PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Liberian accused of committing gruesome war crimes when he was a rebel commander called Jungle Jabbah was convicted Wednesday of lying about his past so he could enter the U.S.
Several people from the west African nation came to Philadelphia to speak of their encounters with Mohammed Jabbateh, 51, leading to his conviction on charges of fraud and perjury for lying on immigration forms and to U.S. officials.
Mostly civilian villagers, prosecution witnesses brought with them stories of cannibalism, sexual enslavement and beheadings.
One said Jabbateh sliced a baby from a pregnant woman's stomach and strung her intestines up as rope. Another recalled that Jabbateh in 1994 ordered his soldiers to kill a town chief whose heart was then boiled and eaten.
"Jabbateh sought to escape to the United States and start anew, where he lied about his extensive and horrific criminal background on federal immigration forms and to the faces of U.S. immigration officers," Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen wrote in a statement. "Jabbateh committed atrocities in Liberia that ravaged communities in ways that will be felt for generations."
Jabbateh has acknowledged that he was called Jungle Jabbah and disclosed that he was assigned to a security detail for a rebel leader, but he maintained that he never committed the violent acts described in the indictment. He was arrested last year outside Philadelphia.
His attorney, Gregory Pagano, said during closing arguments that prosecutors were "hoodwinked" by "tall tales" that weren't backed up by forensic evidence.
"There hasn't been a shred of evidence that any of these witnesses' events actually occurred," Pagano told jurors Tuesday. He has also said that Jabbateh came to the U.S. about two decades ago because he was jailed without food for weeks.
The case represented one of a handful of legal efforts to track down people accused of committing atrocities during the civil wars that began in 1989 and devastated Liberia through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, experts said.
In 2008, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted in a federal court in Florida for torturing or ordering the torture of dozens of his father's political opponents. Charles McArthur Emmanuel, who is better known as Chuckie Taylor, was sentenced to 97 years in prison. He also was sued by five torture victims who were awarded $22.4 million in damages.