BY MAGNUS MAZIMPAKA–FRIDAY, 18 MARCH 2011
37 men accused of a spate of attacks across Rwanda are alleged FDLR agents
While living in Burundi, Paul Ngirarwanda, a man in his 50s and a resident of Rusizi district, southern Rwanda, operated as a grenade smuggler on behalf of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel outfit based in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), mainly comprised of individuals who participated in the 1994 genocide. Ngirarwanda would receive the grenades from his FDLR counterpart, Jonathan Bigaja, and then transport them to Rwanda across its porous borders with the DRC. Ngirarwanda successfully delivered a total of 15 grenades, for 30,000 Burundi francs (about $25USD) on each route.
On the eve of March 1, 2011, Ngirarwanda was due to deliver two grenades the following day. He left his home in the early hours of March 2 with the grenades tucked away in a ragged knapsack. However, when he entered Rwanda he was immediately arrested by security operatives who had been trailing his moves. Ngirarwanda’s capture led to the arrest of a group of four men who had planned to strike Kigali in an attempt to wreak havoc on behalf of the FDLR.
The arrests were part of a much larger operation launched by Rwandan authorities in 2008 after an unknown assailant hurled a grenade at the Kigali Genocide Memorial on April 11, instantly killing Ignace Munyantamati, a police constable, and injuring his colleague, Jacques Ntimugura. 20 grenade attacks have since struck Rwanda, killing 11 and injuring 142, the latest in Kimisagara, a suburb in Kigali City that left ten people injured and occurred on the same day that the Ngirarwanda group was nabbed.
Altogether local authorities have rounded up 37 suspects, including Ngirarwanda’s group and have accumulated 1,047 grenades from the accused in the process. “When they are arrested, they mention one person or two, and we connect our intelligence information,” says Rwanda’s Army Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara. “It leads us to the Kayumbas and FDLR.”
Although Rwanda’s constitutional laws stipulate that a suspect cannot legally be detained for more than 72 hours before being taken to court, Police Spokesperson Sp. Theos Badege says police refrained from handing in any suspect to court until February 28, 2011 because of the sensitivity surrounding the cases.
“This is a high profile case,” he says. “These people take time to reveal information.” Even though Sp. Badeg acknowledges that these actions are against the law, he defends them in the name of national security.
When suspects are being investigated and questioned, he says, they end up revealing information. “They don’t do that in court,” he says before adding that 72 hours may not allow the police to finish their investigations. Sp. Badege adds that the fundamentals like food and medical care are being provided to the suspects. “And we also avoid torturing them,” he says.
During a recent appearance in the Nyarugenge Intermediate Court on March 1, 2011, presided over by Judge Harison Mutabazi, 29 of the suspects were denied bail on grounds that they are dangerous, pose a significant threat to the public, and could impede further investigations. For now, suspects will remain in custody before they appear in Rwanda’s High Court on April 1, because the intermediate court is not competent to try “terrorists”.
Relatives of the suspects walked away from the court yelling, cursing, and calling names. One woman screamed that she had not seen her husband as all suspects had been secretly detained, and heavily guarded. “They don’t allow us to see them,” she complained. “This government is brutal.”
Dramatically, in the first hearing, on February 28, most suspects pleaded guilty before the judge, including Frodouard Rwandanga, Fadhili Kanyarugunga and Théophile Munyaneza. Rwandanga admitted that he was responsible for detonating the grenade at the Genocide Memorial and another at the 6 Heures à 6 Heures bar in Muhima, both in Kigali in 2008; Kanyarugunga told the courtroom he detonated two grenades in 2010, one at Horizon Hotel in Kigali and another at Twiga Hotel in Butare, southern Rwanda; and Munyaneza, an officer who held the rank of a Lieutenant in FDLR, confessed having led an attack on Gisenyi Airport in 2010 with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Most grenades used by the accused, according to Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara, are M26 American “lemon” military grenades and Soviet F1 grenades. The M26 can explode within a radius of 15 meters and the F1 has the potential to damage everything within a 30-meter radius.
Some suspects have openly admitted their ties to the FDLR, whose intention, according to testimonies of former FDLR members is to attack Rwanda and recapture power, while other suspects are ordinary Rwandans accused of collaborating with the assailants by providing them with shelter, food, and transport.
While much information surrounding the suspects and their motives has been forthcoming in this current trial, this has not always been the case.
In 2008, the public widely believed the attack on the Genocide Memorial site was part of a wider campaign against genocide survivors, but then Minister of Local Government Protais Musoni, quickly refuted the claims. Security agents subsequently launched a manhunt for the perpetrators but police did not disclose any suspects.
The attacks continued into 2009: On January 4 two simultaneous grenades exploded injuring six people. Police arrested two suspects, but did not give details of the arrested suspects; on July 22, an explosion injured two young girls in Gisozi, a Kigali suburb; on September 26, an unidentified man on a motorbike in southern Rwanda threw a grenade in a crowd and killed four people and injured about 50; and three more grenade attacks unfolded in December.
In 2010 the situation escalated even further after a grenade exploded about one mile from the National Stadium where President Paul Kagame and his supporters were celebrating his presidential election victory. The public panicked, police arrested suspects, but refused to disclose their names.
Investigating such cases, explain security authorities, is no easy task. Most of the suspects have no identification cards or any physical address. For example, one of the 37 suspects being held is a 22 year old man named Gasore who fled with his parents into DRC in 1994 when he was just five years old.
Gasore, who was recruited into the FDLR, entered into Rwanda early this year led by Lt Fabrice and Mupenzi of the FDLR. The trio scattered after becoming aware that police was hunting them. Lt Fabrice and Mupenzi have managed to dodge the police and are yet to be apprehended.
Since it was Gasore’s first time in Rwanda, he didn’t know where to go or who to contact. After several days on the run, churchgoers alerted police that they had seen a suspicious man, dressed in dirty rags, starving, and loitering looking for food. Police cordoned him and arrested him on spot.
Police Spokesperson Sp. Theos Badege says that, “you can sense ignorance in their stories. These are people who cannot even weigh the risks in the activities they are involved in…They are slaves of an awful ideology.”
Rwanda authorities say they now have a clearer understanding and credible intelligence information indicating that General Kayumba Nyamwasa and his fellow fugitives, Théogen Rudasingwa, General Parick Karegeya, together with other FDLR agents, are the organisers and funders of the attacks.
The UN Security Council of Experts has already published a report linking Kayumba and Karegeya, both exiled former military officers, with FDLR. In Rwanda, the men have been convicted by Rwandan courts of criminal activities including organizing a criminal gang, corruption and causing state insecurity. However, even with an arrest warrant hanging on their shoulders, Kayumba Nyamwasa and Karegeya have formed a political party—the Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
The government says the motive of the attacks is to terrorize the population, cause panic, and insecurity. “When there is insecurity, there are ramifications, it could be in investment or anything,” says Lt. Col. Rutaremara.
To combat the threat, Rwanda has positioned an increasing number of soldiers onto the streets since 2009. Although the army is not eager to deploy its forces in urban centres, it was a decision, says Lt. Col. Rutaremara that Rwanda was forced to take.
Appearing on a recent televised question and answer show, Emmanuel K Gasana, the Inspector General of Police and a former military man, says his force is intensely pursing the terrorist network. He said with the help of the population, he will break the network.
However, there is also speculation and accusations by anti-Kagame groups that it is in fact the president’s administration that is behind the spate of grenade attacks and the soldiers are being deployed as a disguise.
Kayumba’s group, the RNC, released a statement a day after the attack on March 2, saying that, “Kagame’s elements in his command are particularly suspected to be the perpetrators of grenade attacks, through the Directorate of Military Intelligence, to terrorize the population.”
The Independent wrote to Theogen Rudasingwa, the group’s spokesperson asking him if he could provide evidence to prove their accusation, but he failed to respond.
Officials in Kigali adamantly dismiss the allegations. “Rwanda would be a failed state if the army went on street to blow up innocent civilians,” Lt. Col. Rutaremara says “Those who buy the theory are biased.”
Lt. Col. Rutaremara also points out that studies conducted on Rwanda indicate that Rwandans have a lot of trust in their security organs. “It is a contradiction that the same army would go on to kill the same innocent Rwandans,” he says.