Hero of 'Hotel Rwanda,' Paul Rusesabagina, arrested on terrorism charges; son says he's innocent

Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina arrested on terrorism charges in Rwanda on August 31, 2020. |

The real-life hero of the movie "Hotel Rwanda," which told the story of a man who saved the lives of approximately 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has been arrested on terrorism charges.

Paul Rusesabagina, 66, was charged with several criminal offenses Monday including financing terrorism, arson, kidnapping and murder, according to Reuters.

“Rusesabagina is suspected of being a founder or a leader or sponsor or member of violent armed extremist terror outfits ... operating out of various places in the region and abroad,” Rwanda Investigation Bureau spokesman Thierry Murangira told reporters.

The bureau posted on Twitter that Rusesabagina had been the subject of an international arrest warrant and had been arrested "through international cooperation."

Rusesabagina is a critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who's led the nation since 2000.

His son, Trésor Rusesabagina, was reportedly shocked by the news, telling CNN in an interview on Tuesday that the last time he communicated with his father was on Thursday while his father was traveling in Dubai.

"That is the last time we talked to him, that is the last time we heard from him, and ever since that it has just been silence," he said. Trésor Rusesabagina said he didn't know why his father was in the United Arab Emirates and believes the allegations against him are false.

"Having a thought is a crime in some places. Being your own man is a crime in some places. My father is guilty of having the guts to speak up. This is political, of course it is. These are the games they play," he said, speaking of Rwanda's government.

Rusesabagina's actions during the genocide brought him international fame and numerous human rights accolades. He has not lived in Rwanda since 1996 after surviving an assassination attempt. In 2005, then-President George W. Bush awarded Rusesabagina the highest civilian award, the Civilian Medal of Freedom.

The Rwandan hotel manager was portrayed by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film, "Hotel Rwanda." The movie recounts how Rusesabagina, a Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman, influenced and bribed military officials to help approximately 1,200 people who sought refuge at Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda's capital city, escape the violence. 

The Rwandan prosecutor general said that in 2010 authorities had evidence that Rusesabagina had funded terrorist groups, yet no charges were ever brought. Since that time, it is alleged that he has been a part of a series of attacks in 2018 by the rebel group National Liberation Front along Rwanda's southern border with Burundi. Rusesabagina has not yet responded publicly to the charges he is facing. 

Approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the 1994 genocide, many hacked to death with machetes, which began in April of that year and lasted for over three months. 

Rusesabagina was reportedly arrested abroad though it's unclear where he was apprehended. Belgian authorities were alerted of Rusesabagina's arrest on Monday and said he was not arrested nor transferred by them.

Under the auspices of international organizations and agreements, Rwanda, a small landlocked country in central Africa, was ruled by Belgium between 1922 and 1962. Known as Ruanda-Urundi at the time, the nation was granted independence in 1962 as two separate nation-states, Rwanda and Burundi.

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