Antiterrorist Unit (ATU)
Prior to 2005, the regular security forces included the Antiterrorist Unit (ATU), which was composed of an elite special forces group consisting predominately of foreign nationals from Burkina Faso and The Gambia, as well as former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants from Sierra Leone. The ATU absorbed Taylor's most experienced civil war fighters, including undisciplined and untrained loyalists.
During 2002 ATU members increasingly were involved in criminal activities such as theft, looting, and murder in Monrovia. More than in the past, the perpetrators were apprehended; however, cases against them remained unresolved at year's end. Two ATU members arrested in November 2001 after looting a private residence in Monrovia were released during 2002.
There were many unlawful killings by security forces during 2002. For example, on June 19, an ATU officer and presidential guards opened fire on a taxicab in Monrovia and killed a 6-year-old child and critically injured his mother and the driver. President Taylor ordered an investigation of the incident, which was ongoing at year's end. In September Lt. Issac Gono, a driver attached to ATU chief Charles Taylor Jr.'s command, was beaten to death by his colleagues as a disciplinary measure for denting a vehicle. Two soldiers were arrested and held for court martial. The trial was opened; however, it later was suspended for unknown reasons, and the case was pending at year's end.
Former Deputy Minister of Labor Bedell Fahn and four members of the ATU arrested for torturing two Nigerian men to death in October 2001 were tried during 2002. Fahn was sentenced to 10 months in prison; however, in September he was released. Two ATU members were acquitted and the other two were sentenced to life imprisonment.
As fighting with the LURD rebels spread and moved south during 2002, there were credible reports that government forces, especially the ATU, as well as members of the Lorma ethnic group continued to harass, intimidate, detain, and kill members of the Mandingo ethnic group and other suspected LURD sympathizers. During the year, uncontrolled government security forces killed large numbers of civilians who were suspected of being rebel sympathizers by shooting them, burning them alive, or cutting their throats; some soldiers killed civilians while looting their villages. Human rights monitors reported that abuses included torture and rape. Minister of Information Reginald Goodridge denied that security forces committed abuses.
Despite official demands to improve training in 2001, the behavior of ATU personnel at checkpoints did not improve substantially during 2002. There were many credible reports that security forces harassed returning refugees and displaced persons, especially in border areas. No police officers responsible for abuses were disciplined during the year.
The security forces harass and threaten opposition figures and their families by conducting illegal surveillance. In some cases, they entered the homes of opposition figures. For example, on 18 July 2002, just prior to the start of the National Reconciliation Conference, the ATU searched the homes of opposition leaders Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh and former telecommunications minister Roosevelt Jayjay. Several student leaders remained under surveillance at year's end.
As of the end of 2002 there was no resolution or further information about the May 2001 case of 24 persons taken into custody by the ATU and transported to Gbatala military base in Bong County. The whereabouts of seven refugees who were arrested upon their return from Guinea in 2000 remained unknown.