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Terror watch - Security expert warns Jamaica not safe from radicals

Published:Thursday | November 19, 2015 | 11:00 AMLivern Barrett

Less than a week after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in France, Mark Shields, the British counterterrorism expert, who served for several years as Jamaica's crime chief, is warning Jamaicans against thinking that a similar attack could not happen here.

While conceding that the island could be considered a "soft target" for terrorists, Shields insisted that Jamaicans should not underestimate the threat posed by the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and warned that the United States and French embassies, along with the British High Commission, could make attractive targets for would-be terrorists.

Among a raft of measures to help keep Jamaicans safe, he suggested that local law-enforcement authorities raise the level of public awareness about terrorism.

GREATERAWARENESS NEEDED

"Just because this happened in Paris, in London, and elsewhere, there isn't any reason to say it cannot happen in Kingston or Montego Bay," Shields told The Gleaner.

"In the same way that we always try to raise public awareness around murder and serious crimes, I think that in relation to terrorism, there is always a need to make the public aware," he insisted.

"We have to be aware of those around us and make people aware that we should not be complacent at home."

Shields' warning came hours after the police in Honduras announced that five men - all Syrian nationals - had been detained in the capital Tegucigalpa.

Investigators believe they were trying to get to the United States using stolen Greek passports, but they were not linked to last Friday's attack in the French capital, which left 129 persons dead.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Devon Watkis, who heads the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Counterterrorism and Organised Crime Division, declined to comment on any terrorism-related measures being implemented by the police, but said Jamaicans

can feel assured that local authorities are monitoring the situation across the globe.

TRINIDAD'S PLAN

By comparison, Trinidad and Tobago has announced that in response to possible acts of terrorism by ISIS, it plans to beef up security across the country while continuing to liaise with law-enforcement authorities in the United States.

As part of the increased security measures, Trinidad's national security minister, retired Major General Edmund Dillon, said authorities would ramp up immigration controls and deepen its surveillance activities.

Shields, who is also a former detective inspector at the New Scotland Yard, acknowledged that the US remains a prime target for terrorists, but said the arrests of the Syrian nationals in Honduras underscore the need for Jamaica and other countries in the region to have full collaboration among their anti-terrorism networks.

"That they are working together, that they are sharing intelligence, and that at the border, whether it's Kingston's airport or Port-au-Prince (Haiti), there is a high degree of vigilance, because we know the terrorists are resourceful and they will do anything they can to get into the countries they wish to target," Shields suggested.

"So it's very possible that countries such as Trinidad, Haiti and Jamaica could be transit points for persons wishing to commit acts of terrorism in the United States," he said.

As a result, the former head of international and domestic terrorism at the Metropolitan Police Service Special Branch believes Jamaican authorities should impose tighter border controls, and suggested that the profiling of passengers is one of the tools law-enforcement operatives could employ.

"We have to look at the profile of passengers - how they bought their tickets, where they travelled from, what their travel plans are - all of that will assist border patrols, Customs officers and immigration officers

to form opinions of those individuals and, when they fit within those profiles, then they should be asked further questions," Shields said.

The former JCF deputy commissioner said he was certain that the Jamaican police are already monitoring "radicalised Muslims" in Jamaica to determine what activities they are engaged in.

"Anybody who they know has been radicalised, and I can think of a few, they would be watching those persons very closely," he said, while urging Jamaicans to report all suspicious activities.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com