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Three Muslims to return home this week

By JANELLE DE SOUZA Monday, March 31 2014

The Muslim group that was detained in Venezuela had been there since the beginning of February in an attempt to obtain visas to go on an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Eight men, including Imams Salam Abdul, Hamza Mohammad and Sheikh Hamid Hassan continue to be held in a Venezuelan prison after initially being accused of terrorism and later of plotting to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

They, along with six women and eight children, were detained in a Venezuelan jail after a raid at the Plaza Hotel in Caracas on March 19, 2014. The women and children returned last Friday and the men are expected to be released early next week.

The uncle and brother of Abeni Luqman, Andre Battersby and Asim Luqman respectively, are two of the Muslim men who remain detained in a Venezuelan jail.

Upset with some of the local reports on the situation, Luqman recently visited Newsday’s Port-of-Spain office. “You think the men are terrorists? Fine. You think the women are accomplices? Fine. But what about the children? The youngest was one-year-old. What did they do that they were thrown in jail? And who is going to overthrow a hungry Venezuelan country with their children?” she asked.

“Where is the TT Government in all this? It is their right as citizens of this country that Government intercedes on their behalf but the government is only focusing on the Imams,” she continued. Luqman admitted that her brother was “not a saint,” that he made mistakes and had regrets. However, she said after their younger brother, Jamal Luqman was killed, Asim moved out of the Beetham with his family and tried to make a better life. She said his purpose for the trip was to get away, get closer to God and find some peace.

Luqman was also upset that her brother’s name was continuously brought up as one of the persons detained in an alleged plot to kill Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and three government ministers, and to destabilise the country during the 2011 State of Emergency.

She said, after the men were released, Persad-Bissessar never made it clear that they were not terrorists, and that since then

they had been ostracised by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

She noted that there was no Saudi Arabian consulate in this country so many Muslims travel to Venezuela to attain their visas. According to Luqman, the group went with an independent tour operator because making the trip with a registered Hajj was significantly more expensive. She stated that, with a Hajj, the trip would cost $40,000 to $50,000, but independently, it cost less than $10,000

Luqman said that rumours in the Musilm community pointed to registered Hajj groups as the reason behind the group’s detention in Venezuela. She believed the Hajj groups found out about the independent group’s trip and contacted Immigration in Venezuela. She recalled the incident in October of 2013 when several Muslims were barred from entering Venezuela and had to return to Trinidad and Tobago after spending a night at the Simón Bolívar International Airport. At that time, it was claimed individuals from the registered Hajj groups wrote to the Embassy in Venezuela stating that the tour operator was not legitimate. She believed something similar occurred in this case.

One of the women who returned from Venezuela after being detained in the Venezuelan jail also spoke to Newsday under the condition of anonymity. She said because of the uprising in Venezuela, starting with a student protest on February 12, 2014, “everything was shut down,” so they could not obtain the Visas. Asked why they did not attempt to return to Trinidad after over a month in Venezuela, she said they kept trying to do so.

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