Accused African war criminal, a Delaware Co. resident, arrested

An accused West African war criminal, who allegedly shares responsibility for “a particularly heinous and brutal military campaign” against his Liberian countrymen, has been charged with lying to American officials in a bid to gain U.S. citizenship.

Juncontee Thomas Woewiyu, 68, was arrested Monday by Homeland Security Investigations agents at Newark Liberty International Airport. Woewiyu, also known as Jucontee Thomas Smith, has had legal resident status in the United States since 1972. His most recent residence was in Collingdale, Delaware County, said Zane David Memeger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

Woewiyu was living in the United States when he formed the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) and began to advocate for the ouster of Liberia’s then-dictator, Samuel K. Doe. Later, Woewiyu and others also formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) a military organization committed to the violent overthrow of the Doe government. The ACDL provided funding to the NPFL, according to the federal indictment. They also received support from strong man Moammar Gadhafi, who generously supplied NPFL rebels with arms and specialized training in Libya.

In 1990, a splinter group captured and executed Doe. From 1990 to 1994, Woewiyu served as the ACDL’s Minister of Defense. According to the indictment which was unsealed today, the group tortured perceived adversaries and numerous civilians. Girls and women were raped and forced into sex slavery, children were conscripted into the army, and humanitarian aid workers were murdered, according to the indictment.

Following the election in Liberia of President Charles Taylor, Woewiyu served as the nation’s Minister of Labor from 1997 to 1999.

When Woewiyu applied for U.S. citizenship in 2006, he did not disclose his participation in the NPFL. In his application, Woewiyu was required to sign a sworn statement. By signing, he attested to never having advocated for the overthrow of any government by force or violence and that he had never persecuted any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, according to the indictment.

Woewiyu is charged with seven counts of perjury, two counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, and multiple counts of fraud and making false statements, Memeger said.

Contact Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or Follow @samwoodiii on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.