(Reuters) - A Liberian national, living near Philadelphia since the late 1990s, has been charged with gaining U.S. asylum by lying about his role as the rebel commander "Jungle Jabbah" who allegedly committed civil war atrocities including murder and conscripting child soldiers, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Mohammed Jabbateh, 49, who lives in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, was indicted on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury.
U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Jabbateh appeared in U.S. 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.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone)