A Liberian national, living near Philadelphia since the late 1990s, has been charged with gaining US asylum by lying about his role as the rebel commander "Jungle Jabbah" who allegedly committed civil war atrocities including murder and conscripting child soldiers, US officials said on Wednesday.
Mohammed Jabbateh, a 49-year-old living in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, was indicted on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury. US Attorney Zane David Memeger said in a press statement that Jabbateh had concealed his identity as an officer of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia,
"This defendant allegedly committed unspeakable crimes in his home country, brutalizing numerous innocent victims," Memeger said.
He said Jabbateh had failed to disclose his Liberian crimes when he applied for asylum in December 1998 and when he was interviewed by an immigration asylum officer in January 1999.
An attorney for Jabbateh, Greg Pagano of Philadelphia, did not respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors did not say how they learned of Jabbateh's alleged true identity.
Jabbateh has been accused of committing or ordering troops to commit murder and torture, public rape, enslave civilian noncombatants, and other crimes motivated by race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion, Memeger said.
Following years of unrest, the West African country entered a period of civil war starting in 1989 with former politician and future warlord Charles Taylor returning to the country to instigate an insurgency and oust the government. Taylor also had US connections, having attended college in the country and getting arrested there in the 1980s after fleeing Liberia. He escaped American custody by breaking out of jail the following year, eventually traveling back to Africa before kicking off the rebel movement in his home country.
The first war came to an end in 1997 with Taylor being elected president, but conflict soon started up again. The country's second civil war concluded in 2003 with Taylor resigning. He was ultimately put on trial and convicted of war crimes in Sierra Leone with a UN-backed special court, where Taylor famously claimed the CIA had assisted his 1985 escape from prison in Boston.
Jabbateh appeared in US District Court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, said Memeger spokeswoman Patricia Hartman.
"The United States has always welcomed refugees and those fleeing oppression, but we will not be a safe haven for alleged human rights violators and war criminals," Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Staton, Homeland Security Investigations, said in the statement.
If convicted, Jabbateh faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, a fine, a $400 special assessment, and a period of supervised release. He does not face the possibility of being deported as a result of this criminal prosecution, Memeger said.
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