Yasin Abu Bakr, an influential Islamic leader in Trinidad and Tobago who once launched a bloody coup attempt that left dozens dead in his eastern Caribbean nation more than three decades ago, has died. He was 80.
He died just two days after celebrating his birthday with family, and a day shy of the one-year anniversary of the death of one of his wives. Islam allows a maximum of four wives. No cause of death was provided for the religious leader, who led the hemisphere’s only Islamist coup.
Born Lennox Phillip, Abu Bakr was a former police officer who converted to Islam in the 1970s. While some viewed him as a respected religious and community leader, others saw him as the Imam who led the homegrown radical Muslim group Jamaat al Muslimeen, or Party of Muslims
The group, which first won attraction due to its campaign to clean the streets of drug dealers, had been described by some Trinidadians as the “sleeping giant” with the ability to help mobilize the crucial black Muslim swing vote during elections in the country whose population is divided between African and Indian descent. Abu Bakr rejected allegations that his group was engaged in criminal activities. Jamaat, he contended, was a religious and charitable organization.
The group first made international headlines when on July 27, 1990, Abu Bakr and over 100 armed Muslim rebels set off a car bomb that gutted the police station in front of Parliament. They then stormed into the legislature and sprayed it with bullets before taking the prime minister and his Cabinet hostage. The rebellion left 24 people dead, and others injured. The group surrendered six days later after an offer of presidential amnesty. It would not be the last time that Abu Bakr or his group would be accused of violence — but never convicted
Over the years, they would be charged with various crimes, including the 1987 slaying of a 22-year-old mechanic, who was dragged out of his home and shot to death. The charges were eventually dismissed. In 2003, Abu Bakr was charged with conspiracy to commit murder by ordering two Jamaat members to kill two people expelled from the group. Two years later, another Jamaat member, Clive Lancelot Small, was sentenced to 151 months in prison for trying to ship 70 automatic weapons from Fort Lauderdale to Trinidad.
Abu Bakr was briefly thrust into the international spotlight again in 2007 when U.S. prosecution documents alleged that some of the four men from Guyana accused in a plot to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport tried to meet with Abu Bakr to get support from the Jamaat al Muslimeen.
In 2010, Trinidad’s government appointed a five-member commission to answer questions about the 1990 coup. It held more than a dozen sessions over three years in an effort to understand why the violent insurrection occurred. The panel had no subpoena power.