Trinidad muslims seek release of imams from Venezuela

Port of Spain, April 5 (IANS/EFE) The chairman of the Muslim Social and Cultural Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago led a demonstration Friday outside the Venezuelan Embassy here to press for the release of three Trinidadian imams being held in Caracas on terror charges.

The imams — Salam Abdul, Hamza Mohammad and Sheikh Hamid Hassan — are among five Trinidad and Tobago nationals that authorities in Caracas accuse of teaming up with rogue Venezuelan police officers and others to carry out attacks in the Andean nation.

Foundation chair Inshan Ishmael told reporters he found it strange that Trinidad Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran had not travelled to Caracas to secure the release of the men.

“In fact the head of the Security Council, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has not uttered one word in regards to this whole incident and found it fit recently to leave the country while five of our citizens are incarcerated,” Ishmael said.

The Venezuelan attorney general’s office announced last week that 13 people – including five Trinidadian nationals – arrested the previous week were being charged with terrorism and criminal conspiracy.

Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall, who led a Trinidadian delegation to Caracas to look into the issue, later told the Trinidad Express that the “matter is extremely sensitive and we have to be careful”.

“We hope to secure a proper resolution to the matter, but I can’t discuss anything more about the men, since their case is before a Venezuelan court,” he said.

The Trinidadian government “has been doing everything that is diplomatically possible to assist the party of Trinidad and Tobago nationals currently detained in Venezuela,” National Security Minister Gary Griffith said.

At the same time, he pointed out that “the sovereignty of Venezuela must be respected and all due investigations must be allowed to run their course”.

Eight children and six women who were detained along with the male suspects returned to Port-of-Spain March 29 after Kelshall’s visit to Caracas.

The suspects were surprised at a Caracas hotel in possession of computers, sophisticated communications gear and military apparel, the Venezuelan AG’s office said last week.

Three of the Venezuelan defendants, intelligence agent Rafael Duran and police officers Jose Montañez and Fery Molina, were training the other 10 in the use of firearms, the AG’s office said.

The Trinidad Express reported last week that Venezuelan authorities seized military uniforms and jihadist videos from the group, as well as $102,000 in cash and 66 passports.

The three imams said they were in Caracas to secure visas at the Saudi Arabian Consulate for Trinidadians wishing to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.