One of the bodyguards of Sierra Leone’s former rebel leader Foday Sankoh told a war crimes court trying commander “Angel Gabriel,” aka Gibril Massaquoi that he was sent to guard a guesthouse in Monrovia, made available to the RUF by their Liberian ally President Charles Taylor.
The task of the witness, who is not a victim of the alleged events, was to receive commanders of the Revolutionary United Front, who stayed there.
The is “Civilian 09” and his judicial code name does not fit him well. In the early 2000s, “Civilian 09” was actually a bodyguard for Foday Sankoh, the historic leader of RUF, the Sierra Leonean rebellion of which Massaquoi was a commander and spokesperson.
It was the defense that requested, during the investigation, that this former RUF member be questioned. But it was the prosecutor who finally called him to the witness stand on March 10.
“Civilian 09” told of being assigned, after the peace accords between the RUF and Sierra Leonean government in July 1999,
Starting in 2000, Massaquoi was regularly there on a “diplomatic mission”, he said. The witness spoke of meetings between RUF leaders and the Liberian president. He spoke of missions by road or helicopter to Voinjama and Kolahun in Lofa County, in the far north of the country, on the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone. “At the time,” he said, “some RUF soldiers came from Sierra Leone to help Charles Taylor,” who was by then threatened by a new rebellion, the LURD, launched from Guinea in 1999.
On two occasions, “Civilian 09” himself went to Lofa County with Massaquoi. That was in early 2001, he reckoned, but other missions took place as early as 2000. “The intention was to go and fight there because the enemy was in that area.” These missions lasted three or four days, sometimes a week. They carried weapons, provided by the Liberian presidency and paid for in diamonds by RUF leaders, the witness added. Massaquoi took part in the fighting, he said.
“Civilian 08”, so code-named by the Finnish police, is a 52-year-old man of solid build, with a muscular neck, thick grey eyebrows, and long eyelashes that give his eyes the brightness of smoked quartz. He appeared in a sober djellaba, skullcap and sandals on March 8 before the Finnish court temporarily relocated to the Liberian capital Monrovia. “Civilian 08” is a nurse. In the early 2000s, he was selling medicines and providing basic health care in the downtown Waterside shopping district near the Old Bridge linking Vai Town. It was there that serious abuses took place – summary executions, torture, rape – which victims attribute to “Angel Gabriel,” aka Gibril Massaquoi.
Massaquoi denies ever having had this nom de guerre, refutes any presence at the scene and presents an alibi defense. His lawyer has repeatedly pointed out the witnesses’ contradictions with themselves or each other about when the attack in Waterside took place.
According to the defense, the deadly incident could only have occurred in the final months of the civil war, between May and August 2003. At the time, Massaquoi was living in a safe house in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, as a protected witness in a UN tribunal – a fact that is well known and supported by much evidence in the case file.
It was the defense that called the nurse to testify in court. In his statement to investigators in 2019, he had mentioned a specific date to place the events at Waterside: June 20, 2003. He is the only witness to put forward a clear date. He said he remembered it because that was the day he wrote a letter to the Doctors Without Borders team, whose offices were not far away in Mamba Point, requesting emergency medical assistance for the influx of the wounded.
But the letter is not in the file, and at the hearing the case seemed less clear. The nurse was much more vague about the date or the period. He first mentioned 2001-2002, then 2002-2003, then early 2003. And he stated, at the expense of the defense, that “most of the wounded patients were crying somebody’s name, and this name was Massaquoi. “I don’t know this person, I didn’t see him, but every time I treated a wounded person they were crying this name. They said the man was so wicked,” he added.
The facts the medic described were entirely consistent with the accounts of the 19 direct victims who appeared. “Civilians were looking for food, that’s why they broke into this [biscuit] store. There was no food, no supply. The LURD [Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, the armed group whose offensive led to the August 2003 fall of President Charles Taylor] was putting pressure on the government.”
The lawyer asked him for more details. “The war was almost at an end. In June-July, victims told me what happened and I found it was true because I was treating them. I received most of the wounded from the biscuit store and treated them. And that happened in 2002-2003,” said the nurse, who remembered treating about 30 people that day. These were gunshot wounds, he said. The nurse said he also rescued Major Focko, an army officer and sector commander who was wounded while trying to protect civilians. He too, according to the witness, was talking about “the same Massaquoi”.
“Civilian 09” claimed to have left Liberia with Massaquoi at the end of 2001, and returned to Sierra Leone by road, via Foya, Lofa County. He returned to Monrovia in February 2002, but when asked if Massaquoi also returned, he said, “I don’t remember”.
The testimony of the former RUF member already seems to anticipate the rest of the trial, which relates to crimes committed in Lofa in the years 1999-2003. But it also has relevance to the alleged crimes in Monrovia and to the alibi of the accused. “Civilian 09” explained that some RUF fighters were attached to the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) in Monrovia, which witnesses implicated in the attack in Waterside. “Any fighting activity taking place in Monrovia and the surroundings, they used to send them there to fight,” he said. “Was Massaquoi one of them?” the prosecutor asked. “The only time I know of was in 2000 or 2001, when he was going to Lofa. But I can’t remember if he took part in any activities here in Monrovia,” he replied. “What happened was when Sam Bockarie [former RUF number 2] and the RUF had a falling out, that’s when Sam Bockarie left the RUF and came to Monrovia with some men.”
– Did Massaquoi come with him?