US charges Gambian man with torturing political prisoners as part of dictator’s ‘hit squad’

Former Gambia president Yahya Jammeh, who entered exile in 2017: AFP/Getty Images

A Gambian man living in Colorado has been charged with torturing political prisoners in his home country following a failed coup that took place in 2006.

American prosecutors announced on Thursday that Michael Sang Correa, aged 41, had been charged using a US law allowing non-citizens who are suspected of committing torture in other countries to be prosecuted.

Correa belonged to a paramilitary unit known as the “Junglers” who served the then Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh. He went into exile in 2017.

“Michael Correa allegedly committed heinous acts of violence against victim after victim in a brutal effort to coerce confessions,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski on Thursday.

In an initial court appearance, Correa was served seven criminal charges: one count of conspiracy to commit torture and six counts of inflicting torture on specific individuals.

He had been living in Denver and working as a day labourer before he was found, arrested and detained by immigration officials last year, prosecutors said.

Correa is believed to have entered the US in late 2016, when he overstayed a visa that had allowed him to accompany Gambia’s then vice-president to the UN as his bodyguard.

The former hit man did not return to Gambia following President Jammeh’s election defeat in December 2016.

Prosecutors allege that Correa physically and mentally tortured six people who were suspected of plotting a failed coup against former president Yahya Jammeh in 2006.

Correa and his alleged co-conspirators allegedly beat the detainees using their feet, pipes and wires, sometimes covering their heads with plastic bags, and also administering electric shocks to their bodies, including their genitals.

Colorado prosecutor, Jason Dunn, told reporters on Thursday that the Gambian national had been charged under a federal law used only twice.

“We are not only holding accountable a man who has allegedly committed horrific acts of torture against his own people, but demonstrating to the people of The Gambia, and indeed the entire world, that the United States stands for the rule of law and against those who abuse human rights,” said Mr Dunn.

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