UAE helps arrest world’s ‘most wanted human trafficker’: Interpol

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Actions taken by the UAE have led to the arrest of long-sought human smuggler Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, Interpol said in a statement on Thursday.

Known for his violent treatment of migrants and as the head of a major criminal organization behind the kidnapping, extortion and murder of East African migrants, the Eritrean national has been wanted by the international policing body since 2019.

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He is the subject of two Interpol red notices by Ethiopia and the Netherlands, and the capture was nine months in the making, according to a social media post from Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the UAE’s Minister of Interior.

Habtemariam was initially arrested in Ethiopia in 2020 but escaped custody after one year, and was later sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

Following a task force meeting between Ethiopia, Sudan, The Netherlands, UAE, Europol and Regional Operational Centre, Emirati authorities conducted a thorough investigation of his network and family members, identifying money laundering activities that led to Sudan.

He was arrested in Sudan on January 1. He will reportedly end up spending life in prison after the due legal processes are completed.

Alongside Habtemariam’s arrest in Sudan, which were reportedly led by UAE authorities, Emirati officials also simultaneously conducted an operation in Dubai to arrest Henok Zakarias, the brother of the internationally wanted smuggler.

Both individuals are now in the UAE. “His arrest will neutralise a major people smuggling route towards Europe and protect thousands who would have been at risk of exploitation,” a statement from the UAE Ministry of Interior said.

“We have now shut down one of the most important trafficking routes into Europe, which illegally moved thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, through Libya and into Europe,” added Saeed Abdullah al-Suwaidi, Director General, Federal Anti-Narcotics General Directorate of the UAE’s Ministry of Interior.

“…the world’s most wanted human trafficker will no longer be able to commit his despicable actions. The UAE will continue to deploy our full operational capabilities to protect vulnerable communities from this horrific exploitation,” he continued.

The Eritrean will now face trial in the UAE for money laundering, and authorities will review the possibility of his extradition after the case is closed in the UAE, Suwaidi was quoted as saying by AFP.

The UAE is reportedly discussing with Interpol the possibility of launching another investigation into a major human trafficker.

The Interpol is headed by Major General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi of the UAE. The senior police official is serving a four-year term in Lyon, France that started in November 2021.

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