ISIS and Local Street Gangs Series (Part 3): an Example from Trinidad & Tobago

ISIS and Local Street Gangs is a series discussing traditional local street gangs and their adopting of the ISIS brand and message as has become an emerging threat in certain communities.  During the series, examples of this activity and solutions for law enforcement officers will be showcased and highlighted. You can read Parts 1 and  Part 2 here.

 

Unruly ISIS Gang

Currently, there are no other places more directly impacted by ISIS gang activity than certain neighborhoods and communities on the Island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.  The development of this deadly gang brand is a cautionary tale for other jurisdictions to take note and learn important lessons to prevent this type of activity.

trinidad-and-tobago-gangsTrinidad & Tobago (or as often referenced T&T) is an island nation with a diverse population and an economic powerhouse in the eastern Caribbean.  Like many countries in the region, it has serious challenges from violence and gang activity as well as local and international drug trafficking.  T&T has the highest rate of violent crime in the eastern Caribbean.  As related to the Western Hemisphere, the unique history of jihadist militant activity in T&T creates an enhanced vulnerability to the youth population for recruitment and support of the ISIS message.

In a well-researched article from Global Americans, the issue of gangs and jihadist activity in the context of T&T is discussed.  “Gangs, Guns, Drugs and the Islamic Foreign Fighters: Security Challenges in Trinidad and Tobago”  presents timely and relevant information that assists in understanding the ISIS danger in this part of the Americas.  The article’s author developed the information by traveling to the island nation and discussing the challenges with defense and security experts in the region.

 

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…Violence and drug trafficking are two prominent and reoccurring themes.

Some of the Muslim youth gangs are now aligning themselves under the name of “Unruly ISIS.”

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The author of this Global American article interpreted a direct correlation between current street gang activity of Muslim youths and the jihadist militant group in T&T, Jama’at al-Muslimeen (JAM).  In 1990, the group’s founder (former police officer named Lennox Phillip & later known as Abu Bakr) and other members of JAM attempted a coup to take over the government.  After the government brokered a ceasefire and agreement with JAM militants to hasten their surrender, many participating in the coup were released from prison under amnesty.

The Global American article states “After the government’s decision under duress to pardon JAM leadership, the movement metastasized into multiple afro-Trinidadian youth gangs, ever more loosely connected with JAM founder Abu Bakr.  Those groups interacted with numerous other small and medium-sized gangs concentrated in the urban East-West corridor in the north that extends to the western coast.”  Further stated is that the majority of those that have left for ISIS in Syria, over the last several years, have origins in these spin-off groups from JAM and have been influenced by radical mosques in places like Rio Claro, Carapo and the Enterprise area of Trinidad.

 

The article provides an overall breakdown of T&T’s diverse gang landscape into three categories, which is described as mainly in urban neighborhoods and prisons.

“(1) Islamic criminal gangs;

(2) a more atomized set of non-Islamic groups sharing the same neighborhoods, referred to as ‘Rasta City;’ and

(3) ‘independent’ gangs, often away from the urban centers, or occupying territory around key logistics sites such as ports.”

As the gangs of Muslim youth and those described as “Rasta City” often clash in urban neighborhoods, the third category is described as working with groupings of the other two “in order to make money moving and selling drugs, or facilitating other types of illicit activities.” By the end of 2015, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service estimated there were 147 gangs, with 1,698 members, responsible for approximately 34% of all murders in the country.

Global American describes the main financing activity for T&T gangs as obtaining construction contracts or employment with government programs as well as drug trafficking locally.  The involvement in drug activity differs depending on the gang, “with some groups actively engaging in moving, selling and using drugs, and others “taxing” the trade through the area they control.”

In my own research and analysis of information about T&T gang activity, violence and drug trafficking are two prominent and reoccurring themes.  Some of the Muslim youth gangs are now aligning themselves under the name of “Unruly ISIS.”  Because of the proliferation of shootings and murders resulting from clashes between Unruly ISIS and Rasta City, a lot of media attention was on the Enterprise area during 2016 and 2017.  Some of the dynamics at play indicate internal and external struggles for power.  Unruly ISIS is believed to be responsible for murdering several prominent Muslim personalities in their home “turf” area of Enterprise. There are also reports that Unruly ISIS members were upset after being kicked out of the main neighborhood mosque by an Imam.  Along with numerous reports of retaliatory shootings between Unruly ISIS and Rasta City, there are different threats and a “war of words” via social media platforms.

 

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Unruly ISIS gang provides a template in the western hemisphere

to draw lessons on this danger

as well as showcases the need for urgency in confronting

and mitigating the development of this type of activity in other communities in the region,

including inside the United States.

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A question I sought about Unruly ISIS was the depth of connections between this group and actual supporters of ISIS with contacts in the Syria/Iraq.  With so many of the T&T ISIS foreign fighters having the previously cited connections to gangs of Muslim youths, this points toward a direct relationship between Unruly ISIS members and ISIS terrorists.  In addition, a visual investigation of one of Unruly ISIS Instagram accounts provides even more evidence that Unruly ISIS draws inspiration from ISIS images and adds this outlook to its pursuit of traditional street gang activity.

In the Unruly ISIS Instagram account, diverse messages for the local street gang are presented.  There are many propaganda images and memes that are also found on sites of the typical ISIS supporter, including a popular poster having the image of a masked fighter pointing an AK-47 in battle with the caption “Jihad Doesn’t Need You, You Need Jihad.”  There are also local images of drinking, sex and “street hustling” for money.  Many of the photos are about weapons and celebrating violence, which this group is savvy enough to never show the faces of members when holding any weapons.  The typical ISIS message of waging war on non-believers and killing them is prominent, one image adds the message to a meme with a picture of a rifle (by itself), “stacks” of cash as well as two standalone face photos of an Unruly ISIS gang member. As found with most street gangs, a lot of posed pictures with members are found on this page.  In addition to gang and ISIS related images, regular religious messages are also present.

 

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Don’t take for granted [local gangs] are just using the [ISIS or other terrorist group name]

to intimidate, they may be talking to a worldwide network via secured communications.

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In YouTube videos from T&T, that appear to have been uploaded by gang members associated with the Unruly ISIS brand, there are images of weapons, money and violence as well as religion connected to messages disrespecting Rasta City gangs.  In one of these videos, Unruly ISIS appears to lead viewers through the neighborhood to show damage on buildings from bullet holes as well as residents recovering from gunshot wounds.  Other citizens are interviewed about how bad the shootings in the Enterprise area have become.  At the very end of the video (for only a few seconds) a group of Unruly ISIS members recite the typical proclamation on camera in unison that is popular with ISIS global membership in propaganda videos.  They hold up their index finger as number 1, which symbolizes Tawhid (oneness of God) while chanting “Takbir, Allah Akhbar” several times.  I found it telling that they only conducted this typical ISIS chant and symbolism on camera for a very short time at the end of the video.

The T&T Police Service identifies an Unruly ISIS gang member, who goes by the name Abdul Wakeel AKA “Krysis,” as the leader of the group in Enterprise.  From media reports, he has been high profile in representing the group and in the summer of 2017 announced a peace initiative for the gang.  Many are skeptical about the intentions of this initiative and its lasting impact on gang violence.  As the war with Rasta City has brought high profile attention to the Enterprise area, it no doubt has disrupted illicit businesses for all the participants involved. This creates an incentive for lowering the violent profile (but not changing the activity) of this gang.  An interesting notation in some reporting (unverified) was that Wakeel has previously lived in the United States before returning to T&T.

 

Bottom Line:

  • Unruly ISIS gang provides a template in the western hemisphere to draw lessons on this danger as well as showcases the need for urgency in confronting and mitigating the development of this type of activity in other communities in the region, including inside the United States.
  • It is important for local officers to become aware and learn about the diversity of global gang trends that may eventually impact the jurisdiction they protect and serve.

 

What can I do to protect my jurisdiction?

  • If during every day duties you run across a group calling themselves by ISIS or by another terrorist group name and emulating actions, further inquiry should be made to determine if they are part of a wider network beyond a small neighborhood group. Don’t take for granted they are just using the name to intimidate, they may be talking to a worldwide network via secured communications.

 

In this blog article series, we continue to explore and discuss several aspects of emerging ISIS gang activity, including as a possible future growing threat in US jurisdictions.  Our investigation will look at the crime-terror nexus as a very important component of ISIS and its recruitment of members.  We will also discuss ongoing deadly ISIS street gang activity and its roots in a nation close in proximity and cultural ties to the U.S. Most importantly, we will discuss ways this phenomenon may impact communities in the United States and key trends for law enforcement to consider in identifying and protecting jurisdiction from this emerging trend.

 

Coming Soon Part 4: ISIS Deportee Dangers on the Horizon

Additional Resources
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