The United States Attorney in Philadelphia on Wednesday unsealed an indictment against 49-year-old East Lansdowne resident Mohammed Jabbateh, claiming that he was a Liberian war criminal known as “Jungle Jabbah.” He faces fraud and perjury charges stemming from his immigration to the United States in the late 1990s.
Jabbateh was calm and polite when he appeared in Courtroom 5B of the United States Court House at 6th and Market streets in Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, responding “yes sir” to Judge David Strawbridge‘s questions. The judge set another hearing for Monday to determine whether Jabbateh will be detained until trial.
Prosecutors say that Jabbateh was a high-ranking officer of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) and then its splinter group ULIMO-K during the West African country’s turbulent civil wars of the early to mid 1990s. According to the indictment, Jabbateh allegedly “personally committed or ordered ULIMO troops under his command” to commit the following:
1) the murder of civilian noncombatants
2) the sexual enslavement of women
3) the public raping of women
4) the maiming of civilian noncombatants
5) the torturing of civilian noncombatants
6) the enslavement of civilian noncombatants
7) the conscription of child soldiers
8) the execution of prisoners of war
9) the desecration and mutilation of corpses
10) the killing of any person because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, or political opinion
Some of ULIMO-K’s murder victims under Jabbateh’s command included women and children, say prosecutors.
Here’s an excerpt from the 2004 Duke University Press book Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914–1940, in which journalist Keith Richburg recalled an encounter with Jungle Jabbah in Liberia in 1992:
The battalion commander Captain Jungle Jabbah, was dressed in an Operation Desert Storm T-shirt and gold-rimmed sunglasses. His deputy commander, distinguishable mostly by his tennis shoes and thick dreadlocks, identified himself as Captain Pepper-and-Salt — “because I will peppa’ the enemy,” he explained, waving his AK-47.
And after Jabbateh was done in Liberia, say authorities, he sought asylum in the United States beginning in 1998, allegedly lying on immigration paperwork and in interviews. Among other alleged lies, prosecutors say that he responded “No” when asked if he ever committed a crime or harmed anyone or if he ever “engaged in genocide, or otherwise ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the killing of any person because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion.”
“This defendant allegedly committed unspeakable crimes in his home country, brutalizing numerous innocent victims,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger in a statement. “He then sought to escape to the United States where he lied about his criminal background on federal immigration forms. This office will use whatever tools are available to bring to justice serious criminals who abuse our immigration process by concealing their backgrounds and histories.”
If convicted on the fraud and perjury charges, Jabbateh could face as many as 30 years in prison, but it remains to be seen if he will ever face justice for his alleged atrocities.
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With additional reporting by Taylor Hosking