1990, for attack deliberately to coincide with trade union activity on that day. Bakr and company were also aware of the “great public interest” in a football match at the National Stadium, Mucurapo, on that day.

“They calculated that there would have been a large crowd at the Stadium and large numbers of police officers would have been deployed there. The attention of the Police would have been diverted to the Stadium,” the Report finds.

The Report continues, “Having weighed all the probabilities, the Commission finds that the real reason for the attempted coup was a long-held determination to remove Prime Minister Robinson and the NAR government from office and install a new government including some members of the JAM. The JAM’s allegations that they feared an attack on their headquarters that would wipe out the leadership, was not the prime reason for the attempted coup. It was an excuse rooted in notions of self-defence and was made to justify their actions.”

Further, “Fear of an attack vouchsafed to the JAM in April 1990, according to them, cannot satisfactorily explain their preparations in 1989 to acquire arms and money.”

Yet despite the intelligence, the Report notes, the Special Branch did not appear to seek an audience with the Prime Minister, even though some reports forecast violent action as early as in the year 1988.

“Special Branch was seized of an abundance of information and Intelligence from 1988 that the JAM were planning violent action in the Republic,” the Report states. “Special Branch had intelligence that the JAM were contemplating the assassination of Prime Minister Robinson. Special Branch knew that Imam Abu Bakr had vowed ‘to retaliate’ against the Government.”

Yet, the Head of Special Branch never sought a meeting with the Prime Minister, prior to the attempted coup, to apprise him directly.

“Whereas the Commission finds that Special Branch regularly sent intelligence reports to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister, the Commission also finds that it was thoroughly unsatisfactory that the Head of Special Branch never sought an audience with the Prime Minister,” the Report states. It describes, the Special Branch, as acting as a Republic unto its own.

Notwithstanding setting out a clear plot by the insurgents, the Report also notes underlying economic and political factors may have contributed. However, it does not find that former PNM political leader Patrick Manning and former UNC political leader Basdeo Panday had prior knowledge of the attack, on the evidence.

“It is our finding that when the NAR assumed office in December 1986 (after the PNM regimes) they were confronted with a Treasury that was, in a manner of speaking, almost empty,” the Report states. “The foreign reserves and savings were depleted. There was a massive debt burden of $7.4 billion. The economy required rescue and resuscitation. To achieve these ends, drastic corrective action was required. The Government’s fiscal, monetary and economic options were limited. They would involve pain for the people.”

But the NAR did not communicate the need for austerity effectively.

“The Government did not communicate effectively with the people to convince them of the need for austerity,” the Report finds. “This communication deficit allowed discontent among the people to fester.” ANR Robinson’s then leadership style is criticised.

“The Commission finds that the personality and style of the Prime Minister distanced him from his ministers and parliamentary colleagues,” the Report states. “He was perceived by them as being arrogant and aloof and insensitive to the reality that, among the membership of the coalition, his Party (DAC) had only two seats in Parliament.”

Robinson’s famous call on the night of July 27, 1990, to “attack with full force” is also criticised in the Report as being “incautious”.

“But, at approximately 8.00 pm, while shooting was heard inside and outside the Red House, Bilaal ordered Mr Robinson, at gunpoint, to instruct the soldiers outside to withdraw and lay down their arms,” the Report notes. “Mr Robinson responded by ordering the soldiers to ‘attack with full force’ and characterised the insurgents as ‘murderers, torturers’. Mr Robinson’s orders angered Bilaal. He forthwith shot Mr Robinson and Mr Richardson in their legs. That Bilaal did not shoot them in their heads or chests suggests that he did not intend to kill them.”

The Report states, “Mr Robinson’s order was provocative and incautious. It could have jeopardised the lives of the other parliamentarians. Those who gave evidence confessed to an understandable sense of dread and despair.”

Yet the Report also notes, “Mr Robinson bore his pain with stoic determination and great dignity. He told the Commission that he refused to drink even water since he was afraid that he might be poisoned.”

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