Rwandan death squads are a permanent threat on Belgian soil: ‘The real danger is that Belgian politicians underestimate Rwandan secret services’

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Twee Bruggelingen leave life in suspicious circumstances in South Africa. The family of the first victim, Thomas Ngeze, points to Rwanda with an accusing finger. The family of Pieter-Jan Staelens, the second victim, questions Rwanda’s role in both deaths. In those who once came into contact with Rwandan secret services, this double tragedy brings up bad memories.

In June 2018 Thomas Ngeze was found dead in a hotel room in Johannesburg. He was the son of Hassan Ngeze, a Rwandan journalist convicted for complicity in the Rwandan genocide. Father Ngeze is currently serving his sentence in a UN prison in Mali. He recently submitted an application for early release. According to the Van Ngeze family, Thomas’s death is a clear message from the Rwandan government to his father’s address.

At the request of the Ngeze family, Pieter-Jan Staelens followed the investigation into Thomas’s death. At the end of July, Pieter-Jan himself dies in a car fire. According to the Ngeze family, there is a connection between both deaths and it cannot be ruled out that Rwandan death squads killed the two men.

South Africa is in any case one of those countries where Rwandan spies actively attack enemies. In Belgium too, the secret services had to protect individuals against ‘a serious threat from the Rwandan embassy’. State security can not officially confirm that Rwandan death squads were already active on Belgian soil. But witnesses and experts suspect yes.

South Africa is known territory for Rwandan death squads

The Thomas Ngeze family declares in the Krant van West-Vlaanderen that Thomas had an appointment with people from the Rwandan embassy before his death. Camera images from the hotel recorded how he was escorted from the lobby to the hotel room where he was later found dead.

The death of Thomas is reminiscent of the murder of Patrick Karegeya. On New Year’s Eve 2013, he is also found lifeless in a hotel room in Johannesburg. His last meeting was also recorded on camera. The former chief of the Rwandan secret service enjoyed political protection in South Africa for several years. He already survived two attacks on his life. But that night the appointment in the hotel went down dramatically.

The investigation into his death never yields an official result. But two months later an attack on another Rwandan dissident, General Faustin Nyamwasa, also failed on South African soil. South Africa is putting three Rwandan diplomats out of the country. The diplomatic relations between the two countries are falling to a low point.

A few months later, two journalists, the South African Geoffrey York and the Canadian Judi Rever, take away all doubt. In an in-depth piece in The Globe and Mail they share the secret recordings of a man who was commissioned to kill Patrick Karegeya and Faustin Nyamwasa. Robert Higiro, former major of the Rwandan army, was promised a $ 1 million reward and shares in a telecom company in exchange for the successful execution of the mission.

Out of fear for his own safety, Higiro does not dare to immediately refuse. He decides to play the game, but records the conversations. When the negotiations are delayed due to lack of clarity about advances, Higiro takes his own steps. He applies for asylum in Belgium. After the murder of Karegeya and the failed attack on Nyamwasa, Higiro shares his story with York and Rever.

Rwandan secret services are also home in Belgium

Higiro’s audio recordings and the research work of York and Rever confirm the suspicions that Rwanda is using death squads to silence the country’s enemies. Not only in South Africa, but also in Uganda and Kenya, suspicious deaths were reported that are attributed to the activities of these death squads. Even in Europe some attempts would have been thwarted.

In the United Kingdom, secret services provided protection to several Rwandan critics after they identified a serious threat from the Rwandan embassy. This year, the British security services would have placed Noble Marara, ex-guard of President Kagame and author of the book Behind the Presidential Curtains, under protection.

Guy Rapaille, outgoing chairman of Committee I, the Supervisory Committee for the intelligence and security services, stated in an interview with Knack earlier this year that the presence of Rwandan death squads in Europe is not excluded. He could not say anything with certainty about Belgium.

Judi Rever has no doubt that Rwandan death squads can also strike on Belgian soil. The Canadian journalist turned out to be a potential target of the Rwandan security services during a working visit to Belgium in 2014. Rever worked on the preparations for her book In Praise of Blood, which will be published in Dutch at Amsterdam University Press in October. The book describes the crimes of President Kagame’s former rebel army before, during and after the Rwandan genocide at the Tutsis in the spring of 1994.

‘The threat came from the Rwandan embassy’

When Rever arrived at the Brussels hotel in July 2014, she was met by Belgian state security. ‘There was reliable information that indicated that my safety was in danger. The threat came from the Rwandan embassy, ​​I was made clear. ‘Rever was secured around the clock during her stay in Belgium.

That Judi Rever, as a foreign journalist, received such protection from state security is uncommon in our country. ‘My security must have cost the Belgian state a great deal. I had received a lot of threatening messages before, but I thought they wanted to frighten me. That day I realized that I was in real danger. ”

‘I have faith in Belgian state security, but less in Belgian politicians’

Although the experience has left a deep impression on Judi Rever, the book has arrived. ‘Whoever writes something about Rwanda quickly becomes part of the story. I had to bring this mission to an end. But I confess that since then, before I write a new piece about Rwanda, I think twice and ask myself whether it is really worth it to make me so vulnerable again. ”

‘Belgium and South Africa will take the Rwandan piste seriously given their experience’

‘Personally, I have too little information to speak to myself about the death of the two Belgians in South Africa. But I will follow the case ‘, Rever confirms. ‘Belgium and South Africa are two countries with experience with Rwandan secret services. I assume that they have an eye for possible traces that can lead to Rwanda. ‘

Rever believes that the two countries with their experience will take the Rwandan piste at least seriously. It is also positive about the professional approach of the Belgian security services.

Jean Marie Micombero, a Rwandan dissident whose safety was also at risk in Belgium, shares this confidence. He was once Secretary-General of the Rwandan Ministry of Defense and he sat on the court martial. Since 2011 he has been protected in Belgium as a political refugee.

‘Belgian politicians seem unaware of Rwanda’s activities in Belgium. Rwanda benefits from that’

‘I do not think the Belgian security services underestimate Rwanda. The real danger is that Belgian politicians underestimate Rwanda. They do not seem well aware of the clandestine activities of Rwanda on Belgian soil. Rwanda certainly benefits from this. ‘

He feels safe in Belgium, ‘Because in Belgium there is knowledge and experience about Rwanda that you do not find easy in other countries. But there must also be a political will to restrict certain activities and impose sanctions if limits are exceeded. ‘In that respect, Micombero has less confidence in his new homeland.

Fear and doubt is a weapon

Rwanda’s secret services, and perhaps also his death squads, may be active in South Africa and Belgium. Whether Rwanda would really go that far to kill two Belgian men on South African soil, to send a message to a man who has already been convicted, is another question.

‘A suspicion alone causes a lot of people to frighten me’

Judi Rever thinks that Rwanda is most dangerous when onerous information threatens to come out. “But you cannot exclude anything. A suspicion alone inspires a lot of people. ”

The psychological effect of these two issues on Rwanda’s critical voices and dissidents is in any case already a reality. Presumptions of espionage also put pressure on mutual trust within the Rwandan diaspora in Belgium.

Jean Marie Micombero confirms that fear is an important weapon of the Rwandan secret services. “Someone who does not know Rwanda might say that we are all somewhat paranoid. But I know the system only too well. You have to take everything into account. ”

‘Rwanda recruits daily people in Belgium every day to spy within the diaspora’. For that reason, Micombero built some safety mechanisms in his daily routine. Yet he continues to maintain contacts within the Rwandan community. ‘I want to stay informed about what is happening in my country. I will not finish without me, unlike others, but I am always on my guard. ”

Belgian youngsters from diaspora are being put together


Micombero is strategic and careful in its contacts with the Rwandan diaspora in Belgium. Belgian young people of Rwandan descent who want to strengthen ties with the country of origin, he recommends to be more cautious. According to him, especially in this group is recruited heavily. ‘For example, Rwanda organizes camps for Rwandan youths from the diaspora. These are campaigns that serve to stir up patriotic feelings and then turn on gullible youngsters for their own foreign agenda, ‘warns Micombero.

Natacha Abingeneye, one of the driving forces behind Jambo vzw, an association for human rights that wants to unite young people from the diaspora of the Great Lakes region, recognizes the story. ‘I see a lot of Belgian young people leave for Rwanda. Sometimes to follow such a camp. Sometimes it goes a step further and a youngster is promised a nice career in the country of origin. ‘

But according to Natacha, such a professional offer rarely comes without conditions, although this often becomes clear later. ‘A young Belgian was offered a nice job at a Rwandan ministry. But after a promising start, threats and intimidations soon followed. Afterwards he turned out not to have met certain expectations. They thought he was good friends with a person in Belgium that the Rwandan secret services were very interested in. When the band did not seem that strong at all and he did not turn out to be a useful pawn, he quickly ran into problems himself. And that’s how I can give you some examples. ”

‘The fact that Belgian young people are used weighs on the relationships within the community’

“The fact that Belgian young people are used in Rwanda’s foreign strategy weighs on the relationships within the community,” says Natacha. ‘We are growing up together in Belgium and do not even know who Hutu is and who Tutsi initially. We go to the same schools and meet each other at the same parties. ‘But when Natacha and her friends try to make Jambo, where the members mainly have a Hutu background, more diverse, the unity quickly disintegrates.

‘Young people with a Tutsi background are suddenly warned about the fact that we are children of genocidaries and therefore dangerous.’ According to Natacha, it goes so far as friends preventive contact with her before traveling to Rwanda. Friendships on Facebook are increasingly being broken after intimidation and suspicion.

‘Many young people may initially be somewhat naive about the activities of Rwanda on Belgian soil, but that naivety quickly disappears when you see the impact on the groups of friends’, says Natacha.

A difficult search for truth begins

Through social media Natacha often receives threatening messages that she ascribes to her activities at Jambo. “At one point I was so scared that it undermined my health. I started to lock myself up, looking over my shoulder every time. My work and private life began to suffer severely. A move has brought me some peace. ”

The concerns of the Thomas Ngeze family are personally close to Natacha’s heart. Her father was also suspected of being a part of the Rwandan genocide. In 2005 he participated in an investigation of the Rwandan tribunal. He never appeared before the tribunal because his body was fished from the Brussels canal that same year.

“His disappearance and death were initially considered suspicious. Before his death, he had given a letter to several people for safekeeping. If anything happened to him, the letter had to be released. “The father of Natacha stated in his writing that he was pressured to make precautionary statements against certain individuals. According to him, he was asked to make false statements. However, he did want to make an official statement before the tribunal, but he wished to stop the cooperation with the researchers.

‘We never received the answers we hoped to get’

In the end, the official cause of death was ‘suicide’. ‘Unbelievable’, according to his daughter. “Maybe it was the Rwandan government, maybe Hutu extremists, maybe there is another explanation for his death. But it was not suicide. We never received the answers we hoped to get, “says Natacha,” I am living with the family of Thomas Ngeze and Pieter-Jan Staelens and hope that they will receive those answers. “

Meanwhile, the Belgian prosecutor is following the South African investigation into the death of the two Bruges residents. Both in Belgium and in South Africa, the two deaths are currently regarded as two separate files. The public prosecutor’s office is also preparing an application to conduct its own judicial investigation in South Africa.


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