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Friday, 28 July, 2000, 04:18 GMT 05:18 UK
Caribbean coup attempt remembered
Port of Spain
Port of Spain witnessed the coup attempt
By Debra Ransome, head of the BBC's Caribbean Service

Ten years ago, a group of black Muslims tried to overthrow the democratically-elected government of the Caribbean twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago.

One-hundred-and-fourteen members of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen group, mostly young black men, took over the island's parliament; held the prime minister and some other members of his cabinet hostage; and stormed the state-run television station.

Yasin Abu Bakr:
Yasin Abu Bakr: Former policeman turned coup attempt leader
For many, inside and outside the Caribbean, the 27 July crisis came as a total shock.

The English-speaking Caribbean islands had vowed, following the 1983 American-led invasion of Grenada, never to see democratically-elected structures topple ever again.

Armed raid

The crisis began with the blowing up of the police headquarters building in the capital, Port of Spain.

After that, groups of young Muslimeen, armed with AK47's, swarmed into the parliament building, known as the Red House, and Trinidad and Tobago Television, TTT.

Muslimeen leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, a former Trinidadian policeman, called for public support.

Instead Trinidadians stayed home and watched as the six-day drama was reported on local and regional radio and then picked up by the international media.

The resolution

The Muslimeen handed over their hostages and surrendered six days later on 1 August.

The coup plotters targeted the capital's TV station
Trinidad's TV station: Target for the coup plotters
They continued to argue that they had been granted an amnesty signed by the acting president. Local soldiers instead arrested them and the 115 men faced treason charges.

The case went through to the highest appeal court available to Trinidad and Tobago, London's Privy Council.

The Port of Spain courts eventually agreed that the Muslimeen should be freed in 1992.

While, the local courts upheld the amnesty, the Privy Council ruled it invalid later on but said the Muslimeen members could not be returned in jail.

Ten years on

Hostages and the wider population are still angry today at the events of a decade ago.

The country's National Security Minister Joseph Theodore said his forces have remained vigilant - they still believe the Muslimeen could be a threat.

Trinidad and Tobago remains a population of mostly Hindus, Catholics, with a small Asian Muslim community.

The Jamaat-al-Muslimeen are one of the smallest religious and social groups on the islands of 1.1 million.

The government held a memorial service on Thursday, 27 July for the 24 people who died during the crisis.

Many told the BBC it would be a long time, much longer than a decade for the twin island republic, usually famous for its calypso, carnival, and its steelpan, to forget the time when its peaceful democracy was disrupted.

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