Notorious human smuggler Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, being taken away by Interpol team after arrest in the UAE-led operation in Sudan. Image Credit: Interpol

Abu Dhabi: The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) has thanked the UAE for taking swift action in arresting the world’s most wanted and notorious human smuggler Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam.

Eritrean fugitive Kidane, known for his particularly cruel and violent treatment of migrants, was last week arrested in Sudan due to prompt action by the UAE forces, based on information shared via Interpol.

Kidane was the subject of two Interpol Red Notices, by Ethiopia and the Netherlands, for migrant smuggling, human trafficking and other related crimes. He was wanted for heading a major criminal organisation behind the kidnapping, extortion and murder of East African migrants.

Details of his arrested were released on January 5 at a virtual press conference by officials from the UAE and Interpol.

Task force

In March 2022, intelligence gathered by Interpol’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants unit prompted a task force meeting with participants from Ethiopia, Sudan, the Netherlands, UAE, Europol and Regional Operational Centre in support of the Khartoum process and the African Union Horn of Africa Initiative (ROCK). Officers explored analytical gaps, progressively closing in on the fugitive and his associates.

New intelligence

The extensive collaboration generated a new batch of intelligence, allowing UAE authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of his network and family members, identifying money laundering activities and leading to Sudan. Authorities believe that his arrest will deal a significant blow to a major smuggling route towards Europe and protect thousands more from being exploited at the hands of the crime group.

Speaking about the arrest, Brigadier Saeed Abdullah Al Suwaidi, director-general of the Federal Anti-Narcotics General Directorate of the UAE’s Ministry of Interior, said: “Thanks to the professionalism and dedication of our police officers, 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.”

Kidane's arrest was announced in virtual press conference attended by UAE officials and other members of the Interpol task team. Image Credit: MOI

UAE's pivotal role

Captain Erwin Kolkman, team leader of the Intelligence Unit on behalf of the Netherlands, said: “Thanks to the international cooperation across continents, we have proven that we are able, when jointly working, to rid humanity of many dangers.”

He expressed his thanks and appreciation to the UAE for its pivotal role in arresting Kidane, who was wanted in a number of countries for crimes against humanity.

Zelalem Mengistea Dejen, Deputy Commissioner General, Ethiopian Federal Police, said: “We have achieved a distinguished achievement thanks to cooperation and coordination, and a special thanks to the law enforcement forces in the UAE from whom we extend our thanks and appreciation, stressing that one of the most wanted persons has been arrested in cases related to human trafficking.”

Most wanted list

Stefan Schrander, Warrant Officer, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee welcomed the arrest, adding that Kidane had been on the Dutch National Most Wanted List since October 2021.

“The Royal Marechaussee is grateful for the effective cooperation in this investigation with various countries coordinated through Interpol.

Demelash Gebremichael, Commissioner General of the Ethiopian Federal Police, recognised the efforts of officers who worked day and night to follow up on leads generated by the task force. “This tremendous effort has led to the arrest of an international criminal sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia. It is a notable success,” Gebremichael said.

Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol Executive Director of Police Services, said: “This is a testament to the Interpol’s network and what can be achieved when countries work together. In today’s world, it is quite simply the only way to stop criminals whose repeated cruelty strips people of their dignity.

“More than ever, we are committed to identifying all of the members in this smuggling ring, and any others that viciously exploit people seeking a better life,” added Kavanagh.

More arrests are expected as part of ongoing investigations and as coordination continues with several Interpol member countries.

Arrest in Sudan

Kidane was arrested in Sudan on January 1 in a major international police operation led by the UAE based on information shared via the Interpol

Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, also announced on his Twitter account on Thursday about this international operation, saying: “A successful 9-month global police operation led by the UAE and in partnership with Interpol, resulted in the arrest of wanted internationally and by the UAE, Kidane Habtemariam, a fugitive from prison in one of the countries and the leader of a criminal organisation for human trafficking, and his brother Henok Zekarias, wanted for money laundering. Thanks for all the partners.”

UAE’s action

Following the sharing of intelligence by Interpol’s Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants unit last year, the UAE conducted a thorough investigation into members of Kidane’s network, including his own brother, who laundered money on his behalf. The illicit financial transactions detected by UAE law enforcement enabled officers to locate Kidane in Sudan.

Kidane Zekarias photo-1673094595215
Eritrean fugitive Kidane, known for his particularly cruel and violent treatment of migrants, was last week arrested in Sudan due to prompt action by the UAE forces Image Credit:

Notorious fugitive

The subject of Interpol Red Notices, Kidane is wanted for leading a criminal organisation that over several years, kidnapped, mistreated and extorted East African migrants to smuggle them into Europe. It is estimated that since 2014, Kidane is responsible for having trafficked hundreds of victims. His arrest will neutralise a major people smuggling route towards Europe and protect thousands who would have been at risk of exploitation.

Kidani is considered as one of the most dangerous fugitives with crimes related to human trafficking.

He escaped once in 2021 when he was arrested and was in hiding until the day he was arrested again in this international operation led by the UAE.