An alleged Liberian war criminal was detained on immigration charges near Philadelphia after he lied about his past to enter the U.S., federal authorities announced Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said that Mohammed Jabbateh, 49, is charged with lying on his immigration forms while seeking asylum and residency nearly 20 years ago.
During the asylum-seeking process, Jabbateh was interviewed by an immigration officer to determine whether his application should be granted, according to a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jabbateh responded “no” when he was asked whether he had committed a crime or harmed anyone else.
According to the indictment, Jabbateh was a high-ranking officer in a Liberian rebel group for much of the 1990s. It said he committed or ordered others to commit war crimes including the murder of civilians, sexual enslavement of women, conscription of child soldiers, rape, torture and corpse abuse.
The indictment claims that Jabbateh knew he was lying to immigration officers and he knew he had “procured asylum in the U.S. by fraud and willful misrepresentation of material fact.”
“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,” said Jack P. Staton, acting Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia special agent in charge.
Jabbateh had been living in East Lansdowne prior to his arrest. He made a brief court appearance and has a bail hearing set for Monday.
If convicted, he faces a maximum 30 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.