The mosque on Carmichael Road in Nassau (Nassau Guardian photo)
By Juan McCartney
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- A United States Embassy assessment of possible terrorist activity in The Bahamas claimed that in 2006 there was information to indicate that there might have been terrorist “support and financial cells in The Bahamas,” and “financing links” within the country, according to a classified communication obtained by The Nassau Guardian through WikiLeaks.
That cable also claimed that some members of the local Muslim population were being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and another agency.
The cable detailed the result of a Security Environment Profile Questionnaire (SEPQ) completed by an official at the embassy and classified “secret” in February 2006.
The SEPQ labeled some local Muslims as sympathetic toward foreign terrorist groups and claimed that they posed a possible threat to US and Bahamian security.
“There is an Islamic community building a mosque in Nassau from which some threat information was obtained,” the cable revealed.
“The leader and other members of the mosque are currently under investigation by the FBI and (another agency).”
The cable went on to state that the embassy was “unable to make a full assessment” at the time “but there does not appear to be imminent hostile intent.”
When The Nassau Guardian asked leaders of the local Muslim community if their organization had any ties to terrorist groups, they categorically denied any such links.
The leaders added that they were “deeply offended” by the content of the cables.
“They have no basis for that statement. Where is the evidence of this?”” asked Amir Faisal Hepburn, one of the administrators of the mosque on Carmichael Road where many Muslims worship.
“Those who have done nothing fear nothing. We are a properly registered religious organization in the Bahamas. The Bahamian people on the whole, their character is not (disposed) to terrorism.”
One of the elders said that the Muslim community has met repeatedly with the officials from the US Embassy who have had questions about the nature of activities at the mosque.
In addition, the elder claimed, Muslim leaders have also repeatedly met with police and other law enforcement officials to quell any fears about the Islamic community in the country.
The construction of the mosque was also the focus of some attention by the US government and even a representative of the government of Israel.
According to a 2005 cable, visiting Israeli Ambassador David Dadonn -- who was stationed in Mexico City -- told the US Ambassador to The Bahamas, John Rood, that he had “expressed concern about (the building of a large mosque on New Providence) to Bahamian officials but that they indicated that they could do nothing about its construction.”
The cable went on to speculate that the mosque was being constructed with funds from the government of Saudi Arabia.
“Dadonn promised to forward any additional information about the mosque, its programs, or its funding that became available to him,” the cable said.
Hepburn said the financing of the mosque has nothing to do with the United States or Israel.
“Organizations all around the world receive gifts and contributions from all sources and we are no exception to it,” he said. “So we say categorically that it has nothing to do with terrorism and it has nothing to do with that biased statement by an Israeli. The Bahamas is far away from Israel. What can he (Dadonn) look into? He should be more concerned about what is happening in Israel.”
However, Hepburn admitted that the mosque’s construction was funded in part by Saudi citizens.
“There is a difference between funding by the Saudi government and funding by Muslims in Saudi Arabia. We are not funded by the Saudi government, that’s not so. Now the citizens might be a part of the government, but that’s a different thing.”
Amir Hepburn alleged officials at the US Embassy have consistently harassed and profiled Muslims in The Bahamas since the September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil.
“Recently, we have Muslims who were called to the (US) embassy to say that something was wrong with their visa and the American cancelled it. When they asked them why the visa was being cancelled, they said, ‘They don’t have to give an answer.’”
One of the elders added that the Americans “will never say any Muslim is a good guy.”
The threat assessment also commented on the “level, intent, and scope of hostile intelligence services…relative to potential anti-American terrorist acts” in the country.
“Cuba and China have a presence in country,” noted the embassy. “Two known Cuban intelligence officers are working at the Cuban Embassy. Post is not aware of any Chinese Intelligence Officers in the Bahamas but approaches have been made to US officials that have previously been reported.”
The Bahamas’ ability to deal with a terrorist threat
Even though the US Embassy did not believe there was any imminent hostile threat from the Muslim community in The Bahamas, it was still required to assess local law enforcement capabilities.
The questionnaire revealed that it was the embassy’s view that the Royal Bahamas Police Force was a “professional police organization” that was “reasonably well trained” and did not suffer from “serious, widespread” corruption.
But the SEPQ noted that, “They suffer from a lack of material and personnel resources, which causes difficulty in responding to US (government) inquiries in a timely manner.”
The fact that the RBPF frequently receives training from numerous US agencies was also highlighted.
Still, the SEPQ stated that the RBPF was only “somewhat” capable of deterring terrorist actions.
“The RBPF has the only intelligence gathering apparatus in The Bahamas. It is rudimentary, but continues to develop with US (government) assistance,” the cable revealed.
“They are frequently slow to take action or initiate investigations. They lack modern equipment with which to identify, catalog, or monitor terrorists or terrorist activity in the Bahamas.”
The SEPQ remarked that local intelligence services had been cooperative with US requests “but with frequently slow response times.”
The embassy also assessed overall security at major airports in the country at the time as “average/poor”.
Customs, immigration and border control security forces in the country were assessed as “average.”
The embassy also gave its assessment on the availability of weapons and explosives in country or from nearby countries for hostile terrorist elements.
“Smuggling in the Bahamas is easy and occurs frequently,” the assessment said.
“Historically, the Bahamas has been the point of entry for illegal migrants, drugs, and contraband into the southeast United States. Weapons are easily obtained, either locally or from other countries.”
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian http://www.thenassauguardian.com