Updated: Sep 18
Note: This is not the official flag of the JAM, but rather a reproduction containing the flag of Trinidad and Tobago (as this is the country they are active in).
Jamaat al Muslimeen (JAM), meaning "Community of Muslims", is a Sunni Islamist fundamentalist group based in Trinidad and Tobago which grew to popularity within the country’s Black Muslim minority population. The group was founded by Yassin Abu Bakr, a Trinidadian Islamic convert, in the 1980s upon his return from Libya, where he had been living as a guest of Muammar Gadaffi (BBC News, 2019). The JAM rose to international prominence in 1990 for attempting to overthrow the Trinidadian government, making this coup the only attempted Islamist uprising in Latin America and the Caribbean. While the group has become more focused on Islamic education and community projects over the years, they have also been accused of various crimes, ranging from drug trafficking and murder to acts of terrorism.
History & Foundations
In the mid-1980s, the JAM launched an anti-drug campaign and engaged in vigilante justice, driving drug dealers out of neighbourhoods and seizing both weapons and narcotics. Several years later, in 1990, the JAM staged a coup against the government of Trinidad and Tobago, where over 114 members of the group were involved. The group conducted bomb attacks on police headquarters, stormed the parliament, and led attacks on television and radio stations. Several people -- including the acting Prime Minister at the time -- were taken hostage and over 24 people were killed. The ordeal lasted 6 days before the militants surrendered to the army (Collihan and Danopoulos,1993).
During an interview with Al Jazeera in 2017, Umar Abdullah, a former member of the JAM, expressed his disagreement with the group's decision to surrender to the military, claiming that he had been willing to die fighting for the establishment of an Islamic State in Trinidad. However, he claimed that he now advocates for its establishment through peaceful means. In the same interview, it was revealed that one of Abdullah's close friends, Fareed Mustapha, had left Trinidad for the Islamic State (IS) and died fighting in Syria. Another former JAM member, Imam Nazim Mohammed, reportedly had 15 of his relatives and 91 members of his mosque also flee to Syria for the same reasons (Ruhfus, 2017).
During the brief existence of the caliphate, more than 130 Trinidadians reportedly fled to Syria, giving Trinidad the highest per capita rate of individuals joining the Islamic State in the Western Hemisphere (Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network, 2019).
Ideology & Objectives
Reports indicate that the JAM had multiple motivations for their efforts to overthrow the Trinidadian government. Among these reasons were allegations of government corruption and mismanagement, along with perceived discrimination faced by their community due to the government's assertion that their mosque was occupying land illegally. Additionally, the group expressed dissatisfaction with the government's rejection of a medicine shipment provided by them from Libya, as well as concerns about the increased presence of military personnel near a JAM commune (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2000).
The coup attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, and the group's leaders were arrested and charged with treason. However, the events of the coup and its aftermath had a significant impact on the political landscape of Trinidad and Tobago, and the organization has continued to be a controversial and somewhat influential force in the country.
In 2021, the JAM appointed Sadiq Al Razi as their new imam, following the death of founder Yasin Abu Bakr in October (Berkeley, 2021). The following year, Imam Al Razi announced that the group would not “dabble in politics” on the anniversary of the attempted coup and would instead use the day to pray, fast, and feed the poor. Over the years, the JAM has focused on hosting community events that promote Islamic education, while also fulfilling the basic responsibilities of a mosque, such as conducting prayers, burials, and providing charity. Additionally, the mosque runs a school and maintains an active presence on Facebook, using the platform to share photos and videos of their community service activities. This reform highlights the ideological transition of the JAM, as it seems to have become more apolitical and focused on social work.
Approach to Resistance
In 2005, police raided a JAM compound and found an assault rifle, several rounds of ammunition, and a grenade (Seelal, 2005). That same year, the group was suspected of being involved in a series of bombings in Port-a-Spain, an allegation which the group denied. A group member was also caught attempting to smuggle 70 submachine guns and 10 silencers from Fort Lauderdale, USA to Trinidad (Lacey, 2007). In 2007, two Guyanese men charged with an attempted plot to bomb John F. Kennedy Airport in New York reportedly had connections to JAM (Walker, 2007), one of the men, a Guyanese politician by the name of Abdul Kadir, was also an alleged Iranian agent (Humire, 2015). Additionally, members of the group have been accused of participating in the murder of Congresswoman Dana Seethal in 2014 (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016). At one point, the group also reportedly maintained ties with the Nation of Islam as well as militant groups in Iran and Libya (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2000).
Despite the group's seemingly-tumultuous past, they have often been characterized as a local criminal gang rather than an international terrorist organization. However, their reputation in Trinidad is varied, with some people viewing them as a terrorist group and criminal gang, and others viewing them as a more legitimate community organization.
Works Cited (MLA-style)
Berkeley, Cherisse L. “New Head of Jamaat al Muslimeen Appointed - Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday , 2 Nov. 2021, newsday.co.tt/2021/11/01/new-head-of-jamaat-al-muslimeen-appointed/.
Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network. “The Isis Phenomenon in Trinidad and Tobago.” Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network, 5 Dec. 2019, www.cijn.org/the-isis-phenomenon-in-trinidad-and-tobago/.
Collihan, Kathleen M., and Constantine P. Danopoulos. “Coup d’etat attempt in Trinidad: Its causes and failure.” Armed Forces & Society, vol. 19, no. 3, 1993, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0095327X9301900308
Humire, Joseph. “Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere.” U.S House of Representatives Document Repository, Committee on Foreign Affairs, 18 Mar. 2015, docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA07/20150318/103177/HHRG-114-FA07-Wstate-HumireJ-20150318.pdf.
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Trinidad and Tobago: Information on the Jamaat Al Muslimeen (JAM), Including Political and Criminal Activities, and Violence Perpetrated by Members; State Response (2010-February 2016).” Refworld, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada & United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 14 Mar. 2016, https://www.refworld.org/category,COI,IRBC,QUERYRESPONSE,TTO,57dfa2364,0.html
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Trinidad: A Muslim Organization Led by Yasin Abu Bakr; His Political Role If Any, and His Relationship with Government Officials (1988 to February 2000).” Refworld, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada & United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 25 Feb. 2000, www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad7e10.html.
Lacey, Marc. “Trinidad Group Denies Link to New York Bomb Plot.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 June 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/06/10/world/americas/10trinidad.html#:~:text=Denying%20that%20their%20group%2C%20Jamaat,nation%20of%20Trinidad%20and%20Tobago.
Ruhfus, Juliana. “Caribbean to Caliphate - People & Power.” YouTube, Al Jazeera, 17 May 2017, youtu.be/ugCv9SZygzI
Seelal, Nalinee. “Cops Seize Grenade, Gun, Ammo at Jamaat.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday Archives, 11 Nov. 2005, archives.newsday.co.tt/2005/11/11/cops-seize-grenade-gun-ammo-at-jamaat/.
Walker, Robert. “Americas Profile: Jamaat al Muslimeen.” BBC News, BBC, 3 June 2007, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6716765.stm.