Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Rape of Freetown: January 6, 1999

RUF Terrorist Foday Saybana Sankoh
 Sam Maskita Bockarie
On January 6, 1999,  exactly 14 years to this day, the people of Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone  woke up to the terror of a murderous invasion by elements of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

During the Hague war crimes trial of Liberian War Lord Charles Ghankay Taylor, one of the perpetrators of this infamous atrocity, AFRC combatant Alimamy Bobson Sesay recounted the activities of that day from the view point of the actors.

Below is an extract from the testimony of Alimamy Bobson Sesay as reported in the Sierra Leone Daily Mail of January 8, 2011. This testimony is not for the faint of heart, so if you either cannot stomach stories of human carnage or do not want to remember that particular day, please stop reading.
Johnny Paul Koroma


Please note the following:
1 “Wit” means Witness (Alimamy Bobson Sesay).
2. “Pros” means Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra
3. Judge Doherty was the presiding judge

Alimamy Bobson Sesay details atrocities in Freetown in January 1999


Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra continues her direct examination of witness Alimamy Bobson Sesay:

Pros: You testified in relation to Gullit’s group and communication with Mosquito – that you would “bulldoze Freetown”. What did you mean by bulldoze?

Wit: That we would clear any military target in front of us while advancing.

Pros: You were explaining a two-pronged attack. An you said, “we were monitoring”. Who was monitoring?

Wit: The brigade Gullit was moving with had a monitoring set, which was monitoring all AFRC/RUF movements.

Pros: From Waterloo, did the troops you were with move anywhere?

Wit: We moved back to Benguema.

Pros: Did anything happen there?
Wit: I explained the attack on Benguema. What timeframe are you referring to?

Pros: Did anything happen in Benguema.

Judge Doherty: The witness looks puzzled. Please put the question again.

Pros: After Waterloo, your group returned to Benguema?

Wit: I want to be clear what you’re referring to.

Pros: You testified about a food-finding mission?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: You said that took place in Waterloo?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: Then you spoke about communications at the hills in Hastings.

Wit: Yes.

Pros: I was referring to the food-finding patrol in Waterloo. After that, where did you go?

Wit: We returned to the Hastings Hills, where the brigade was based. We saw combat helicopters bringing manpower to Hastings. Gullit said we were to organize another advance. We should go to disorganize the evacuation happening at Hastings. The troop was led by Basky. I joined it. We attacked Hastings.

Pros: Who did the helicopters belong to?

Wit: It was the Nigerian ECOMOG who were based in Hastings.

Pros: You said they were bringing manpower to Hastings. What is this manpower?

Wit: We saw reinforcement that the helicopters were bringing to the Hastings airfield. They were taking positions in that area.

Pros: You said evacuation. Who was being evacuated?

Wit: We saw the helicopters coming from the Lungi end, bringing ECOMOG forces to Hastings.

Judge Sebutinde: It’s still not clear what evacuation he’s talking about.

Pros: You mentioned an evacuation. What evacuation was going on in Hastings?

Wit: The helicopter was bringing Nigerian soldiers. We saw everything.

Pros: Was it only reinforcements that were coming into Hastings?

Wit: They had troops there. They were bringing more.

Pros: Were there people being removed from Hastings?

Wit: No.

Pros: What happened after you saw this?

Wit: Gullit said we should organize a team that would go down to Hastings to disorganize that troop.

Pros: What happened then?

Wit: He appointed Basky and some other men from both battalions. I too joined the troops. We moved and attacked Hastings.

Pros: Which battalions?

Wit: All of the battalions contributed manpower to attack Hastings.

Pros: How many battalions?

Wit: The various battalions: 1-5, the RDF and the Red Lion Battalion.

Pros: What happened during the attack?

Wit: We were able to disorganize the ECOMOG troops. We executed some captured ECOMOG soldiers. We burned the airfield and some aircraft, then retreated to the Hastings jungle.

Pros: Who was executed?

Wit: Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers – about three of them.

Pros: How were they executed?

Wit: We shot them to death.

Pros: Did anything else happen during the attack on Hastings?

Wit: We set fire to Hastings and burned some of the aircraft on the field. We returned to the temporary base we established in the Hills.

Judge Sebutinde: Is Hastings a village, a town, or what?

Pros: Where is Hastings?

Wit: Just after Jui. It has an airfield, and the police training school.

Pros: What happened after you returned to the temporary base?

Wit: Basky reported to Gullit about our performance. We were there for some time and we were attacked in the hills. We lost some of our men: our support firer, Johnny. And one of the commanders, a colonel. We repelled the attack, and Gullit said that we should make a brigade advance to Hastings, Jui and Allentown.

Pros: What do you mean by a brigade advance?

Wit: The whole brigade should move to capture Hastings, Jui and Allentown.

Pros: Did anything happen after he said that?

Wit: We prepared and recaptured Hastings. We had a very fierce fight with ECOMOG. We lost some of our men, and finally we were able to push ECOMOG from Jui, and captured Jui. Whilst that happened, Junior Lion and some other men used the route toward Grafton, whilst I, Tito and others captured Jui Bridge.

Pros: Where is Jui?

Wit: Just after Allentown. From Jui you go to Grafton.

Pros: What was your position at this time?

Wit: I was a combatant officer at the front line.

Pros: The troops you were with, who was leading that group toward Jui Bridge?

Wit: Tito was the commander. We crossed the bridge and they said we should wait. Tito left me and some other men to defend the bridge. He went back and got the “family members”. We went to a very small jungle near Allentown, and we were based there for some time.

Pros: Where was the Red Lion Brigade?

Wit: There in Allentown. It was only Junior Lion and some other men who went towards Grafton.

Pros: You’ve mentioned groups led by Tito, Junior Lion and Gullit. In relation to these groups, where was the Red Lion Battalion?

Wit: With the brigade – the group that Tito led. We established a temporary base at Allentown.

Pros: When was this?

Wit: This was January 4, 1999.

Judge Sebutinde: We didn’t get timeframes for the Hastings attack. I’m also not sure what it is that was burned in Hastings apart from aircraft.

Pros: When was the attack in Hastings?

Wit: Around January 3, 1999.

Pros: What was burned in Hastings?

Wit: It was the structures at the airfield and the old aircraft.

Pros: Anything else burned in Hastings?

Wit: No, we just attacked the military base and withdrew.

Pros: You said that the Red Lion battalion was with the group led by Tito?

Wit: Tito was the commander of the group that captured the bridge. The Red Lion Battalion then crossed the bridge, and we went and based at Allentown.

Pros: The Red Lion was with the brigade?

Wit: Yes, because in this advance we were mixed. It was not by battalion – we were together. We lost some men on the first attempt. Tito, I and others moved and captured the bridge. Tito returned to take the brigade.

Pros: When you talk about the brigade at this point, what are you referring to?

Wit: Gullit, the CIC, Bazzy – the Deputy CIC, Five-five – the chief of army staff, the adjutants, and the civilians we’d captured, whom we called family members.

Pros: When your group arrived at Allentown, did you meet anybody there?

Wit: The civilians had already left.

Pros: Did you meet the other groups?

Judge Doherty: That’s too vague. What other groups?

Pros: When you got to Allentown, where was the brigade?

Wit: When we captured Allentown, Gullit came and we established a base. Junior Lion and the other men who went to Grafton had not come yet. We were there in the jungle until evening, when we went to Allentown itself and occupied the houses. We were there until January 5, waiting for Junior Lion. On the fifth, Junior Lion came from Grafton. While he was advancing to meet us, we had a jet raid. We lost one of our colonels – Colonel Chucks. We continued waiting, almost towards 1:00 AM.

Pros: What jets?

Wit: The ECOMOG Alpha Jets, which we called the 448s.

Pros: You said you waited until 1:00 AM. What happened then?

Wit; Gullit called all the battalion commanders and military supervisors, and he addressed the troops. I was there. Gullit said that the troop was about to enter Freetown, and that he was ordering that because we were entering, we should ensure we burn all police stations. Secondly, we should open the central prison because there were soldiers there and Foday Sankoh was there. Other political detainees too were there in the prison. We should ensure those people were freed from the prisons. We should also make sure that those who opposed the junta forces be killed. He also said “from your pocket to my pocket” – we should threaten to kill civilians who do not give us their valuables. He said we should capture civilians and use them to gain recognition if we were attacked.

Pros: Who were you going to attack in Freetown?

Wit: The ECOMOG troop was based in Freetown, so we were going to attack them and the government based in Freetown.

Pros: Do you know if there were other forces in Freetown apart from ECOMOG at the time?

Wit: We were aware of the Kamajor forces and SLA forces loyal to the government – the Sierra Leone Army.

Pros: What was the size of Gullit’s troops at this time?

Wit: More than 1,000.

Pros: What kind of weaponry did your group have at this time?

Wit: We were well armed. We had SPGs – support propelled grenades, 60mm mortars, 81mm mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, LAR – light automatic rifles, SMG – sub-machine guns, AK-47s, and also machetes.

Pros: Did you have any kind of vehicle?

Wit: We hadn’t a vehicle at that time in Allentown. We did our attacks on foot.

Pros: What happened when the troops left Allentown?

Wit: Immediately after that, the brigade waited just for a while whilst the fighters were being organized. We were mixed. Four battalions moved. ECOMOG attacked, but we pushed them. We took Calaba Town. We captured Brewery on Wellington Old Road and based there. The brigade and the family members came. Gullit ordered a troop ordered a troop under Pikin, who was in charge, to take the new road to Wellington. [Several commanders] including myself used the old road. It was a two-pronged attack on Freetown.

Pros: Between these two groups, where was the Red Lion Battalion?

Wit: At that time, it was the brigade.

Pros: Where was the brigade?

Wit: Wellington Old Road.

Pros: That’s the road you were on?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: Was there any person leading the group on the Old Road?

Wit: There was NPFL, who led the RDF battalion. I was there. Kefokeh was there. The brigade was at our back. We attacked, advanced, and the brigade would move.

Pros: How far behind was the brigade?

Wit: Not too far.

Pros: Did the two groups enter Freetown?

Wit: Yes. We had a way to locate one another. We had a tracer. If you fire it, you can see it. We knew where they were, and they knew where we were.

Pros: What is a tracer?

Wit: If you shoot it there is a red light.

Pros: Can you explain how your group moved into Freetown?

Wit: We came as far as Kissy Mess Mess (ph) on the east end of Freetown and captured the police station. We burned down the barracks and advanced towards Shell Oil road. While we were advancing, those on the new road captured it.

Pros: Where did your group go after burning the police station?

Wit: We advanced towards Low-Cost and captured it. We were doing rapid advancement. We captured Shell Oil road. We moved as far as Saroulla Old Road. There’s a cinema there. From Saroulla, the troop moved and captured Fisher Lane – Old Road. When we got there, we met over 50 vehicles which had been abandoned. We waited there. Gullit came and said we should set them on fire to create an obstacle so that if ECOMOG came they would not be able to pass in their armed personnel carriers. We advanced toward Peter Bidi (ph) Junction and captured it. The men at New Road captured Ferry Junction. From there we advanced towards Benz Garage, very close to the Kissy Road Cemetery. ECOMOG resisted there, so I and the others stopped and continued to engage the ECOMOG forces. The men from the new road came and mounted an AA on top of a vehicle. They moved ECOMOG from the junction where they were based – at Up Gun. The troop moving from the New Road moved down to Ross Road while we took Kissy Road.

Pros: Please continue.

Wit: We moved towards Dan Street, Savage Square. We were there while the men using the New Road captured lower Savage Square, which was close to Cottage (ph) hospital. We pushed forward and captured ____ Junction, while the other troop captured ______. We were shouting Allahu Akbar. The Muslims use that expression – it means “God is Great.”

Pros: Why were you chanting that?

Wit: When we entered, we saw it that it was a glorious entry. It was a way to locate each other.

Pros: Where were the two troops?

Wit: We had captured Magazine Cut (ph) Junction. We took the Eastern police station while the other troop was moving toward Guard Street. They also came to Eastern police.

Pros: At the time the two groups met at Eastern police, do you recall the time and the date?

Wit: It was January 6, 1999. We left Allentown by 1:00 AM. We got towards that area around 6:00 AM.

Pros: What happened at Eastern police?

Wit: It was burned down and Junior Lion executed two captured police officers. From there, they used Kissy Street, now called Sani Abacha Street, coming down from Fourah Bay. We used Goderich Street. After that we advanced towards the library, very close to State House. We came up towards Tar Hill. The other group went to the Cotton Tree. We captured State House together. The brigade came – Gullit and the family members. They came to State House.

Pros: What is State House?

Wit: It was the office of the president, Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah.

Pros: Do you recall the time when State House was captured.

Wit: Around 6:00 AM or something.

Pros: What happened after State House was captured?

Wit: Gullit said we should go empty the central prison. We moved towards Pademba Road. We burned down the CID headquarters. From there we advanced towards Pademba Road Prison. We met some ECOMOG resistance, but they retreated. We broke into the prisons and met nearly 3,000 manpower there. So many people there who were with the AFRC.

Pros: How many people were released from Pademba?

Wit: I want to use the gents.

Judge Doherty: [to court officer]: Please assist the witness.

[pause in the proceedings until witness returns]

Pros: Can you tell the court how many people were released from Pademba Road Prison?

Wit: About 3,500 people. Because they were mixed.

Pros: What do you mean, “mixed”?

Wit: There were SLAs, some RUF members and some political detainees – including some prominent lawyers, some women, and some criminals.

Pros: At this point, do you know where the Red Lion Battalion was?

Wit: It was a mixed group. Some were at State House with Gullit. Some were with us to open the prison.

Pros: Earlier you said the Red Lion Battalion consisted of RUF, STF and former NPFL-AFL?

Def: The witness said earlier there were SLAs too.

Judge Doherty: I recall that too.

Pros: Out of the groups that formed the Red Lion Battalion, which groups did they come from who were with you at the prison?

Wit: The Liberians were with us because we were expecting to be targeted, so we were well prepared.

Pros: You said that among those released from Pademba were prominent lawyers. Do you recall their names?

Wit: Yes, Osho Williams, Manley Spain, and the ex-president: Joseph Saidu Momoh. We did not meet Pa Sankoh there. They said he had been taken somewhere else that same day.

Pros: Do you recall any of the names of the women released?

Wit: There was Honorable Kai of the AFRC.

Pros: Do you recall the names of an RUF released?

Wit: Gibril Massaquoi was amongst them. Steve Bio too was there. They also had some junior ones, but those names I can’t recall.

Pros: After the release of prisoners, did you go anywhere?

Wit: We advanced toward New England, went towards Brookfields, captured Brookfields, captured the Youyi Building, and advanced to the National Stadium because we had information that there were soldiers based there to be trained to attack us. We entered the stadium and set the soldiers free. We told them to report to state house.

Pros: Who was going to train the soldiers?

Wit: We heard that ECOMOG was going to train them – some of our former colleagues.

Pros; What happened then?

Wit: We went back to the Youyi Building. Some of our colleagues were ambushed at Congo Cross, and died. They did not wait for us. So we retreated and went back to State House.

Pros: The soldiers you met at the stadium – how many were they?

Wit: Not too many – about 100. We broke open the place and asked them to move to State House.

Pros: Did they report?

Wit: I did know them especially. When we got to State House, we realized a large number of soldiers had reached there. When we got to State House, we heard Mosquito over the international radio. He said that his troops led by Tamba Alex Brima had captured State House and broken open the prison, and overthrown the government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. He said they are now trying to capture the military barracks in Freetown.

Pros: Do you know how Mosquito knew of the capture of State House?

Wit: Yes. The morning that we entered State House – the first thing Gullit did was to set up the set and inform Mosquito and the other commanders that we had captured State House and needed reinforcements.

Pros: How did you know about this communication?

Wit: Even before we left for Pademba Road, Gullit called Mosquito.

Pros: Do you recall if Mosquito responded during this communication?

Wit: Yes, he said there were preparations underway, and that Issa and Superman had captured Makeni and were pressing towards Freetown to reinforce us.

Pros: After this communication, do you know if there was any other communication?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: You said that after State House was captured, the first thing Gullit did was to call Mosquito and other commanders. Who were the other commanders that Gullit informed?

Wit: Issa Sesay and Superman.

Pros: On what date were these communications?

Wit: The early hours of January 6.

Pros: How do you know that Gullit called Issa Sesay?

Wit: It was in my presence.

Pros: How do you know about the communication between Gullit and Superman?

Wit: After he spoke with Mosquito, he spoke with Issa. In my presence also, he called Superman.

Pros: Did you hear any other radio announcements than the Mosquito announcement?

Wit: Five-five also went on the interntional radio and said the troop led by Gullit overthrew the SLPP government. He said that civilians should comply with all rules and regulations.

Pros: Did you hear any other radio announcements that day?

Wit: FAT Sesay, the brigade administrator, also confirmed over international radio that he was in State House. He said Alex Tamba Brima had led the troop and that all military men should surrender.

Pros: Was Alex Tamba Brima reporting to anyone?

Wit: Yes. He reported everything to Mosquito.

Pros: At this time at State House, were other commanders present?

Wti: Yes. Bazzy, Five-Five, Woyo and the other military supervisors, and even Hassan Papa Bangura was based in State House.

Pros: What was happening there?

Wit: The troops were all moving around and bringing young girls and women to State House. We also captured some Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers and brought them to Gullit.

Pros: How many young girls?

Wit: All of the members of the troop brought young girls. Some even brought girls for the commanders.

Pros: What happened to the girls?

Wit: What I saw was that the commanders were sleeping with them – using them as women.

Pros: What do you mean – “used them as women”?

Wit: The young girls who were captured and brought were forced to do anything. They had sexual intercourse with the commanders.

Pros: What was the age group of these girls?

Wit: Most of them were 14-16. You also had SBU boys that brought others, 8-9 and slept with them.

Pros: What do you mean “slept with them”?

Wit: They used them for sexual purposes.

Pros: How many SBUs were doing this?

Wit: I can’t recall because almost all the commanders had SBUs. There were many SBUs that we took from Kono, Camp Rosos, up to Freetown.

Pros: Did you see anything around the State House?

[brief interruption in video/audio]

Wit: …we shot civilians…

[brief interruption in video/audio]

Wit: …Sometimes when we went on patrols, so many things happened. There was looting. Every commander was looting. Any civilian you saw, whatever they had belonged to you.

Pros: Apart from looting, what was happening?

Wit: Civilians were in the streets. They were dancing and said they wanted peace, that we were their brothers. They were dancing and singing.

Pros: Did anything happen to those civilians?

Wit: The ECOMOG jet dropped a bomb on one group of civilians. They thought it was the junta troop that was jubilating.

Pros: You testified about what happened to Kissy and Eastern police stations, and also the CID. Did anything happen to other police stations in Freetown?

Wit: Yes. Also the central police station was burned down.

Pros: How do you know?

Wit: We went on patrol to that area. When we got there we saw the place. We set the place on fire.

Pros: Who burned it?

Wit: The SLA and RUF and the mixed STF and whole troop that entered Freetown.

Pros: Were you there when central police station was being burned?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: Did anything happen to other police stations?

Wit; We went to the Quay, and Gullit ordered 05 that we should burn the station there too.

Pros: Anything else with regard to police stations?

Wit: As far as I can recall, these are the ones we burned.

Pros: How long did you and the other troops remain in Freetown?

Wit: Three weeks and a half, I think.

Pros: Do you recall if anything happened in the second week of January 1999?

Wit: Whilst we were at State House, we got information that ECOMOG forces were as far as King Tom and moving toward State House. Gullit ordered Basky and others to repel the ECOMOG forces. WE moved there and pushed them. We killed people and burned houses in King Tom. Later we went back to State House.

Pros: Were you there in King Tom?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: Where did you get the information about ECOMOG forces coming to King Tom?

Wit: Gullit brought the information. So we went and attacked ECOMOG. We also killed civilians there.

Pros: How many fighters were in your group that went to King Tom?

Wit: We were more than 150.

Pros: Why were civilians killed?

Wit: Gullit gave us information that it was civilians who called on ECOMOG to come and base there.

Pros: How were they killed?

Wit: We knocked on their doors, pulled them out, and shot them to death.

Pros: Did you participate in that?

Wti: Yes.

Pros; How many civilians were killed?

Wit: Many. I can’t recall.

Pros: What was burned in King Tom?

Wit: Some houses.

Pros: Were these houses empty?

Wit: No, the doors were locked. We burned the houses and heard the screaming while the houses burned. They died in there because we did not move from there until the operation was completed. We ensured that nobody came out.

Pros; After this operation, where did you go?

Wit: We retreated to State House. We met Gullit on the way. He told us that from King Tom to State House was now a death zone – up to Tower Hill. Anyone in that area must die. He said that the civilians had started leading civilians to attack us. So we later came and blocked the area heading to the Cotton Tree.

Pros: Did anything happen in Tower Hill?

Wit: Junior Lion said he executed civilians there. He said he had done some heavy killings there. I was standing there. Basky was there when Junior Lion came and told us at the Cotton Tree.

Pros: When did these killings happen?

Wit: Around the second week in January, after the attack in King Tom.

Pros: Which groups formed the 150 men you went with the King Tom?

Wit: SLA, RUF, STF, the former fighters of the NPFL in the AFL – they were all part of the team that went to that area. They had headbands with “NPFL” or “RUF”.

Pros: Who had these headbands?

Wit: The STF, RUF, and NPFL men fighting alongside us.

Pros: What color were these?

Wit: Most were red.

Pros: Those with the red headbands with “NPFL” and “RUF” – who were they?

Wit: The STF men, the Liberian guys who came – the former NPFL fighters, and the RUF.

Pros: Do you recall anything else happening in Freetown during the second week of January 1999?

Wit: Yes, so many things happened. I recall when I visited my family around Guard Street. I saw my family house had been burned down. I asked who was the commander who burned it. They said it was Captain Blood, assigned to Bazzy. I realized that Blood had captured about seven men and decapitated them. He was attached to Bazzy, so I had nothing to say to him.

Pros: Who were the seven decapitated men?

Wit: They were all young men captured in that area. He said they were collaborators.

Pros: Were you there when he was decapitating them?

Wit: Yes, when I moved to meet him on the same Guard Street where my family’s house was, I saw him doing it. I couldn’t do anything because Gullit ordered us to do burnings and kill people.

Pros: Do you recall anything else that happened that second week of January?

Wit: We had a call from RUF Rambo in which he said they were preparing reinforcements. We had started getting some threats from ECOMOG. He said the SLA Rambo was advancing with Superman and others. Gullit gave him a location for us to receive them in Allentown. That happened…

Pros: How do you know about this communication?

Wit: It took place just after we started receiving threats to ECOMOG. He called Rambo, the RUF commander, and said we were getting pressure from ECOMOG. Rambo said they had moved with Issa as far as Hastings with SLA Rambo. He said they had some fear because maybe Saj Musa was amongst them.

Pros: How do you know about this communication?

Wit: After the second week, we were at State House. It was there that Gullit sent this message. Myself, Col. Eddie and some other men were chosen to go to Allentown to receive them.

Judge Doherty: What does he mean about Saj Musa? At this point he was dead already.

Pros: I was going to lead him back through this portion to clarify some things.

Pros: Where were you during this communication between Gullit and Rambo?

Wit: State House.

Pros: Where was the communication?

Wit: State House.

Pros: How do you know about it?

Wit: I was there and heard it. Rambo said they had some fear because they’d heard a rumor that Saj was dead, but they did not believe that.

4:30 (5:00 with the delay in video and audio): Court is adjourning for the day. The proceedings will continue at 9:30 tomorrow morning.

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