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The calypso caliphate: How Trinidad and Tobago became an ISIS recruiting hotspot

March 07, 2019

Research from the University of Kent has shed new light on individuals from Trinidad and Tobago that have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS since 2013, finding that they do not conform to the stereotypical Western view of an ISIS fighter.

The official number of Trinidadian nationals who travelled to Syria and Iraq between 2013 and 2016 is around 130, making it - proportional to its population - one of the highest exporters of overseas ISIS fighters.

Dr Simon Cottee, Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the University's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, set out to understand more about these citizens and why they joined ISIS, especially given the nation's vast distance from Iraq and Syria.

To do this he interviewed a vast array of locals on the island including politicians, police officers, religious leaders and journalists to compile a dataset on 70 of the individuals known to have left the country to join ISIS.

What emerged from the data is that, contrary to the West's narrative of overseas ISIS fighters as young, single, economically-poor and marginalised men, those that left to join ISIS were mostly educated, married, and economically well-off, and many were female.

His data set confirmed that 34% of those leaving were male, 23% female, 9% teenagers in the 13-15 age bracket and 34% children under the age of 13. Furthermore, 90% were categorised as middle-class, 65% had graduated high school and 45% had skilled careers.

Indeed, Dr Cottee noted that jobs of individuals known to have left are startlingly diverse, including a secondary school teacher, a lawyer, a truck driver, an offshore welder, a marine safety technician, a building contractor, a debt collector, a car salesman and even a professional footballer.

Another notable finding was that of all the women who went to join ISIS where their marriage status could be ascertained, only one was unmarried, and many had children. As such, the idea of a 'jihadi bride' does not hold true for many of the females from Trinidad that left to join ISIS.

Overall, the findings suggest that the social networks within Trinidad appear to be a greater catalyst to the exodus to ISIS territory than economic, social or cultural factors. However, exactly how these networks encouraged these movements remains unknown.

The findings have been published in the journal International Affairs entitled The Calypso Caliphate: How Trinidad Became a Recruiting Ground for ISIS.

University of Kent

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