CEP Book Discussion: Black Flags of the Caribbean – How Trinidad Became an ISIS Hotspot

(New York, N.Y. / London) On Wednesday, March 31, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) hosted a webinar and book discussion with Dr. Simon Cottee, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Kent. Dr. Cottee discussed his recent publication Black Flags of the Caribbean – How Trinidad Became an ISIS Hotspot with London-based CEP Advisor Liam Duffy.

Published on March 25, Dr. Cottee’s latest work analyzes how and why ISIS came to amass such an unlikely, yet significant foothold in Trinidad. The investigative piece follows a three-year study in Trinidad and comprises of interviews with the families and friends of those who left to join the jihad, Muslim activists and community leaders, imams, politicians, and intelligence agents. This book presents the social forces and communities in Trinidad that have been affected by ISIS.

Perhaps surprisingly, on a per-capita basis, Trinidad was one of the largest providers of volunteers for the caliphate. By 2017, over 240 Trinidadian nationals had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. With a population of 1.3 million, the number of ISIS recruits leaving Trinidad was roughly double the rate of those leaving Belgium, which according to some estimates, has the highest per-capita rate of foreign fighters in the Western world.

Commenting on the phenomenon, Dr. Cottee said: “The Caribbean does not immediately come to mind when we think of ISIS, and yet, at the height of the Caliphate radicalised foreign-fighters left Trinidad at an alarmingly high rate. One of the least known, but most alarming, aspects of the Islamic State is its ability to draw recruits and sympathizers from around the world, including from many countries not known as hotbeds of radicalism. Examining these outliers is a key component of counter-terrorism and will allow for a more rounded analysis of what draws individuals to extremism.”

Another unusual element is the high proportion of female Trinidadians recruited by ISIS. Of 70 foreign fighters analyzed by Dr. Cottee, 40 percent of the adults were women. This places Trinidad at the top of the list of Western countries for female ISIS migrants.

David Ibsen, executive director at CEP emphasized the importance of bringing the foreign fighters home to face repercussions. He said: “Dr. Cottee’s research is a welcome first step in recognizing and acknowledging ISIS hubs outside of Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. As the security and status of north-eastern Syria becomes increasingly uncertain, it is imperative that Trinidad and Tobago recognizes their obligation to return their foreign fighters to face investigations and potential prosecution for the crimes they may have committed overseas.”

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