Five Trinidadians held in Venezuela on terrorism charges set free
PORT OF SPAIN - Five Trinidad and Tobago men who have been detained in Venezuela since 2014 on terrorism charges are being released and sent home on the basis of time served in custody, national security minister Edmund Dillon confirmed on Saturday.
The five -- Dominic Pitilal, Wade Charles, Asim Luqman, Andre Battersby and Leslie Daisley -- were detained in Venezuela in March 2014 on terrorism activity charges, the Trinidad Guardian reported.
They had gone to Caracas allegedly to seek visas for Hajj. Another Trinidad and Tobago group that had likewise gone to seek visas for a pilgrimage was also detained. However, that group, which included several imams, was released soon after and they returned home.
During a May meeting in Port-of-Spain between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the Trinidad and Tobago government took the opportunity to ask for the matter regarding the men to be expedited. Shortly after, the charges were changed to intention to commit espionage and to commit a criminal act.
The men continued appearing in court on these matters.
But relatives said they were reluctant to plead guilty since they did not want such a conviction on their record as this would keep them under future scrutiny and prevent them from traveling.
The case was heard in a Venezuelan court between Thursday and Friday of last week with Trinidad and Tobago Caracas Embassy senior officials present.
“The judge passed a guilty verdict and a sentence of two years, six months and 25 days was given,” Dillion said in a statement.
He noted that was equivalent to the length of time they had been detained.
“The judge ruled that they have already served time and are now free. As such they will now be processed and deported to Piarco at the earliest opportunity,” he added.
Meanwhile, foreign affairs minister Dennis Moses said last Tuesday that he had had talks while at a recent UN conference with the Turkish foreign minister and Saudi Arabian officials regarding Trinidad and Tobago nationals detained in both countries. He declined to divulge details.
Islamic studies student Tariq Shamoon Mohammed has been detained in Saudi Arabia since August 2015.
Mohammed, who had been studying there for several years, had returned home for a visit with his family but was detained by Saudi authorities on his return.
The government is also awaiting word on nine people carrying Trinidad and Tobago passports who were detained by Turkish authorities in July in company with a Syrian national reported to have been taking them to join Isis.
The nine, including men, women and a child, are at a Turkish detention center.