Sunday, July 25, 2004

TT: How the Muslimeen attack went down on July 27, 1990

He must be the most famous Jamaat al Muslimeen July, 1990, Red House hostage of them all.

For every time someone sees attorney Joseph Toney, even though it is now 14 years later, the poignant question, “Who is your leader?” springs immediately to mind.

Because that fateful July 27, 1990, evening around 6 o’clock, when scores of armed Muslimeen insurgents, led by Bilaal Abdullah, stormed the Red House, where MPs were debating the Tesoro scandal, Toney was on his feet winding up his contribution.

The debate was being carried live via Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) cameras.

So viewers saw Toney on “candid camera,” apparently asking the insurgents who surged into the Red House: “Who is your leader?”

In an exclusive interview at his Gordon Street, Port-of-Spain law office, last Thursday, Toney took pains to clear up, once and for all, in what context the question was posed.
“I was on my legs, and I heard the rat-tat-tat. I really thought it was a vagrant on the street, because earlier in the day I had seen a vagrant walking around with some old pans.

“So I thought, why is this vagrant making all this noise? somebody should get him to keep down the noise,” Toney said, chuckling at the memory.

He continued: “But the noises got closer and closer to me. And I saw these people running wildly all over the Parliament chamber.

“The noises were coming from the area of the Ministry of National Security.

“Of course, I ducked, as everybody knows (chuckling again). Everybody got down very low when they realised, you know, that these people were firing gunshots in the Parliament.

“They were shouting while firing the gunshots: ‘Down! down! down!’

“I thought it was the Army; the Army take over.”
Toney recalled that Leo des Vignes, the Diego Martin MP who was shot in the initial attack and eventually died, was sitting opposite him in the House, because the NAR had so many MPs all could not fit on one side.

Invoking more memories of that night, as darkness enveloped the Red House, Toney said, the Muslimeen ordered the hostages to bow their heads and stay down. They also insisted on knowing where Prime Minister ANR Robinson and Attorney General Selwyn Richardson were.

After the two were identified, orders were given for people in the public gallery to leave the Red House, and Toney remembered that the late OWTU president George Weekes was given permission to go.

He said the hands and feet of the hostages were tied, so they could not move from the chairs in which they were sitting.

Toney said Robinson, famous for the bravado of his “attack with full force” instructions via a communications link to the soldiers outside the Red House, while bleeding profusely from a bullet wound in his knee, and Richardson were “quite brave and courageous in the circumstances and displayed good leadership qualities.”

As he put it: “They never bowed; they never surrendered.

He said as far as he knew, the six days he stayed as a hostage until August 1, and the unspeakable experiences he suffered, had not affected him psychologically.

But he said he prayed a lot during those days, as did his wife, Leonora and daughter, Adanna. His family, he said, retreated to his mother’s home in Sangre Grande during those dark days.

Scared though he was, because he realised he could be shot from the outside, or from the inside, the irrepressible Toney, nevertheless, couldn’t resist giving the Muslimeen insurgents some talk.

“I told them what they were doing was senseless. Nobody would recognise them, not even the people of Tobago. I told them America was not going to sit idly by and see them take over this country.”

Toney said the Red House was like a war zone. “There were sporadic shots going off all the time. It was like a war zone in Iraq or the Gaza Strip.”

On the question of the controversial amnesty to the Muslimeen, Toney said his view was there was no way one could say it was not given under duress.

Can he envisage the same group, or any other trying a coup again, and what does he predict would happen?

Any group that ventures along those lines, if it happens again, there will be many more dead. There will be shooting until all the members of one side are dead.”
This is what we have to bear in mind when we hear TT Muslims call for jihad -- the government intent is clear. There will be no surrender. Please God, have mercy on TT.

Toney also points out the unwarraned attention the Muslimeen have received in the intervening years, as though TT has forgotten their murders.
Attorney and politician Joseph Toney, who was held hostage for six days from July 27, 1990, in the Red House by the Jamaat al Muslimeen, says he is “amazed” that the organisation’s leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, and his lieutenants command so much respect in this country.

Toney, who was MP for Toco/Manzanilla from 1986 to 1991 under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) agreed to be interviewed for the first time on his 1990 experiences since his ordeal 14 years ago, but also touched on present-day happenings in T&T.

“I am amazed that the society has given Bakr and the Muslimeen such front-page treatment, because to this day none of them has ever apologised to the country for the destruction, mayhem and the deaths that they caused or inflicted upon this country in July, 1990,” declared Toney, a St Mary’s College old boy who turned 50 on December 2.


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