Since his arrival in the U.S. nearly two decades ago, Mohammed Jabbateh has dutifully cultivated the image of a hardworking immigrant, building up a container-shipping business in Philadelphia and supporting his family, including five children.
But it is another image that helps explain why the Liberian will stand trial next week in federal court. A photograph taken during the West African nation’s 14-year-long period of civil conflict, and submitted as evidence by prosecutors, shows Jabbateh as an unsmiling young man in dark sunglasses surrounded by combatants.
Known to Liberians as “Jungle Jabbah,” Jabbateh served as a commander in the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or ULIMO, and in a splinter group known as ULIMO-K. Both rebel groups fought for control of Liberia during the country’s first civil war, which began in 1989 with the invasion of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The indictment against Jabbateh accuses him of personally committing, or ordering his fighters to commit, crimes including the killing of civilians, rape, torture, the conscription of child soldiers and “the desecration and mutilation of corpses.”
Technically, the case in Philadelphia covers charges of immigration fraud and perjury. When applying for asylum in 1998, the indictment alleges, Jabbateh failed to disclose his role in ULIMO and ULIMO-K and denied ever committing a crime or harming another person. He allegedly made similar statements when he applied for legal permanent residency.