Trinidad's new gov't to form commission into bloody 1990 coup attempt by Islamic group

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) — Trinidad and Tobago's new government announced Thursday it will name a commission to look into a bloody 1990 coup attempt by a radical Islamic group in the twin-island Caribbean nation.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, whose five-party coalition won a 29-12 advantage in May parliamentary elections, said the fact-finding panel will help the country close a painful chapter of its history.

"It is important for us to have this inquiry, for us to find out what exactly went wrong, so that we can take steps to avoid this ever happening again," Persad-Bissessar told reporters.

Persad-Bissessar said her government has already started to consider commissioners and determine exactly how the panel will function. Her administration also intends to auction off properties owned by the Islamic group so they can repay the state for damage during the coup attempt two decades ago.

In 1990, members of Jamaat al Muslimeen stormed Parliament and took the prime minister and his Cabinet hostage in a rebellion that killed 24 people — the only Islamic revolt in the Western Hemisphere. The rebels eventually surrendered and were later pardoned.

The group's charismatic leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, a former police officer who converted to Islam, blamed the government for widespread poverty that followed the collapse of world oil prices.

On Thursday, Abu Bakr said he was wary of Persad-Bissessar's intentions.

"It is an attempt to wipe us out," Abu Bakr said. "We had hoped that this government would be more understanding."

Over the past 20 years, Abu Bakr asserted on various occasions that the country's last two prime ministers, Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, had prior knowledge of his group's intention to storm Parliament. Both vehemently denied his allegations.

Jamaat al Muslimeen has faded as a political force in Trinidad and Tobago, although its members have been accused of participating in shootings, kidnappings and bank robberies.

Inspired by black nationalist movements in the United States and elsewhere, the group formed in the 1970s and built a private compound including a mosque and school. The number of members is unknown and it describes itself simply as a religious organization.