PHILADELPHIA — Federal prosecutors will try to convince a jury beginning Monday that a Philadelphia-area resident committed atrocities during a civil war in Liberia decades ago.
Fifty-year-old Mohammed Jabateh of East Lansdowne is charged with immigration fraud and perjury, accused of lying in interviews and on forms to obtain political asylum and later permanent residency in the United States.
The government will be trying to prove that as a commander in the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia and later ULIMO-K in the 1990s, he committed or ordered his troops to commit crimes such as the murder of civilians, sexual enslavement of women, public rapes, conscription of child soldiers and maiming and torture of noncombatants.
Prosecutors allege that in seeking asylum he lied when asked whether he had committed a crime or harmed anyone else, and when seeking legal residency he lied when asked if he had committed genocide or participated in killing anyone because of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or political opinion.
Jabateh maintains he has been open about his military history and told immigration agents upon his arrival in 1998 that he led a band of rebel guerrilla fighters that battled former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s forces — but he denies having played any part in atrocities. Attorney Greg Pagano called him “peaceful, deeply religious, and … intensely loyal to the United States of America,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Since emigrating, Pagano said, his client has devoted himself to a family that includes five children, as well as his mosque and a business that packs shipping containers for export to Liberia, and he recently attempted to sponsor emigration of some of his seven other children.
Prosecutors are expected to call more than 20 witnesses flown in from Liberia to recount tales of violence they allege Jabateh committed, the newspaper reported.
“There is really no safe haven for war criminals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood Wright said. “People should be held accountable for their actions – especially conduct as egregious as that alleged in this case.”