'Caribbean has greater dangers than radical Islam'
Experts say that Caribbean faces greater danger from drug smuggling than an alleged plot to blow New York's main airport.world Updated: Jun 07, 2007 12:11 IST
An alleged plot to blow up New York's main airport has sparked fears about militant Islam in the Caribbean but experts say the region's main security risks remain drug gangs and smuggling rackets.
US authorities said on Saturday they had charged four men of Guyanese and Trinidadian origin of plotting to blow up fuel installations at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
US officials and commentators have pondered whether the Caribbean, more commonly associated with fine rums and cricket on the beach, was now an overlooked Afghanistan, teeming with Islamic radicals plotting attacks against US interests.
Muslim leaders and analysts in the region insist the New York plot, if ultimately proved, would be nothing more than an isolated scheme planned by highly unprofessional conspirators.
"The main cross border concerns continue to be drug running, financial crime and people trafficking," said Chris Zambelis, Caribbean expert at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.
"There is still no evidence of anything emerging that requires more forceful action," he said when asked about the growth of radical Islam.
US police quickly reassured the public that they did not believe Osama bin Laden's Al -Qaeda network was involved. They instead said the conspirators had ties to Jamaat Al Muslimeen, a radical group behind a 1990 coup attempt in Trinidad.
Composed chiefly of Afro-Caribbean converts, the group has not previously been associated with attacks outside Trinidad and on the island it is seen as a mafia-style crime gang, accused of murders, kidnappings and extortion.
One US terrorism expert said the alleged JFK plotters were not a sign of Al -Qaeda establishing a Caribbean foothold but rather evidence of the growing threat of individuals the world over susceptible to Al -Qaeda's message.
"We are dealing with small cells without a track record. This is not just a threat in the Caribbean, but part of a great decentralized effort, untraditional in nature," said Stephen Sloan of the University of Central Florida. "In the Caribbean we find confusing linkages with organized crime."
Several Caribbean Muslims said the alleged involvement of Jamaat Al Muslimeen showed radicalism was less likely among Muslims of Asian descent, by far the Islamic majority in the former British colonies of Guyana and Trinidad.
Guyana's Muslim leaders said they were astonished that anyone from the Islamic community in South America's only English-speaking country could be charged with such an attack. Three of the four charged were of Guyanese origin.
"We were in shock. In over 100 years, we have had nothing like this. Nothing in Friday sermons or publications gave any sign of this," said Wazir Baksh, head of the Guyana Islamic Trust.
"Guyana is unlike the countries around it. It has never had a coup or an attempted coup. That is not the psyche," Baksh added. "Radicalism would take a generation or two to develop and I do not see that."
Guyana's Police Commissioner Henry Greene also played down concerns, saying there were no other investigations into radical Islam in the former British colony where Muslims make up about 10 percent of the population.
The United States has at times identified the Lebanese Muslim community on Venezuela's Caribbean island of Margarita as a danger, saying funds were raised there for the Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah group.
While the U.S. Embassy in Caracas says it is vigilant about Margarita residents being "shaken down" by Hezbollah fundraisers, a spokesman said the island was not viewed as an immediate security risk.
Alex Schmid, a Dutch former UN security official who heads the terrorism center at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, said that security risks in Suriname were related to contraband, not Islamic militants.
He also cautioned that the JFK plot did not appear to be the work of dangerous masterminds.
"This was not a plot to blow up JFK. Punching a hole in a pipeline ... is something you can repair in six hours these days," he said. "This was very amateurish."