April 22 (UPI) -- A former Liberian warlord who had been living in Pennsylvania for two decades has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for lying to immigration officials about his past.
Mohammed Jabbateh, 51, ran an international shipping business while living in a Philadelphia suburb since the 1990s. Before he claimed refugee asylum in the United States in December 1998, Jabbateh was known in Liberia as "Jungle Jabbah," a commander of armed groups during the country's first civil war between 1989 and 1996.
During that tine, Jabbateh ordered civilians to be killed, raped, tortured and enslaved. During his trial last year, victims told their stories -- including a woman who was forced into sex slavery at 13. Another woman said Jabbateh and his men killed her husband and forced her to cook her dead spouse's heart and serve it to them.
"This defendant committed acts of such violence and depravity that they are almost beyond belief," said U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain in a statement. "This man is responsible for atrocities that will ripple for generations in Liberia. He thought he could hide here but thanks to the determination and creativity of our prosecutors and investigators, he couldn't. This prosecution was our only option under the law and his sentence achieves at least some measure of justice for his victims."
Jabbateh was convicted in October on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury, for which federal sentencing guidelines recommend 15 to 21 months. But U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond said such a sentence would be "unreasonable but outrageously offensive" for Jabbateh, who he said made a mockery of the United States' asylum system.
"I want to be clear, I am departing not based on the horror of the atrocities the defendant committed abroad," Diamond said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Rather, I am departing based on the egregiousness of his lies...and their effect on our asylum laws and immigration system."
Alain Werner, the director of Civitas-Maxima, an international legal group that helped prosecutors in Jabbateh's case, told The Guardian the sentence was celebrated in Liberia.
"It was very special for them. There is such impunity in Liberia for perpetrators of very serious crimes that this was very empowering," Werner said.