Five Muslim men from Trinidad & Tobago have been charged with terrorism and criminal conspiracy for allegedly participating in a plot to overthrow Venezuela’s president, but the detainees claim they were only in Caracas to request Saudi Arabian visas.
The five Trinidadian nationals were arrested in March at a hotel in Caracas along with at least fourteen other individuals, reported Stabroek News. The men have been accused of working with a member of the Venezuelan national intelligence service (SEBIN), a Venezuelan police officer, and a Haitian man to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
During the arrests, Venezuelan security forces seized military uniforms, videos with radical religious content, more than $100,000 dollars in cash, and 66 passports, reported EFE. The SEBIN has also reportedly seized cellphone images that show the men using high-powered weapons on a firing range in what the intelligence agency described as “pre-jihad training.”
Members of Trinidad & Tobago’s Muslim community told EFE the detainees were in Caracas to request visas from the Saudi Arabian Embassy to travel to Mecca for a religious pilgrimage. According to EFE, three of the detainees are Muslim religious leaders, known as imams.
The fourteen individuals initially arrested with the five men have since been freed and deported to Trinidad & Tobago.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although it is possible the detainees were involved in some sort of terrorist plot or conspiracy to overthrow Maduro, it is also possible they were mistakenly caught up in the security force crackdown on anti-government activists earlier this year.
Either way, there is a risk that the men will not be given a fair trial in Venezuela. Other individuals accused of opposing the government have been saddled with hefty charges and allegedly suffered abuses at the hands of law enforcement. In one prominent example, Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader, has been imprisoned since February after initially being accused of homicide and terrorism. In addition, Venezuelan security forces have been accused of abusing over 3,000 people who were detained during anti-government protests.
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This is not the first time there have been reports of alleged members of radical Muslim groups in Venezuela. In 2011, a US Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence claimed members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah were operating in Venezuela. The following year, the US Treasury Department blacklisted several Venezuelan and Lebanese men for allegedly participating in a drug trafficking and money laundering network tied to Hezbollah.