They were hoaxes

ACTIVITIES at several schools across the island were disrupted Thursday after receiving bomb threats which the police have concluded were pranks.

Deputy commissioner of police in charge of the crime portfolio Fitz Bailey told the Jamaica Observer that the police exhausted all their checks and were satisfied that the threats were hoaxes. Bailey also told the Observer that investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the ruse, but declined to give any further comment on the matter.

Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Leighton Johnson, in an interview with the Observer, said he was taken aback by the different means and methods which criminals are using to create fear.

“This brings into sharp focus the levels at which criminal masterminds will go to disrupt harmony in education. Of course, they have succeeded in some instances in terms of increasing anxiety. Our schools are currently still battling to remain safe places,” he said.

“Students have indicated that in some instances they do not feel safe on compounds and teachers, too, have indicated that they are not feeling very safe based on these threats and the level of violence that is portrayed by students and which they sometimes experience, not necessarily on the school compound alone. There has to be a national consensus because if bomb threats are going to come as an additional avenue that threatens education, it is a cause for serious concern. It is an indication that criminal masterminds are improving on their strategy to create fear and mayhem in our country and as a nation we have to stand against it,” Johnson told the Observer.

The JTA president said that in addition to Kingston and St Andrew, schools in the parishes of St Catherine, Trelawny, St Elizabeth, and St Ann received bomb threats, adding that teaching and learning at many of these institutions were disrupted because of the threats.

“There were some schools that took it more seriously than others. [They] dismissed the students and all staff and called the police, who cordoned off the school and began their extensive investigations.

“To this end, we have not fully received information or word from the police to substantiate whether or not there was any real threat. We want to use this opportunity to call on all administrators and principals that once they are in receipt of any information of this nature, then they are not supposed to take it lightly. They must activate their safety and security protocols to ensure that we treat as priority the safety and security of students, teachers, and other categories of employees on the school compound,” Johnson said.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is collaborating with other relevant stakeholders to investigate the threats that were sent to the schools and encouraged people to remain calm as they are working assiduously to locate the source of the threats and assured that all resources will be used to restore normality as quickly as possible.

Just last month, more that 300 devices, believed to be pipe bombs, were seized by the police in western Kingston. There was nothing, however, to suggest that the people who made these devices had anything to do with the threats issued to schools Thursday.

Security expert Robert Finzie-Smith said on Thursday that in the event of a blast, Jamaica might need assistance from the United States to do investigations.

“I know we have a bomb squad, but as to what the capacity is, I am not in a position to say yay or nay. I would believe that we would need assistance in that regard. My recommendation is that we ask the United States to send us a couple techs. Like how we have had the threats all around, I do not know if we have the capacity to respond with experts to all of them,” Finzie-Smith told the Observer.

In 2016, then United States Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno said that although Jamaica and the Caribbean did not have major terrorist activities, the region needed to become adequately prepared to respond to and properly investigate such cases.

Moreno was speaking at the culmination of a three-day post-blast investigation course staged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for various national security agencies at Green Bay Firing Range in Portmore, St Catherine.

During the course, members of the security forces witnessed a 50-pound bomb being used to demolish an armoured Cadillac sedan, which set the groundwork for a criminal or terrorist investigation to take place.

John Bates of the FBI’s weapons of mass destruction unit, who helped to execute the training, encouraged local law enforcers to broaden their scope and think outside the box when investigating bomb blasts.