Deyda Hydara Murdered in Cold Blood: Confession of an Assassin
Lieutenant Malick Jatta of The Gambia Armed Forces has confessed to taking part in the killing of Deyda Hydara, a veteran journalist and newspaper publisher.
Hydara was shot dead by unidentified armed men on 16th December 2004 on the 13th anniversary of his newspaper The Point. The government of Yahya Jammeh repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.
In his testimony at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Monday, Lt. Jatta, a member of the ex-president’s elite hit squad, revealed what many Gambians have been speculating since Deyda’s murder; that he was killed by Jammeh and his soldiers.
“Tumbul Tamba (said to be one of Jammeh’s top assassins) told us that today we were going for a magic pen,” he testified. Magic Pen, the name of the operation was about Deyda Hydara.
Lt. Jatta said Tumbul Tamba, who was the commander of the operation drove the team from Kanilai, Jammeh’s home village, to the Kombos to carry out the operation. According to him, Tumbul used his own vehicle all the way to Kanifing where he exchanged the car with a taxi at a motor garage belonging to the ex-president to execute their operation.
“It was at night. In the vehicle were myself, Sana Manjang, Tumbul Tamba (Commander) and Alieu Jeng. He parked the vehicle and ordered us to board a taxi (a Mercedes Benz 200). Tumbul took the driver’s seat. Sana Manjang was on his right. Alieu Jeng was sitting behind him. I was sitting to the left,” he told the TRRC.
Lt. Jatta explained that they drove to Kairaba Avenue to the traffic light where they parked while Tumbul spoke to Jammeh on the phone. He said he knew Tumbul was speaking to Jammeh because of his frequent mentioning of ‘yes sir! Your excellency!’
“While we were parked there I saw two other taxis drove past us and I saw soldiers onboard. They were a V-boot and a Benz 190. One was led by Kawsu Camara (Bombardier) and the second one was Manlafi Corr as the commander. I know that Bailo was the driver to Bombardier and Bora Colley was with Manlafi Corr. One of the taxis took a straight drive and bent towards the stadium and the other went towards Kairaba Avenue.”
Lt. Jatta said Tumbul was the one coordinating the other two taxis regarding their movements. According to him, Tumbul later drove and took a bent towards the stadium end facing Observer highway in Bakau. He said at about three or four meters off the highway, they were parked as Tumbul went down the car observing to his left.
“At some point he came to the vehicle and took a rapid U-turn and we drove back the route we had taken and came back to the traffic light. We then followed that route to around Westfield, then bent towards Banjul. When we passed the PIU barracks, there was a road that bent to the right. We just passed the police garage and there was a vehicle in front of us. Initially we did not know that he was running after a vehicle.”
He testified that Tumbul drove past the targeted vehicle until he came opposite with it and shouted ‘gentlemen, the driver is the idiot.’“When he gave the order initially none of us fired. He almost passed the vehicle and I can say the shot came adjacent….He was shouting; shoot, shoot, you better shoot! When we shot, he never stopped. He drove through the streets.”
Asked by the Lead Counsel Essa Faal to name the people who shot the target, Lt. Jatta confessed: “Myself, Jeng and Manjang, though I was in the left hand side down there. From the left hand side of the vehicle, I came to join Jeng to release a shot – to be honest. Tumbul didn’t fire. He was giving the order and driving the vehicle. There was no stop.”
Lt. Jatta said there was no question at the time as to who their victim was. He revealed that they later went for their vehicle at the garage where they drop the taxi they used in the operation and went back to Kanilai.
“I shot one [bullet]. I cannot know how many bullets my colleagues shot.” He said en-route to Kanilai, nobody spoke in the car. He told the TRRC that the following day Tumbul met them to give them envelopes containing some dollars as a token of appreciation from ‘the big man’ referring to the ex-president Yahya Jammeh.
“When I changed it I cannot remember, it’s a long time but I believed I have scored more than fifty thousand dalasis. All of us were given envelopes.”
He told the TRRC that he didn’t know the identity of their victim until the next day when he heard on the news that it was Deyda Hydara. He testified that he was ‘panic, traumatized and very afraid’ when the former president condemned the killing, when he was the one gave the order.
Lt. Jatta also confessed to have taken part in the killing of one Dawda Nyassie under the command of Tumbul Tamba around 2003 in the bush near Bafuluto in the West Coast Region.
“According to the briefing, it [rebellion] must not to be allowed to be hatched. He [Tumbul Tamba] gave this briefing to all of us – myself, Sana Manjang and Alieu Jeng. Whatever we would do would be his command and he would be present. As a result of that people were killed.”
He said as per Tumbul’s explanation, Nyassie and others were perceived as rebels that were amnestied by Yahya Jammeh following the Liberian war under Charles Taylor’s and they were ‘ungrateful.’
Jatta is expected to reappear before the TRRC on Tuesday to continue his testimony.