U.S. officials are giving details about the arrest this week of a former Liberian rebel commander. Forty-nine-year-old Mohammed Jabbateh, aka "Jungle Jabbah," was arrested at his home in Philadelphia following an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
He allegedly served in the 1990s as a commander in the rebel group known as the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), later called ULIMO-K.
An indictment said Jungle Jabbah either personally committed, or ordered ULIMO troops under his command to commit numerous atrocities.
Zane David Memeger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said Mohammed Jabbateh lied twice on two application forms about his membership in a rebel movement and that he engaged in genocide.
“When we admit people into the United States, we don’t want people who have engaged in war crimes, and the fact, as alleged in the indictment, is that Jungle Jabbah, as he was known, engaged in horrific acts against civilians in Liberia and he failed to disclose that information to U.S. officials when he applied for admittance into the United States and sought permanent residency in the United States,” he said.
According to the indictment, among the crimes that “Jungel Jabbah” is alleged to have committed or ordered ULIMO troops under his command to commit include the “murder of civilian non-combatants; the sexual enslavement of women, the public raping of women, the maiming of civilian non-combatants, the torturing of civilian non-combatants, the enslavement of civilian non-combatants, the conscription of soldiers, the execution of prisoners of war, the desecration and mutilation of corpses, and the killing of persons because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion."
Memeger said while the United States has always welcomed refugees and those fleeing oppression, it will not be a safe haven for alleged human rights violators and war criminals.
Jabbateh first applied for political asylum in 1998 and asked on his application whether he had ever committed a crime or harmed anyone, he allegedly answered “no."
Memeger said Jabbateh has been in the United States for 18 years, but he said there are a variety of reasons why it took 17 years to apprehend him.
“We can’t proceed with cases unless we get information that the government can rely on to investigate. That is what happened here,” Memeger said.
Memeger would not say whether U.S. authorities were investigating other possible Liberian human rights violators who might be living in the United States, or soliciting the help of Liberians for information about possible violators.
“The reality is with regard to investigations such as this that we generally do here in the United States, there are issues with regards to witnesses, their privacy, their security, we need to make sure that we are protecting them so that we can pursue our cases and make that justice is done,” Memeger said.
The U.S. Homeland Security agency says victims of Jabbateh who have information to report can call the “Victims Assistance Hotline” at (215) 717-4987.
In 2014, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Jucontee Thyomas Woewiyu, a former member in Charles Taylor’s government upon his arrival from Liberia and charged him with lying on his 2006 application to become a naturalized US citizen and in a 2009 interview with an immigration officer.
The indictment alleges that Taylor and Woewiyu’s rebel movement executed their opponents, forced girls into sex slavery and conscripted boys to become child soldiers.
Memeger said Jabbateh is due in court on Monday a for detention hearing. If he goes to trial and is convicted, he faces a maximum possible sentence of 30 years in prison. He could also face fines of up to $250,000, and possible deportation from the United States.