PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Imam Nazim Mohammed has denied suggestions that he recruited Trinidad and Tobago national Shane Crawford to fight for extremist militant group ISIS. In fact, Mohammed said he does not know, nor has he ever spoken to or prayed with Crawford.
Mohammed’s denial comes in the wake of reports that Turkish authorities had thwarted an attempt to smuggle nine Trinidad and Tobago nationals into Syria to join ISIS and an article in the July edition of ISIS online propaganda magazine Dabiq in which Crawford, under his Muslim name Abu Sa’d al-Trinidadi, was featured and made an appeal to Trinidad and Tobago Muslims to kill Christians, the Trinidad Guardian reported.
In the article, Crawford said he was involved in crime before leaving Trinidad and Tobago and was accused of being among those plotting to kill former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Identifying himself as an ISIS sniper, Crawford claimed he and two Trinidad and Tobago colleagues, Abu Abdillah and Abu ’Isa, were the first three Muslims to join ISIS. He admitted to being inspired to jihad by the teaching of Ashmead Choate, a Trinidad-based Muslim scholar who was the purported ring leader of the 2011 assassination plot.
After the report surfaced there were also reports allegedly linking Mohammed to the ISIS recruitment process in Trinidad and Tobago and of involvement with Crawford. But Mohammed insisted that he had no friendship, association or interaction with Crawford.
“Maybe I saw him (in the mosque) and thing, but I personally don’t know him. I never spoke to him. All I know him is by seeing his photos in the newspapers. Maybe he attended my mosque, I can’t remember every face. Maybe he passed through the mosque, I don’t know. People (non members) would come from all over to attend Juma’ah,” Mohammed said, defending his position and name.
Asked if he had helped Crawford get to Syria, Mohammed said he was being blamed innocently.
“If I have to be implicated it must be on truth. If they have to imprison me for the truth, then so be it. When people want to look for a scapegoat they would come after you. But they must not do that. People must be just and truthful. If people do things, why should we be paying for that?”
Mohammed said it seemed the government wanted to prove to the world that they were dealing with ISIS.
“If you are dealing with the situation to penalise innocent people, well, let them go ahead. That is not justice. They must not do things to please the superpowers and the world.”
Mohammed said his members were not into robbery, gangs, drugs, crime and certainly not ISIS.
In 2009, Mohammed came on the radar when he was interviewed by FBI agents prior to the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain. The agents wanted to know if Mohammed was a threat to US President Barack Obama during his visit to Trinidad.
Thereafter, his 28-year-old mosque became a target.
For the past two years, Mohammed said he has been branded an ISIS recruiter, which has led police intelligence to monitor his telephone calls and movements.
“They have intelligence checking me out… monitoring my life day and night. Sometimes the intelligence would give them wrong information, sometimes they have intelligence (police) dressed as Muslims coming to the mosque for Juma, so I have to be careful. So I don’t know who coming and going. Sometimes the intelligence lying for them too.”
Mohammed could not say who the local recruiter for ISIS was. “But it certainly is not me.”
Last year, five members of Mohammed’s family, his daughter, son-in-law and three teenage grandchildren, travelled to war torn Syria, where ISIS operates.
But Mohammed, 74, claimed he had no inkling that his daughter had planned to go there with her immediate family. Mohammed said he has had no communication with his daughter since they settled in Syria, noting she had no intention of returning to Trinidad.
An Imam for several years, Mohammed said the programme his mosque offers was reformation, living good with one another and serving Allah.
“Our programme is not to kill people. If people want to know how we operate they can come and check. The people in the community know how we operate.”
The declaration of the formation of a “caliphate” (state governed by Islamic law) by ISIS in June 2014 triggered a surge in the number of foreign fighters travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the group. A report published in December 2015 by the New York-based security consultancy Soufan Group estimated that 27,000 foreign jihadists made the trip from 86 countries, more than half of them from the Middle East and North Africa.