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Editorial: CARICOM must coordinate on terrorism

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2015 | 11:00 AM

It is not unexpected, and right, that in the face of the Paris terror attacks, Jamaica's intelligence service, according to the security minister, Peter Bunting, "have heightened levels of monitoring of suspicious activities". But this ought not to be merely a domestic effort, but rather a broader regional response to a potential threat, utilising mechanisms that are supposed to be at work in defence of Caribbean security.

The events of Paris, and before that of Lebanon and Friday in Bamako, among others, highlight the need for a rigorous stress test of the capacity of the Caribbean Community's Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), including, we believe, a reordering of its tier levels of the threats that face the region. At the very least, there is a need for upgrading the probability rating for the materialisation of some of these risks.

There are two primary bases for raising this issue. The first is the acknowledged potential for an internationally orchestrated terror attack, probably with the support of misguided domestic groups, being launched in Jamaica or elsewhere in the Caribbean, including in a CARICOM member state. For, as IMPACS's 2013 regional security strategy acknowledged, not only were there people with terrorist affiliations residing in the region, but the Caribbean's porous borders, as well as its close relations with the United States (US) and other countries that fall within the cross hairs of jihadist movements, "may also increase the risks" of terrorism.

 

TIER-3 RANKING UPGRADE

 

For instance, there are billions of dollars of US and European investments in Caribbean economies, including in mining, refining and tourism. Last year, more than 26 million tourists visited the wider Caribbean, half of them from the United States. In the case of Jamaica, the proportion of Americans is even greater among the approximately 3.5 million tourists who come here on cruise ships or to stay in hotels - both of which may be considered soft targets, especially for people who, like the jihadists, are motivated.

It is against this background that we believe IMPACS should upgrade the Tier 3 ranking of this kind of threat, as well as its assessment of it as of significant potential with high impact, but "low probability".

The second reason for our call to regional action is the recrimination in France that the attacks of a week ago reflected, in part, a failure of intelligence. As recently as June, Turkey was asking France about Ismail Omar Mostefei, a French citizen, who had slipped into that country, but without response from Paris. In the aftermath of the attacks, Salem Abdelslam, who is still at large, was stopped at the border with Belgium, but released. The presumed mastermind of the attack, Abdelhamaid Abaaoud, a Belgium citizen, who fought with Islamic State in Syria, appears to have been capable of slipping into and out of Europe, under the noses of European intelligence agencies, which seem not to have been good at sharing information.

We do not expect that the authorities will say how effective CARICOM's Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre has been, but it is in the Community's interest that the good becomes even better. But that won't happen if CARICOM states operate in silos, absent coordinated actions, which now seems to be the case, given the separate declarations of domestic initiatives by Mr Bunting and the Trinidad and Tobago leader, Keith Rowley.