By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FOUR months before terrorists orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, two men involved in the deadly events landed at the Grand Bahama airport but were quickly sent back because they lacked the appropriate visas.
Waleed Mohammed al Shehri and Satam al Suqami flew from Florida and had reservations at the Bahamas Princess Resort, but were returned to the US the same day.
Later, on 9/11, Sheri and Suqami were among the five al-Qaeda hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre.
The revelation was contained in the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States released in July 22, 2004.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames referred to this report, also known as the 9/11 Commission Report, as he led debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2018 in the House of Assembly yesterday.
This incident provided a sobering view for House members yesterday regarding the lingering need for stronger legislation to respond to global terrorist activity.
Once passed, the legislation will make a person guilty of financing terrorist activity liable to up to 25 years in prison or fines of up to $25 million.
Mr Dames said: “... (The report) highlighted that two of the terrorists in the 9/11 attacks travelled to the Bahamas. According to the report, on May 19, 2001, Waleed al Shehri and Satam al Suqami flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Freeport, Grand Bahama, where they had reservations at the Bahamas Princess Resort.
“The report detailed that the two were turned away by Bahamian officials upon arrival because they lacked the appropriate visas and subsequently they returned to Florida that same day.
“The report added that both terrorists likely took this trip to renew Suqami’s immigration status, as his legal stay within the United States expired on May 21, 2001. The two terrorists were among the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11 which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11.”
Mr Dames said the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Bill shows the Minnis administration is serious about securing all sectors of society from terrorists and other criminal acts while simultaneously meeting international standards.
The bill establishes a prohibition of weapons of mass destruction, its use and manufacture. It is proposed that conviction for breaching this portion of the legislation see fines of up to $400,000 or 10 years imprisonment enforced at the Magistrate’s Court level. In the Supreme Court, the penalty is up to $1milliom or 30 years in prison.
“Clause five also establishes a prohibition of weapons training in the making or use of firearms, explosives, chemical, biological, nuclear or other weapons or means of mass destruction. This prohibition as clarified in subsection five does not apply to the Royal Bahamas Police or Defence Forces ‘or to any person permitted by law or licence to carry out any of those actions specified in that subsection,’” the minister explained.
“The penalties outlined for such acts related to weapons training are dealt with both at the Magistrate’s Court level, where the penalty is a fine of up to $400,000 or 10 years imprisonment or they can appear in the Supreme Court where the penalty for conviction is up to $1 million or imprisonment for 30 years, or both fine and imprisonment in both instances.”
He added: “Clause five is also in line with the Caribbean’s Model Law on Anti-Terrorism and it criminalises training related to weapons of mass destruction. This insertion into this Anti-Terrorism Bill, 2018 puts a greater responsibility on organisations or institutions that may wish to engage in the training of terrorists to have them exported to other countries.
“Specifically, clause 24 speaks directly to persons travelling into or outside of the Bahamas for the purpose of planning; committing, supporting or facilitating a terrorist act; receiving instruction or training or making explosives or practising military movements to carry out a terrorist act or joining a terrorist organisation shall all be deemed a foreign terrorist fighter, FTF. Persons found guilty of being foreign terrorist fighters will be imprisoned for 20 years.”
While the passage of this legislation is to be viewed as a proactive measure, Mr Dames said for other countries in the region, terrorism seems to be more prevalent and problematic.
He was speaking of Trinidad & Tobago, which has the highest rate of Islamic State recruitment in the Western hemisphere. Since 2013, over 400 of its citizens have left the island to join ISIS, Mr Dames said.
The legislation will also provide grounds for stiff penalties for committing acts that finance terrorism.
“This Anti-Terrorism Bill, 2018 provides in clause 15 that persons who commit acts of financing terrorism are liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of up to $25m and imprisonment for up to 25 years.”
The previous penalty in the 2004 Act provided 25 years imprisonment without a fine.
“The Bill also stipulates in subsection 2 (c) that it is not necessary for the person alleged to finance terrorism to be in the same country where the terrorist act has occurred or will occur or to be in the same country from the one in which the terrorist or terrorist organisation is located. Subsection 4 stipulates that a director or person in charge of a legal entity who commits the offence of financing terrorism is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $25 million and to imprisonment for 25 years.
“The present act only imposes a fine of up to $2 million without a prison sentence.”
The legislation also gives the court power to revoke a business licence, order a corporation to wind up, forfeit assets and property and turn them over to the Confiscated Assets Fund if its director, manager, secretary or other similar officers concerned with management is convicted of the offence of financing terrorism.
He said the components of this proposed piece of legislation take into account how global economies are affected and are now being shaped by terrorism.
Mr Dames said as the networks of terrorists and their affiliates are far reaching due to porous borders and interconnected systems of finance, transit and communication, the proposed Bill speaks to the government’s commitment to use all resources, especially multilateral instruments to prevent, deter and prosecute institutions and those within.
As it concerns biological weapons, the new legislation will also criminalise their use.
Mr Dames said while the Bahamas has not been affected by any biological weapons, the country’s proximity to the US and open borders make it vulnerable.
Anti-terrorism legislation was enacted in 2004. However, according to Mr Dames, the current law falls short.