Nairobi: Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film who was arrested last month in Kigali, was duped into boarding a jet he thought was flying to Burundi, a New York Times report said.
“How I got here - now that is a surprise,” he told the US daily in a jailhouse interview with two Rwandan officials in the room. “I was actually not coming here.”
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became famous after the Hollywood film in which he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as they sheltered in the hotel he ran during the country’s 1994 genocide.
Some 800,000 mostly Tutsi but also moderate Hutu were killed in the genocide.
The 66-year-old has lived in exile since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US “green card”.
Over the years, he has become a staunch critic of leader Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.
According to the NYT’s Friday report, Rusesabagina flew from the US to Dubai on August 26, before boarding a private jet he thought was heading to Bujumbura in Burundi which neighbours Rwanda.
The plane was operated by GainJet, a charter company based in Greece that is often used by Kagame, the report said.
But it landed in Kigali where Rusesabagina was arrested. The NYT quoted Rwanda’s spy chief as saying “he delivered himself here.”
He has since been charged with terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder, arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.
Rusesabagina says he was heading to Burundi at the invitation of a pastor, to speak in his churches.
But the NYT was not able to speak to the pastor, and says Rwandan officials believe he was actually heading there to coordinate with armed groups based in Burundi and Congo.
In 2018, Rusesabagina co-founded an opposition group, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).
In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN - which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda - but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.
He has denied forming the FLN.