Delco Businessman Guilty of Lying About African War Crimes

Mohammed Jabateh, a Delaware County business man, has been found guilty by jurors on perjury for lying about participation in Liberian military factions. NBC10's George Spencer has the story.

(Published Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017)

A Delaware County, Pennsylvania, businessman was convicted Wednesday of applying for asylum in the United States under false pretenses while fleeing a civil war in the African country of Liberia.

Mohammed Jabateh, 50, who had been accused of taking part in atrocities during the 1990s in Liberia under the nickname "Jungle Jabbah," was found guilty on two counts of filing false immigration documents and two counts of perjury. Each count comes with up to five years in prison and deportation.

Jungle Jabbah was a feared commander in one of two warring military factions in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The now 50-year-old owner of a shipping company, who lives in Lansdowne, went on trial at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Oct. 2. Federal prosecutors did not directly charge him with war crimes.

Mohammed "Jungle Jabbah" Jabateh, an asylum-seeker from Liberia living in Delaware County, is shown in this undated photo. U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

In his new life since coming to America in 1998, seeking asylum, some in greater Philadelphia's close-knit Liberian community told NBC10 that they know Jabateh as a hard-working businessman. They had no idea that he was a man that prosecutors linked directly to the bloody war that left 200,000 dead and many thousands more maimed, raped and displaced.

Liberian fighters loyal to Roosevelt Johnson's ULIMO-J faction battle in the back yards of the diplomatic area of the capital, Monrovia, Thursday May 23, 1996. (David Guttenfelder/Associated Press)

The backdrop for such violence was a country divided by both military coups and ethnic hatred.

"Chaos is too kind a word," said Maghan Keita, professor of history at Villanova University.

He said very few Liberians escaped the war either as an aggressor or victim. Battlefields didn't exist and the brutality played on in villages and towns.

“The main target becomes the coercion of civilian populations, as opposed to engagement with other combatants who are as heavily armed as you are," Keita said.

Maghan Keita, a professor of history at Villanova University, talks to NBC10 about those who fought in wars will always have their past following closely behind.

(Published Monday, Oct. 2, 2017)

Jabateh has been jailed since his arrest in April 2016.

Among those American Liberians who have known Jabateh since his arrival in the U.S. in 1998 is a cousin and fellow businessman named Voffee Jabateh, who called Mohammed Jabateh "a pillar" of the local community.

John Prall, another Liberian who escaped to southeastern Pennsylvania, told NBC10 prior to the trial that he would be watching closely. He said he hopes the trial marks a start, not an end, to the pursuit of justice for victims of his native country's civil war.

Prall said he believes there are more than one former warlord living in his community.

"There are so many here," he said. "There are so many."

Maghan Keita, a professor of history at Villanova University, talked with NBC10 about immigrants who flee their native country and remake their lives in a new place.

(Published Monday, Oct. 2, 2017)