Why Rwanda’s intelligence chief was arrested in Britain

British police arrested general Karenzi Karake at the request of Spain, where he is wanted in connection with war crimes.

Ben Curtis/AP
About 800,000 people were butchered in three months of ethnic killings in 1994, most of them from Rwanda's Tutsi minority as well as moderates from the Hutu majority.

One of Rwanda’s most senior military officials has been arrested by British police, sparking diplomatic tension between the two countries. 

Lt. Gen. Karenzi Karake, director general of the National Intelligence and Security Services of Rwanda, was detained at London's Heathrow airport on Saturday, on a European Arrest Warrant on behalf of the authorities in Spain, where he is wanted in connection with war crimes against civilians, the BBC reported.

“He went to London on official business on June 14th,”  Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s attorney general and minister of justice said, Channel 4 reported. “Seven days later, on his way back to Kigali, he was not allowed to proceed beyond the airport. We are still talking to the British government.”

According to British police, Mr. Karake is expected to be brought before a court of law in London on Thursday.

Karake, a close ally of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was one of 40 members of the Rwandan military indicted in 2008 by Spanish High Court Judge Fernando Andreu on charges of engaging in retaliation killings after the country's 1994 genocide.

The arrest sparked controversy both in Rwanda and the United Kingdom.

“Western solidarity in demeaning Africans is unacceptable!!” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo tweeted on Tuesday. “It is an outrage to arrest Rwandan official based on pro-genocidaires lunacy!”

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP and the former UK Secretary of State for International Development, in an interview with BBC said Karake was arrested for political reasons. “It’s politically motivated and acted by supporters of the genocidal regime in Rwanda. The warrants were originally set up in 2008 against 40 officials … but a Spanish high court suspended these indictments in March 2014. I think it is a misuse of the European Arrest Warrant system,” Mitchell said. 

There were reports on Tuesday that prosecutors in Spain called for UK to extradite Karake to Madrid.

General Karenzi is a prominent member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the guerrilla army that ended the genocide against the country’s Tutsis in 1994. His arrest is likely to strain relationships between Rwanda and the UK which is already inflamed over BBC’s documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story which aired in October 2014.

The documentary suggested that President Kagame may have played a role in the shooting down of the then-president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane, the act which sparked the genocide. BBC broadcasts have since been banned in the country. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.