Four people who survived a Liberian church massacre in which 600 people died sued a Philadelphia man Monday who they believe ordered the slaughter.
The four survivors alleged in their lawsuit that Moses Thomas ordered the massacre July 29, 1990 during his tenure as a colonel in the Armed Forces of Liberia, according to Reuters. The survivors filed their lawsuit in a federal court in Philadelphia, where Thomas settled after immigrating to the U.S. via an aid program for victims of the Liberia’s 14 year civil war.
“On July 29, 1990, Defendant, then-Colonel Moses W. Thomas (“Thomas”), was the head of a specialized branch of the Government’s Armed Forces of Liberia (“AFL”). At Thomas’s command, these armed forces surrounded the Lutheran Church and, over the course of several hours, indiscriminately shot or hacked to death approximately 600 sleeping civilian men, women, and children taking refuge there. The Lutheran Church Massacre was part of a larger campaign of violence against the Mano and Gio ethnic groups by the AFL,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs, identified only as Jane W, John X, John Y, and John Z, sought refuge with their families inside St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, where the Red Cross set up an emergency shelter, to escape the ongoing violence in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia. They allege that while Thomas did not personally kill anyone, he told the hundreds of individuals inside the church to stay put and subsequently ordered 45 men to kill anyone inside the church, rebel force or otherwise.
The massacre was the worst atrocity committed in the course of the 14-year war, according to BBC, and prompted an armed intervention by neighboring countries. Those who witnessed the aftermath of the massacre the following day described scenes of carnage — bodies of the dead strewn across the ground, huddled in piles by or underneath pews where they crawled and tried to hide before bullets and blades found them, with the corpses of children draped over the altar where they were slain, their blood staining the floor. Many of the survivors were children who were shielded by the bodies of fallen adults. One of those children is now one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
Thomas, who lives in the U.S. under temporary protected status, denied the allegations, saying that he had nothing to do with the massacre and even aided some of the individuals who took shelter in the church.
“This is absolute nonsense. I don’t (know) who did it and was never around there when it happened. I saved people from the Lutheran compound, including Bishop Diggs’ son, and I have a written letter from him from years ago,” Thomas told Front Page Africa.
The lawsuit is a civil suit, so the plaintiffs only stand to gain monetary recompense if they win. The suit could possibly result in a revocation of Thomas’ protected status, which would allow the U.S. to deport him to Liberia. If Thomas is deported to Liberia, however, his potential fate is unclear since Liberia never set up a tribunal to investigate and prosecute war crimes.
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