PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) – The leader of an Islamic group that staged a deadly coup attempt 22 years ago in Trinidad went on trial Wednesday on charges of making seditious statements during a sermon at his mosque.
Seventy-year-old Yasin Abu Bakr is accused of threatening affluent Muslims he believed were not paying the zakaat, an Islamic tithe for the poor, telling them during a 2005 sermon that “blood could flow.” He has not yet entered a plea but said earlier that he was not threatening anyone and simply upholding one of Islam’s principles.
Legal delays and an ankle injury to Abu Bakr held the trial back for years.
Prosecuting attorney Dana Seetahal said the case is based on a video from a local TV news crew that recorded the sermon.
High Court Judge Mark Mohammed ordered the nine-member, all-female jury to erase from their minds that Abu Bakr was the leader of a group involved in the July 1990 coup attempt.
Abu Bakr and 114 members of Jamaat al Muslimeen detonated a car bomb that destroyed a police station in front of Parliament. They then stormed into legislature and took the prime minister and his Cabinet hostage during a shooting rampage that killed 24 people. The rebels surrendered six days later after the government gave them amnesty, ending the only Islamic revolt in the Western Hemisphere.
The power of Jamaat al Muslimeen has since faded, although some of its followers have been accused of participating in shootings, kidnappings and bank robberies. The group is largely made up of black converts to Sunni Islam.
The government has repeatedly investigated Abu Baker on other charges, but he has never been convicted.
In 2005, Abu Bakr was interrogated but not prosecuted in connection with at least four bombings in the capital, Port-of-Spain.
In 2007, U.S. authorities accused four men, including two Trinidadians, of planning to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport, saying they had sought support from Jamaat al Muslimeen. Court documents state the men didn’t receive help from the group, and Abu Bakr later told the AP that he did not know the men or about the plot to bomb a fuel pipeline feeding the airport.
In September 2010, prosecutors in Trinidad charged Abu Bakr with the 1998 killing of a 22-year-old mechanic. A month later they dropped the case for lack of evidence.
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