No advisory coming over Florida attack
The unprovoked attack of a Bahamian man in Pembroke Pines, Florida, over the weekend is not a cause for alarm that will prompt the government to issue a travel advisory, said Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield yesterday.
Harold Williams, 56, explained that shortly after 12 p.m. on Saturday he stopped at a Pembroke Pines cafe to use the bathroom when he was stabbed in the face with an eight to 10-inch kitchen knife.
Speaking to reporters outside Cabinet, Henfield called the incident “very unfortunate”.
“We don’t expect, when we walk into a coffee shop or some other place of business, to be attacked by someone,” Henfield said.
“But what I found unfortunate as well was the incident was immediately determined to be a hate crime, without any real evidence to support that assertion.
“I contacted, after speaking with most of you yesterday, my consul general in Miami, who had no information from police or Florida officials that the crime was deemed to be a crime of malice or hate.
“In the moment it appears to be somewhat of a freak crime, someone walks up to you and attacks you. And so, our prayers and thoughts are with Mr. Williams, and we hope he has a speedy recovery as we continue to delve into what the officials determined to have happened in the instance.”
The Pembroke Pines Police Department said Williams entered the establishment to use the restroom and as he walked toward the rear of the business, one of the employees struck him in the cheek with a knife.
The suspect claimed that he was defending himself, according to police.
However, police said, “Our investigation did not reveal that the victim was armed, or presented any threat to the suspect.”
The suspect was subsequently taken into custody.
A 24-year-old named Fawaz Hassan was charged with aggravated battery in connection with the incident.
He was reportedly later released on bond.
In a statement on Monday, former Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell called on the government to state its position on the matter and confirm whether it was a hate crime, given social media speculation.
“This issue bears some greater importance given the constant attacks on public safety matters by U.S. officials about The Bahamas,” he said.
Asked yesterday whether he believes Bahamians should be concerned about the attack, Henfield said, “We say to Bahamian citizens always when you travel in the state of affairs in the world… you should always be alert, always expect the unexpected.
“Anywhere you travel in the world, you are subject to these types of instances and events in this environment of terrorism in which we live.
“It’s unfortunate but we have to be careful when we travel. This is not a common incident. I think many of us have traveled to America and other places over and over, and we have not personally encountered any such instance. So I think it’s uncommon, but we have to be alert when we travel; that’s just the nature of the world nowadays.”
Henfield said the government will “absolutely not” issue a travel advisory on Florida.
Pointing to the recent attacks in New Zealand where 50 people were killed at two mosques, Henfield said, “How many moments do we know of that Bahamians have been attacked in this fashion which will warrant us sending a warning to Bahamians traveling to Florida? For me that’s a non-sequitur.”
He said he doesn’t see the Florida incident as a cause for alarm.
“The government of The Bahamas will always act in the best interest of Bahamians in their security and in their economy,” he added.
“If we feel that Bahamians are threatened by any country that they travel to, an advisory will come forward. In this instance, we don’t feel so.”
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar shared similar sentiments outside Cabinet.
“We have to be very mindful that 74 percent of our foreign visitors come from the United States, so it’s a heck of a lot more impactful when they issue a travel advisory as opposed when we issue a travel advisory,” D’Aguilar said.
“We don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat because we’ll never win that battle.
“Our economy is extremely reliant on foreign visitors from the United States, and so we must tread very cautiously in how we respond to their travel advisories. But also we try to impress upon them that they must be very mindful of how impactful their travel advisories can be on our economy.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications