Special focus « Time for the truth in Gambia »

Gambia’s full terror exposed before the TRRC

There seem to be no limit to what will be revealed before Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). This week, the first three members of former president Yahya Jammeh’s infamous hit squad – the Junglers – testified. They claimed responsibility in a number of high-profile murders, including the execution of dozens of migrants in 2005. And they said the chain of command leads to Jammeh himself.

Gambia’s full terror exposed before the TRRC©Mustapha K. DARBOE
Omar Jallow, a former member of the Junglers, spilled the beans before the Truth Commission.
5 min 16Approximate reading time

On Monday 22 July, the coming into power of Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh clocked exactly 25 years, and it was on that day that the full terror of his regime was revealed. Two and half years after the fall of the dictatorship, killers allegedly operating on his command have started talking before the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).

They were called the Junglers. Or the Patrol Team. In Jammeh’s Gambia, Junglers were a personification of fear and terror but little was really known of them, their operational procedures, command structures and missions accomplished. And so when three of its members came to testify before the TRRC this week, it was enough to send a nation into shock.

The little-known Italian who created a hit squad

The Patrol Team was reportedly created for VIP protection and counter-terrorism operations. This was in 2004. Omar A. Jallow was in the second group of trainees, of over 30 men. In that group was Saul (Sulayman) Badgie, the man who would later come to command the hit-squad. It was the lethal batch. “Actually we were trained as killers,” admitted Jallow. And the trainer was an Italian called Francisco Cacaso.

Before the Junglers training ended, Jallow said they made a border patrol and got into contact with suspected cannabis smugglers but the two people on motorbike refused to stop. The Junglers shot at them, killing one and wounding another. Jallow said he was not there while the shooting occurred but the following day, Francisco Cacaso came to the training camp and expressed delight at their action. “Francisco was happy that the Junglers succeeded in killing someone. Francisco’s mentality is always killing,” said the witness. In another incident Junglers would also shoot at a fleeing vehicle killing two people in Foni, Jammeh’s home region. Jallow said that Cacaso’s killing mentality was what was transferred to Junglers. 

According to Jallow, Cacaso was welcomed into The Gambia by one Tony Catoni, who was later deported over allegations of molesting young girls. (Catoni reportedly died in Senegal of a heart attack.) Cacaso took over the restaurant business he shared with Catoni. This is how he came into contact with Almamo Manneh, a close aide of Jammeh who would be killed in 2000 for an alleged coup attempt. Thereafter, Cacaso approached Abdoulie Kujabi, the then director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), with a proposal to train security officers to protect the head of state. That was how Gambia’s specialized killers were molded. A third batch would also be trained, where Omar Jallow himself would serve as an instructor. 

After the training, the Junglers were deployed to State House, Gambia’s seat of power, to serve as close protection officers to the president. Jallow’s immediate commander was Musa Jammeh, who named himself “Maliamungu”, a former hit-man of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada. While Musa Jammeh was at State House, one Tumbul Tamba was the head of The Patrol Team in Kanilai, the president’s home village, which was transformed into a military encampment.

Killing the migrants

The second training of Junglers had been completed in 2004, and in 2005 their first major killing was done. In July of that year, around 56 migrants, including 44 Ghanaians were arrested by the NIA who handed them over to the paramilitary. “We picked them from near Coconut Residence [a luxury hotel near Banjul] and put them in two vehicles. We were briefed that there was also another group in the same operation. Sanna Manjang was the one giving that briefing,” said Omar Jallow. “We collected them [the migrants] and headed for Casamance. When we got there, Solo Bojang said was that these people were mercenaries and the orders from Yahya Jammeh was that these people were to be executed. Me and Alieu Jeng were collecting them one by one and taking them to the well and Malick Jatta and Solo Bojang were firing at them and they would fall into a well,” said Jallow.

Malick Jatta at the TRRC in Gambia
Malick Jatta testifies before the TRRC

Jallow said his team executed 30 people in the forest, on the Senegalese side of the border in Casamance. Malick Jatta was the first Jungler to confess before the Commission. He admitted participating in the execution of the migrants. But he claimed to have killed only one person before going back to his car. “I was traumatized,” he said. Jallow said that this was a lie. 

Neither of the two, however, would know who executed the rest of the migrants. During the course of the operations, the men were not told what they were to do with the migrants until they got to the bush. Based on Jallow’s account, the process was emotionless. He would recall how the last migrant they executed pulled a €100 bill and handed it to him. The unidentified migrant told him to take the money because it would not be of use to him after he died. Jallow said he took the money and agreed to a request of the migrant to say his last prayers. However, Sanna Manjang disagreed and as the migrant knelt for prayers, Sanna’s shot came from behind, sending his victim into the well. 

“What did you do with the money?” asked Faal. “I ate it,” Jallow replied.

At that point of Jallow’s testimony, most eyes in the hall of the TRRC were on him. So were Essa Faal’s, the Commission lead counsel. “What did you do with the money?” asked Faal. “I ate it,” Jallow replied. This was so horrific that some reacted with laughter, including Faal. “This is a serious matter,” the lead counsel quickly continued. 

Killing the “Magic Pen”

There were at least three teams of executioners loosely controlled at the strategic level by General Sulayman Badgie, head of State Guards, and Tumbul Tamba, head of The Patrol Team in Kanilai. But at the tactical level, the teams’ operations were being led by Solo Bojang, Musa Jammeh or, at some point, Sanna Manjang. 

As Hydara’s vehicle arrived, Tumbul Tamba “told us this is the idiot,” Jatta testified. “I shot, Sanna Manjang fired and Alieu Jeng also fired.

Prior to the killing of the Ghanaians and other migrants, a shocking event took place in The Gambia on December 16, 2004. Journalist Deyda Hydara, a former president of the Gambia Press Union and a critical voice of the regime was assassinated in front of his office. On that day, Malick Jatta said they were told they were going for the “Magic Pen”. None of them, as often, were told who the actual target was. As Hydara’s vehicle arrived, Tumbul Tamba “told us this is the idiot,” Jatta testified. “I shot, Sanna Manjang fired and Alieu Jeng also fired. I shot one. For my colleagues, I can’t tell how many shots they fired. On route to Kanilai, nobody spoke. The following day Tumbul came with some envelope containing some dollars and said: ‘Gentlemen, this is a token of appreciation from the Big Man’” – i.e. president Jammeh. “When I changed mine, it was over 50, 000 dalasi,” said Jatta. About 1,800 dollars at the time.

Until Jatta’s confession, Gambians have spent about 15 years searching for answers as to who may have killed Hydara. The three professional killers who have testified before the Truth Commission brought answers to two-decade questions that were mind-boggling. In four days, Malick Jatta, Omar A. Jallow and Amadou Badgie – who have all been in custody for two years – gave new information on the killing of country’s former spy chief Daba Marenah, former military chief Colonel Ndure Cham, former lawmaker Ma Hawa Cham and dozens others who have disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the dictatorship. 

Human rights campaigners will surely use these new allegations to step up pressure for Yahya Jammeh’s extradition from Equatorial Guinea, where General Badgie also took refuge in 2017. 

Meanwhile, the Truth Commission’s public hearings go into a week break until 5th of August when they will continue with the testimonies of other former Junglers.