News / Africa

Rights Group: Prosecute Alleged Arms Dealer

Victims of mutilations perpetrated by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) gather at the Handicap International camp in Freetown, May 18, 2000. (AFP)
Victims of mutilations perpetrated by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) gather at the Handicap International camp in Freetown, May 18, 2000. (AFP)

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Joe DeCapua
A human rights group is calling on Sierra Leonean authorities to investigate a suspected arms dealer. U.N. investigators have alleged Ibrahim Bah supplied arms to rebels during Sierra Leone’s civil war.


The civil war lasted 11 years, ending in 2002. During that time, RUF and AFRC rebels committed many atrocities, including murder, amputations, rape, kidnapping and torture. Ibrahim Bah, also known as Ibrahim Blade, allegedly provided arms and other support to the rebels.

“Ibrahim Bah was for many years – well over a decade -- a key figure in rebel operations in West Africa. He was a key go-between, financial comptroller and liaison between Charles Taylor and then the RUF and AFRC, the two rebel groups in Sierra Leone,” said Corrine Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Dufka said that Bah allegedly helped smuggle blood diamonds out of Sierra Leone. 

“He was a key and central figure that Taylor used in order to ensure transaction between blood diamonds and then logistics needed for the RUF and the AFRC.”

Bah is a Senegalese national believed to have spent time in Libya during Moammar Ghadafi’s rule and believed to have fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets. Dufka said it appears Bah first met Taylor in 1988.

“He sort of melted away in 2000 / 2001 / 2002 and was believed to have gone to Burkina Faso. Then, just this year, with the publication of the panel of experts report – that’s the U.N. panel of experts report for Liberia – he was found by one of the researchers to be living in, of all places, Sierra Leone. And evidently he had been living there since 2008,” she said.

Bah had been under a U.N. travel ban since 2004 and was thought to be in Burkina Faso. Why Sierra Leone authorities did not alert the U.N. about his presence remains an unanswered question.

“What Human Rights Watch and the local human rights groups in Sierra Leone are asking is that the Sierra Leonean government investigate this individual for his involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone,” she said.

The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone handled many cases relating to the civil war. This includes that of Charles Taylor, who’s on trial for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dufka said that an investigation of Bah by Sierra Leone would be the country’s “first purely domestic prosecution relating to war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

What’s more, Dufka said Bah may have had links to al Qaeda prior to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th, 2001. The Washington Post had reported that some al Qaeda members had gone to Liberia to obtain blood diamonds to fund their activities, knowing that their assets would be seized or frozen after the attacks.

Dufka added there are unconfirmed reports that Bah was not prosecuted by the Special Court because he was cooperating with intelligence services. The court is now winding down its operations.

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