By Mae Azango Senior Justice Correspondent with New Narratives
MONROVIA, Liberia – A witness at the ongoing war crimes trial of ex-Sierra Leonean rebel leader Gibril Massaquoi has told the Finnish court hearing the case that then Liberian President Charles Taylor heard that Massaquoi was a spy and ordered his arrest. Massaquoi was given warning and escaped Liberia hours before he could be caught.
In an unexpected twist in the trial, which has been running since February, the witness, who claimed he was an ex Major General of Strike Force Marine of Taylor’s forces, alleged that Massaquoi was feeding information about Taylor to leaders of the LURD rebel faction. The prosecution alleges this happened in Liberia at the time Massaquoi was in a safehouse in Freetown informing on Taylor to prosecutors in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“I told Taylor that Massaquoi was spying on him for LURD but he did not believe me but he kept an eye on us, until he found out Massaquoi was a spy,” said the witness codenamed “X3” to protect him from retaliation.
The witness said he was not the only one who told Taylor about the alleged act.
“Even the late Sam Bokari, [the Revolutionary United Front commander know as General Mosquito] also told Taylor that Massaquoi was not a good man,” X3 told the four-judge panel. “Taylor sent out an arrest warrant for Massaquoi, for being a spy but before the arrest warrant came, I was already looking for Massaquoi for killing the civilians. But what blessed that man that day, I did not see him, because if I had seen him, we won’t be discussing this issue. He had a girlfriend called [name withheld for her protection] at Taylor’s White Flower residence, and she was the person who told Massaquoi to escape because Taylor was looking for him to kill him.”
The witness said the girl who told Massaquoi to leave the country was then arrested and that she told them Massaquoi had fled.
“This war we were fighting in this country, civilians suffered too much because they did not know about gun and you kill them because they went to look for food, was very bad,” X3 said. “Because, if you as a soldier fighting under the umbrella of government, why would you kill civilians? That alone made Taylor vexed, because it was civilians who gave Taylor power. So, I saw three Sierra Leonean fighters who were also looting, but killed seven civilians for looting, so I killed them on the spot. The reason I killed them was because I saw my Aunt’s son among the murdered civilians.”
Sounding authoritative and fearless X3 accused RUF fighters of doing “wickedness” in Sierra Leone. He said he was disappointed that they had not returned the love Liberians had shown them but were feeding LURD with information.
The witness also accused Massaquoi of killing about 65 civilians at Waterside after one of his top commanders (Salome) had been killed by LURD rebels.
“People who did wickedness in my country I want them to face justice, even if it is me, I should face justice,” he said.
X3 said he came to know Massaquoi when President Taylor sent for Massaquoi to come to Liberia. Massaquoi did not go back to Sierra Leone but was given an assignment.
The witness said the first time he met Massaquoi was when he went to pick him up from Bo Waterside in Monrovia. He could not remember the day or time but was sure it happened when LURD was threatening the city, which was June to August 2003.
“The second time I met him was when they sent me to pick him up from his home opposite YWCA, and the third time I saw him, was when he did the execution of the civilians and we were already looking for him because Taylor had given the mandate to arrest him,” X3 said. “That was the last time I saw him. I don’t even know where he is now.”
The witness had promised to bring to the court some crucial pieces of evidence – photos he claimed to have taken along with Massaquoi, Bokari and another commander known as “Superman”. Under defense cross examination X3 claimed his little sister took the album and it was spoiled by rain. For that reason he had not brought them.
Defense lawyer Kaarle Gummerus seized on witness inconsistencies to discredit the prosecution case as he has done throughout the trial. X3 told the court the photo was taken on Randall Street before reaching the overhead bridge at Front Street in Monrovia. But according in interviews with Finnish police investigators X3 had said they took photo in Vai Town, another part of the city. The witness responded that they had taken many photos together and that they took the one in Vai town, because it was the time they pushed LURD forces back and they took the photo to celebrate.
The second witness appearing before the court was one of Taylor’s trusted generals. He was called by the prosecution team. The court ordered witness identities concealed for their protection.
The witness said he joined Taylor’s “revolution” at the age of 12 and he was a soldier from 1990 to 2003. In 2003 he said he was controlling a unit called “Wild Geese” and was assigned to Chocolate City and the Stockton Creek bridge in Monrovia.
He also claimed to have brought “Angel Gabriel” from Bo Waterside border area to Monrovia. He said Massaquoi became a general when he took Sam Bokari’s place after he died. Like previous witnesses he said Massaquoi had ordered the killing of over a hundred civilians in three stores in Waterside in 2003.
“Gibril gave the order to shoot in the store, on June 9, 2003 and LURD was trying to cross the bridge to enter Monrovia,” he said. “Civilians were not given a chance. They were always looting, so he warned them three times not to cross the road when the BZT pickup was coming. But they all crossed and jumped into the store. The RUF, who we call ‘Aggbah Boys’, started shooting and killing the civilians in the store.”
The witness said he was not on the scene when it happened but received a call to hurry to Waterside when the killing started.
“When I got there, they said the Aggbah boys had killed over 100 persons in the store. I asked for the commander who was Massaquoi but by then Gibril had already left and gone back to E.J. Roye Building,” he said. “When I arrived at the E J Roye Building, I went up, and the first person I met was [Taylor general Benjamin] Yeaten, and when I saw Massaquoi, I jumped on him to fight and Yeaten stopped us.”
He said the first store was near the old housing bank, and it was a biscuit store, the second store was on front street, near Family Bakery, and the third one was on Water Street.
“My intention was to stop and attack the Sierra Leonean also, but my deputy called long range, told me to not attack the Aggbah because they were helping us,” he said. “After me and Massaquoi nearly fought, it was a month before the war stopped. After that I did not see Massaquoi again.”
The trial continues on Wednesday.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.