During the country’s First Civil War, which lasted between 1989 and 1997, Moses W. Thomas was allegedly a Colonel of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU), which was a part of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under the regime of Liberia’s then-President Samuel Doe.
In July 1990, after violence between Charles Taylor rebels and the AFL, hundreds of civilians fled their homes and sought refuge in the St Peter’s Lutheran Church, which at the time was a designated Red Cross humanitarian shelter.
On the night of 29 July, government forces opened an indiscriminate attack on the civilians hiding in the shelter. An estimated 600 civilian men, women, and children, including babies, were shot or stabbed with machetes.
Thomas Moses was allegedly present on the church front courtyard during the attack. He is accused of having been in complete command of the killings. It is also claimed that right before the massacre, Thomas talked to the civilians gathered at the church, promising their safety and advising them to stay there.
In 2000, Thomas fled to the United States and was admitted under an immigrant status intended to assist victims of war crimes.
In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia named Thomas as a suspected war crimes perpetrator, but no action was taken against him.
On 12 February 2018, four Liberian survivors of the Lutheran Church massacre brought a civil lawsuit against Thomas before the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging his responsibility for the attack on the civilians in the church. In particular, the plaintiffs accuse Thomas of extrajudicial killings, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The case was filed on the basis of the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, two statutes which permit civil suits for some human rights violations in courts in the United States.
Thomas has informally denied the allegations.