People & Power

Caribbean to Caliphate

Why are young Muslims from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago being drawn to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq?

Editor’s note: This film, first shot and broadcast in 2017, was updated in August 2020.

The Caribbean state of Trinidad and Tobago is traditionally most famous for its spectacular annual carnival, its cricketing prowess and of being the birthplace of calypso music.

But in 2017, it developed a more disturbing reputation – as the nation with the highest recruitment rates of ISIL fighters in the Western Hemisphere.

So why were so many young Trinidadians driven to travel thousands of kilometres to participate in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria? 

According to Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, the leader of the Jamaat al-Muslimeen group, one of the main reasons why young black men were joining ISIL was their marginalisation. 

“The Africans are going to a pool of unemployment. They just sit in the ghetto and do nothing. And then drugs come in and it’s a haven for the drugs. And now the guns are in and so the murder rate is just spiralling out of control,” he said.

People & Power sent correspondent Juliana Ruhfus and director Dom Rotheroe to investigate how the Caribbean island nation became a recruitment hub for ISIL, and what has happened since.