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The inspiration behind the film Hotel Rwanda, San Antonio resident Paul Rusesabagina, has been arrested by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, the agency said Monday.
In a Monday Twitter thread, the bureau said Rusesabagina is supected of involvement in “violent, armed, extremist terror outfits” and had been the subject of an international arrest warrant. The bureau accuses Rusesabagina of “terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder,” citing two occurrences in Rwanda in 2018.
Rusesabagina has been a strident critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose government has been slammed by human rights groups alleging opposition suppression and free-speech restrictions. That criticism led to his arrest, said Kathleen Tobin Krueger, a friend of the Rusesabagina family and the former president of the Diplomatic Women’s Association. Her husband, former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, served as an ambassador to Burundi and to Botswana under President Bill Clinton.
According to Krueger, a former New Braunfels city councilwoman and current board member of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, Rusesabagina had been on his way home from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when his flight was interrupted and he was arrested. Krueger was not sure whether his flight was destined for the United States or Europe, as Rusesabagina maintains a home in Brussels.
The only thing Rusesabagina’s family knows for sure is that he was in Dubai on Thursday and then, over the weekend, he arrived in Rwanda, said Anaise Kanimba, Rusesabagina’s daughter.
Kanimba, who lives in Washington, D.C., said her father had been targeted by the Rwandan government for 15 years for opposing the current political party. She pointed out that the International Criminal Police Organization, also known as Interpol, did not have an international arrest warrant out for her father as the Rwanda Investigation Bureau claimed in its statement.
MRCD, one of the organizations mentioned as an “extremist terror outfit” by the Rwandan Investigation Bureau, is actually a Rwandan opposition party, Kanimba said. Her father also is a Belgian citizen, not a Rwandan citizen, she added.
“Legally, there’s no country that could help them internationally collaborate to get him into [Rwanda],” she said.
A Rwanda Investigation Bureau spokesman refused to give details on the arrest or about international involvement around the arrest, France24 reported Monday.
Krueger said she and her husband have known Rusesabagina and his family for more than a decade. She spent Monday asking friends and colleagues to connect with former presidents, government officials, nonprofit workers, and intelligence agencies that might be able to assist Rusesabagina. Krueger said she does not think he has any potential advocates on the ground in Rwanda.
“I don’t think anyone there could safely do it,” she said.
Rusesabagina has lived in San Antonio with his wife since 2009. The Rwandan national first fled Rwanda and sought asylum in Belgium in 1996. He said a soldier had threatened his life following the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
Rusesabagina and his wife, Tatiana, who is in Brussels, have not returned to Rwanda since he left in the 1990s, Krueger said.
“The tragedy is that he has now been returned to his homeland in handcuffs,” she said.
At a DreamWeek event here in January, Rusesabagina spoke of his experience, which was depicted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. Don Cheadle portrayed Rusesabagina, a hotel employee who helped shelter 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees.
Rusesabagina is a controversial figure in his home country. Though widely celebrated for protecting refugees – President George W. Bush honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 – many Rwandans do not see his contributions during the 1994 genocide as heroic. Most of the replies on Twitter to the announcement of Rusesabagina’s arrest applauded the bureau’s move.
“Sometimes they say I never saved people,” Rusesabagina said in January. “I never say I saved people. But I helped people survive. Hôtel des Mille Collines had 1,268 displaced refugees in my hotel. All of them survived. None of them were beaten. None of them were killed. Go ahead and tell me another place in the country where everybody was saved from beginning to end.”
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said on Twitter that Rusesabagina was being detained at a police station in Kigali, Rwanda.
Kanimba said her first priority is getting her father out of Rwanda alive.
“They’ve been saying they want to hurt him over the last 10 years,” she said. “If you look in Rwanda, any kind of major political opposition, anybody who’s a critic of the government, when they’re in custody, it doesn’t end up good for them. Some have been killed, tortured, and we want to get Dad out of there, because we know they want the worst for him.”
This article has been updated to correctly identify the ethnic groups killed during the Rwandan genocide.