Nine burnt to death as crowd cheers on

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In an unprecedented reaction to the rising crime wave in Liberia, nine suspected criminals linked with armed robberies in Monrovia’s commercial suburban district of Paynesville were mobbed to death and their bodies burnt late Monday, eye-witnesses confirmed Tuesday.

The witnesses said the bodies of the nine suspected criminals, including an unidentified young lady, were set ablaze in the full glare of Liberian police officers, UNMIL (UN Mission in Liberia) forces as well as petty traders and other onlookers who clapped in an apparent approval of the action of the vigilante groups.

According to the witnesses, trouble began at the open-air Paynesville Red-light market late Monday when angry suspected criminal gangs, including a female counterpart, stormed the marketplace and attacked innocent traders over the death of an unidentified criminal in a shoot-out with elite police Sunday night.

The police had responded to an SOS Sunday night from a businessman whose premises were besieged by armed criminals in the Red-light area that residents dub as the “nest of notorious rogues”.

But one policeman at the Red-light who asked for anonymity, said that his colleagues “came under fire” when they tried to dislodge the criminals.

“One suspected criminal died Sunday night in the exchange of gunfire,” he said, refusing to make further comments.

Eyewitnesses at Red-light market believed that the criminals, in an attempt to avenge the death of their companion in crime, regrouped Monday evening and began to use home-made petrol bombs to attack traders and business centres at the market place where some ten thousand persons throng daily.

As the criminal gangs overwhelmed police officers at the scene, vigilante groups thrust onto the scene and mobbed eight of the attackers, including their female companion, to death before burning their bodies.

The leader of the vigilante groups, Amos Thompson, said their action was in “direct reaction to the escalation in criminal activities against innocent persons in the Paynesville community and other parts of Monrovia”.

Criminals, in the full glare of thousands of traders, sometimes daringly bundle their preys in the crowded market-place in the Paynesville community, in order to disable them before stripping them of all their belongings.

Though mob justice is outlawed in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf last week permitted the formation of vigilante groups to guard their communities against criminal activities while the “government was consulting with UNMIL on how to deal with the rising wave of criminal activities in the country.”

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