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PORT OF SPAIN – A three-day regional workshop aimed at preventing violent extremism got underway here on Tuesday amidst concerns that the return of Caribbean nationals from participation in terrorist activities could pose a significant threat to the region.
However the conference, which is being organised and funded by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, heard that the number of Caribbean nationals travelling to far away countries to participate in terrorist activities may have been minimised.
Addressing the opening ceremony, the Regional Crime and Security Strategy Coordinator at CARICOM IMPACS, Callixtus Joseph, said nothing justifies violent extremism and terrorism.
“Technology enables terrorist groups to reach disenfranchised people everywhere. A terrorist in Europe or Asia can provide instructions to an agent in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica or St Lucia.
“One can be influenced, groomed and recruited to terrorism on the internet. It is important to note that the vulnerabilities and gaps exploited by criminal organisations are equally susceptible to exploitation by terrorists,” he told the workshop.
Joseph said nothing could never excuse the indiscriminate targeting of civilians.
“Violent extremism and terrorism is at odds with our values and our vision of a safe and prosperous community. The threat we face from violent extremism is real, it is serious, it is urgent and it knows no boundaries.
“While CARICOM has been largely spared the horror of terrorism attacks, CARICOM should not linger in the false notion that the region is immune from terrorism,” Joseph warned.
The three day course is part of the efforts to build the capacity of over 110 participants from Trinidad and Tobago and over 300 regional participants to prevent and counter violent extremism in the region.
“Over 130 persons have left the region to support the Islamic State (IS) as foreign terrorist fighters. This presents an urgent threat that CARICOM governments are continuing to address. CARICOM IMPACS and the Commonwealth Secretariat have also pledged support to the region to prevent violent extremism and counter terrorism,” the organisers said in a statement.
They said police, military, customs, immigration, prisons, as well as government agencies, academia, non-government organisations and other regional organisations will benefit from both face to face and online video instruction, which will expose them to best practices and support measures.
Minister in the Office of the Attorney General, Fitzgerald Hinds told the delegates said the return of some foreign terrorists was inevitable and this could result in serious risks for the country.
Trinidad and Tobago for example has the highest number of Caribbean nationals fighting with ISIs terrorists in Syria.
“Because when they go to these regions and they get the training they do [it is] like riding a bicycle you don’t forget how to ride the bicycle.
“Once you learn it stays in you and they would have developed all kinds of horrifying techniques to hurt and to cause damage and danger and to cause panic,” Hinds added.
“The organisers said that the delegates will also be able to use the workshop to discuss key concepts, international agreements and norms. International experiences and regional cooperation in preventing violent extremism is also an area of focus.”
They will also be provided with an in-depth understanding of both CARICOM IMPACS and the Commonwealth Secretariat Counter Terrorism and Preventing Violent Extremism Programmes.
A key objective of the Preventing Violent Extremism Course in CARICOM is to build the capacity of stakeholders to develop innovative responses; while promoting the protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other fundamental freedoms. (CMC)