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POLITICS: Terror Plot Puts Security on Caricom-Bush Agenda

Bert Wilkinson

GEORGETOWN, Jun 15 2007 (IPS) - Caribbean leaders will meet with George W. Bush next Wednesday for their first full summit with a U.S. president in exactly a decade, but the original agenda is likely to be altered following recent charges against four Caribbean nationals for allegedly plotting to blow up fuel depots at New York’s JFK Airport.

Originally, the region was planning to push the administration to help “transform the free trade area economically,” given the January 2006 formal start of the Caribbean Single Market and plans as early as next year to begin moving to a single regional economy.

But charges brought in May against civil engineer Abdul Kadir, 55, handyman Abdel Nur, 57, retired JFK employee Russell DeFreitas, 63, and bookkeeper Kareem Ibrahim, 56, could slip into the agenda as a major security item, officials admit.

“We were planning to move forward rather than looking back at what has happened in the past. We are planning to concentrate on economics and development given the thrust for regional transformation. But the latest developments will likely come up as a security issue,” said foreign affairs chief Colin Granderson. “Security is now a main pillar in the region and I won’t be surprised if it is raised by the Americans. It almost certainly will.”

Of the four suspects, three are from Guyana, the small South American nation just below Trinidad, the most southerly of the Caribbean island chain.

Caricom, formed in July 1973 but preceded by the West Indies Federation as far back as 1958, is headquartered in Guyana. The fourth suspect, Ibrahim, is from Trinidad, where Kadir and Nur were arrested as they allegedly met to formulate plans to cause mayhem at JFK and in Queens.

Kadir was an opposition member of parliament until last August, and was also mayor of his bauxite-mining home town of Linden, south of the capital.

Caricom officials say that they are concerned about U.S. and international media reports that have tainted the image of the Caribbean as a possible breeding ground for extremism, rather than a vacation paradise.

Bush and the Caricom leaders are due to meet for about two hours on Jun. 20, while foreign ministers will spend much more time with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Monday.

But even as ambassadors in Washington and State Department officials hammer out the details of the meetings, news media in the region are still front-paging the arrest of the four, as U.S. Homeland Security officials check leads to see whether external players were involved in the alleged plot.

At the beginning of the week, a Trinidad court denied bail to three of the four suspects. The other, DeFreitas, was arrested in New York.

Meanwhile, details are emerging that Terry DeSouza or Steve Francis, the convicted drug dealer from the Dominican Republic who local media have exposed as the U.S. government informant who cracked the case, might have originally traveled to Guyana late last year with a different agenda – a search for another man of Guyanese heritage.

Since 2003, the FBI and other federal agencies have been searching for alleged terror suspect Adnan El Shukrijumah, accused of plotting with others unknown to explode a so-called “dirty bomb” containing nuclear material in the U.S.

Shukrijumah, reportedly in his mid-30s, was born in Saudi Arabia to a local woman and Guyanese father studying religion there. Nearly everyone whose path DeSouza or Francis crossed in the local nine-percent Muslim community said he displayed so many obvious signs he was “some kind of agent” that they wondered how Kadir and the others got involved with him.

“He was always on the telephone even during prayers at the Mosque, “said business executive Asif Ali. “We found it strange but most people said nothing.”

The informant, whose photograph and travel details appeared in all the local and many of the regional newspapers, had also traveled with, and constantly used, an expensive satellite telephone and appeared to have money to burn.

In one case, a businessman listed as one of the suspects in the complaint found that DeSouza had installed “a strange programme on my computer. I became suspicious of his actions and threw him out of my office forever,” he told IPS on condition of anonymity. “Now I expect to be arrested. I know they are coming for me. It is just a matter of time.”

Devout Muslims said he also appeared to have been a womanizer, and traveled from mosque to mosque around the country, trying to persuade businessmen to join him in joint ventures but also “saying that he had a message for Shukrijumah.”

He also asked about Shukrijumah during trips to Trinidad.

Guyanese government officials and local police have pledged full cooperation with the U.S. in this case, saying terror has no place in Guyanese society.

This week, a Guyanese court refused bail to two young sons of Kadir for allegedly possessing a single rifle bullet at their home following a weekend search by police and the FBI.

A search by Guyanese sleuths had uncovered nothing the previous week. “This is so unfair. Big businessmen they found with guns and hundreds of rounds at their home got bail. Why not these two?” asked Kadir family supporter Hazel Austin outside the courtroom where the two were remanded until next week.

The Kadirs were so taken in by DeSouza that they allowed him to stay at a family home and pray at a small mosque as he pretended to explore investment opportunities while scouring the area for Shukrijumah.

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