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. Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
ISIS deportee dangers on the horizon
Law Enforcement professionals in the United States are familiar with the story of MS-13 and its growth into a transnational crime threat. The gang began in Los Angeles organized by Salvadorian immigrants as protection from more established gangs in the neighborhood. When many MS-13’s members were deported back to El Salvador, this made the group stronger, more organized, with access to more hardcore members and better weapons as well as developing a cross-border capability. This gang is currently a serious threat to jurisdictions throughout the United States, Central America as well as other places in the Western Hemisphere.
The evolution of MS-13 provides important lessons when observing and preventing the spread of ISIS street gangs in the U.S. and its neighboring countries. As we previously discussed in the series, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is the country most impacted by ISIS gangs. There are dangerous examples and concerning trends with U.S. deportees to T&T and its impact on National Security in Caribbean nations as well as back in the United States.
In April 2017, the Trinidad Guardian posted an article titled “1,793 Deportees back from US.” The story discusses the numbers of those extradited from the U.S. between 2007 and 2016. The T&T government representatives stated that these deportees are classified into different categories with the most serious being convicted in the U.S. for murder and terrorist activities. Upon return, they are monitored by intelligence forces and police. For 2017 and beyond, many Caribbean countries are bracing for an increase in deportees as part of a new U.S. immigration policy. Many of these nations fear increased threats to their national security from these convicted U.S. criminals, who are residents of these Caribbean nations by birth.
When many MS-13’s members were deported back to El Salvador, this made the group stronger,
more organized, with access to more hardcore members
and better weapons as well as developing a cross-border capability.
In an intriguing story about T&T from Vice News, one of these U.S. deportees ended up returning, pledging allegiance to ISIS and traveling to Syria before dying on the battlefield. The title is “What it Feels Like to Lose Your Kids to ISIS.” It is the story about a father in Trinidad who won full custody of his children in a divorce with his ex-wife in 2011. The father had befriended a man named Sean Bartholomew (A.K.A Shabazz). Bartholomew was on hard times as he was a recent deportee to T&T because of a drug offense in the U.S. As Bartholomew left T&T for the U.S. at four years old, he had no friends or family support back in Trinidad. The Father felt sorry for him and assisted him in getting a job and even provided him clothes. He took Bartholomew to the local mosque and tried to counsel him on matters of faith. The father stated Bartholomew’s religious knowledge was very limited (I will add this is typical for the type of person ISIS likes to recruit). From the very beginning, the father described Bartholomew’s demeanor as a “jail-bird.”
Through the relationship between these two men, Bartholomew met the ex-wife of the father. She had weekend custody of the two kids every two weeks. As the relationship between Bartholomew and the ex-wife grew, they eventually became married. The father stated during a custody dispute, Bartholomew attacked him at his store with a metal bar. On one Friday, the ex-wife collected the children and stated she was taking them to Tobago for a short visit. Bartholomew, the ex-wife and both kids ended up in Syria. At the time of this story in October 2016, the children were still missing. Bartholomew was confirmed killed fighting for ISIS in Syria.
Another security consideration of ISIS gang activity is the enduring threat to U.S. communities from deportees.
Most have vast contacts stateside from living inside U.S. cities most of their lives.
They can be a conduit to facilitate international terrorist plots inside the U.S.
When the father gave his opinion on ISIS and Trinidadians, he described most of the recruits as gang members with pending court cases. He knew of individuals that went from being drug addicts to “soldiers of the caliphate” as he described. He further expressed strong words of condemnation for ISIS “Only stupid people get involved in ISIS. The majority of people being killed at the hand of ISIS are Muslim! You leavin’ Trinidad, a beautiful country, sun 24/7, beaches nice, coconut water, doubles, we live good here, nobody stop us from practicing our religion. You free… You would give up all of this to go in a so-called holy war, where the majority of the people you’re killing are Muslim.”
On the Bureau of Federal Prisons Inmate locator database, I searched for Sean Bartholomew. I found a probable match in the name of Sean J. Bartholomew, age 51. He was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons 8/02/2006. How many more deportees followed the footsteps of this deceased ISIS member? It is probable that some U.S. deportees have joined Unruly ISIS gangs. As these groups grow stronger, the gang brand and culture can easily proliferate to other countries in the Caribbean and beyond. There is no doubt U.S. deportees in other Caribbean nations are associated with T&T deportees through prison and neighborhood acquaintance. This ISIS gang proliferation keeps the brand going and relevant which creates an ongoing danger from the ideology.
Another security consideration of ISIS gang activity is the enduring threat to U.S. communities from deportees. Most have vast contacts stateside from living inside U.S. cities most of their lives. They can be a conduit to facilitate international terrorist plots inside the U.S. This is especially true as some may now harbor perceived grievances against the U.S. after deportation that can be exploited by ISIS. The association of ISIS and U.S. deportees to the Caribbean is an important current and future consideration for law enforcement and homeland security as well as National Security concerns in the Western Hemisphere.
- U.S. deportees to Trinidad & Tobago with connections to ISIS is an ongoing threat to monitor and investigate from a national security perspective. This trend enhances danger to both Caribbean and U.S. communities from ISIS attack plots as well as Unruly ISIS type gang activity.
- 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?
- Inquire and understand locations in which persons previously residing in your community are being deported. What are the terrorism dangers and ISIS activity in these global places? Further, inquire if state fusion center is tracking these trends as ongoing threats to the community.
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 5: Spread of ISIS gangs and implications for security in U.S. communities