A Gambian army officer testified he and two colleagues shot dead journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004 on orders from then- President Yahya Jammeh, providing the first direct account of the previously unexplained killing.
Lieutenant Malick Jatta also admitted to involvement in the killings of more than 50 migrants the next year.
Testifying before a truth commission set up by President Adama Barrow’s government to investigate abuses under Jammeh, Jatta said he was a member of Jammeh’s elite guard, known as the “junglers”.
Hydara, a critic of Jammeh’s government and co-owner of the independent newspaper The Point, was killed on the outskirts of the West African country’s capital Banjul.
Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after losing a presidential election, ending 22 years in power marked by extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances as well as pilfering state assets.
He has not been reachable for comment since leaving Gambia, but supporters in his homeland dismiss investigations of him as a witch hunt.
Jatta told the commission on the day of Hydara’s killing, the leader of the mission, Captain Tumbul Tamba, Jatta and two other soldiers, Alieu Jen and Sana Manjang, collected a car from Jammeh’s residence in Kanifing.
“Tamba was speaking to Jammeh by phone,” said Jatta. “He was saying to him, ‘Yes Sir, Your Excellency.’”
“We met a car and Tamba, who was driving, said, ‘This is the idiot (Hydara) and he ordered us to shoot,” Jatta said. “I shot at him…My colleagues Alieu Jeng and Sana Manjang also fired.”
Jatta was paid 50,000 dalasai ($1,000) for the hit. He only learned the following day the target was Hydara, who worked for Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders.
Tamba died several years ago. The whereabouts of Jeng and Manjang are not known and they could not be reached for comment.
Gambian investigators accuse Jammeh of other crimes, including ordering the killing in 2005 of about 50 migrants he feared would overthrow him. Bodies were dumped in a well in neighbouring Senegal.