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Federal authorities arrest accused Liberian war criminal ‘Dragon Master’ living in Philadelphia

Laye Sekou Camara, of Southwest Philadelphia, is accused of lying about his background to enter the United States and apply for Pennsylvania identification.

File photo of the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia, Oct. 22, 2021.
File photo of the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia, Oct. 22, 2021.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

A Liberian immigrant living in Philadelphia has been arrested by federal authorities and charged with fraudulently hiding his background as a high-ranking member of a rebel group — he called himself “Dragon Master” — that is accused of committing atrocities during a Liberian civil war.

Laye Sekou Camara, 43, of Southwest Philadelphia, is accused of lying about his background in 2011 to obtain a visa to enter the United States and then later to obtain a green card.

Camara then allegedly used the green card to falsely characterize his background on a Pennsylvania identification application in 2017, according to a criminal complaint submitted to Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret and publicly filed last week. Camara is charged with the use of an immigration document obtained by fraud.

In news accounts dating back to 2003, during and shortly after the conflict known as the Second Liberian Civil War, prosecutors say Camera is identified as a brigadier general with the rebel faction known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD. Liberia’s first civil war was fought for most of the 1990s and left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

U.S. authorities have led the charge in recent years to bring Liberian war criminals to justice — particularly in Philadelphia, where thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict were relocated in the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2018, a federal judge sentenced Mohammed Jabateh, 54, of Lansdowne, to 30 years in prison for hiding his past as a brutal warlord.

That same year, a jury convicted Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu — a past spokesperson for Charles Taylor, a Liberian president later found guilty by an international war-crimes tribunal — for lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his complicity in war crimes committed by Taylor’s regime. He died in 2020 before he could be sentenced.

Details of Camara’s arrest were not immediately available. He was being held at a federal detention facility in Brooklyn, records show.

In the criminal complaint, officials said the investigation began in July.

The complaint cites a human-rights report published by the U.S. Department of State about the second civil war that identifies “Sekou Kamara” as being called General Dragon Master and General K1. He is described at the time as “in hiding after he allegedly killed a fellow LURD General known as Black Marine.”

The complaint says Camara was identified in a photo of LURD rebels published in the New York Times in 2003. He also appears in a 2004 documentary titled Liberia: An Uncivil War. Camara is seen standing behind then-U.S. Ambassador John Blaney.

Blaney was interviewed as part of the investigation, and he recalled dealing with Camara and another commander known as General Cobra.

“Ambassador Blaney stated that General Dragon Master was a high-ranking and active combatant in LURD, which he described as a large and formidable Liberian rebel group engaged in atrocities during Liberia’s Second Civil War, and that General Dragon Master would not be someone who meets visa issuance criteria,” according to the complaint.

When Camara first applied in 2011 for a visa to enter the United States, he falsely answered that he had never been a member or involved in a paramilitary unit, vigilante group, rebel group, guerrilla, or insurgent organization, the complaint states.

That led to Camara obtaining a green card, which he later fraudulently used on the Pennsylvania identification application, the complaint says.