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EDITORIAL - Cheaper at the Pegasus

Published:Monday | October 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Peter Bunting's struggle to defend his handling of the Abu Bakr deportation rests on more than its cost, although J$4 million for a plane ride from Kingston to Port-of-Spain is a hell of a lot of money. But maybe not to Mr Bunting.

The primary question, it appears to us, is what is Jamaica's strategy for determining foreign threats to its national security, how this informs policy and, specifically, the decision against Yasin Abu Bakr, who leads Trinidad and Tobago's Jamaat al Muslimeen.

Unfortunately, Mr Bunting, the national security minister, offered little of substance in his statement to Parliament last week. Unless the worthy bits were drowned out by the desk-thumping and screeching of his government colleagues.

No one would doubt that Abu Bakr might be a person of interest for foreign security agencies, including Jamaica's. In 1990, he attempted to overthrow the Trinidadian government, during which the country's then Prime Minister, Arthur Robinson, was shot while being held hostage with other legislators in the parliament.

Amnesty negotiated

Twenty-four people were killed during six days of unrest. Abu Bakr and his followers, however, were freed on the basis, the courts held, of an amnesty negotiated with the authorities to end the crisis.

Prior to, and since the coup attempt, Abu Bakr and his group have had many brushes with the law, but he has not been convicted of a crime.

It appears that even after the coup attempt, Yasin Abu Bakr was never placed on any 'blacklist' for entry into Jamaica. So a quarter century after the events in Trinidad, he bought his ticket ahead of his travel to Kingston without triggering any security alert.

There was nothing covert about his actions. The red against this feared radicaliser of Jamaicans only flashed after he had boarded his flight to Kingston. Suddenly, it seemed, it occurred to someone that something should be done.

So, we concede the danger posed by Abu Bakr. He had attempted a coup! But there remains the question about Jamaica's approach to security analysis and the application of its results.

For while there are reasons for fearing Abu Bakr and Jamaat Al Muslimeen, there are those who might question whether those reasons reside outside Trinidad and Tobago.

America's Nation of Islam

Indeed, 1990 notwithstanding, Jamaat Al Muslimeen appears to be more of a mish-mash of black-power advocacy, social welfare delivery, strong-arming, and perhaps, even crime profit, than Islamic State.

An even greater resemblance in terms of some of its structure, outreach efforts and social rhetoric is America's Nation of Islam, whose leader, Louis Farrakhan, and many of his followers, coincidentally, were visiting Jamaica at the time of Abu Bakr's incident. Mr Farrakhan has been to Jamaica a number of times in recent years to address crowds of several thousands.

The security analysis concluded that Abu Bakr should be removed from Jamaica immediately. You couldn't risk detaining him for anytime, for he might radicalise an entire lock-up and plan a terrorist incident. But at 74, with legitimate health issues and having travelled first class, Abu Bakr insisted on returning in the same style, lest his health be in danger.

Mr Bunting, rather Jamaican taxpayers, sprung for a private jet. Four million Jamaican dollars would have paid for several nights for a suite, with good security and much good food at Kingston's Pegasus hotel.

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