An Eritrean national described as the “world’s most wanted″ human trafficker has been arrested in Sudan after an international search led by the United Arab Emirates, Interpol has announced.
The suspect, identified as Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, is accused of leading a criminal organisation that abducts, extorts and murders East African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, Interpool said.
Habtemariam was arrested on Sunday in a ″major international police operation led by the United Arab Emirates, based on information shared via Interpol,″ said a statement from the UAE’s Ministry of Interior.
He was “wanted for leading a criminal organization which over several years, kidnapped, mistreated and extorted East African migrants to smuggle them into Europe,” according to the UAE.
Lt-Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Interior, called the “global police operation led by the UAE” a “success”. The operation lasted nine months and also involved Dutch, Ethiopian and Sudanese authorities.
A breakthrough in the hunt came after UAE authorities began closely tracking Habtemariam’s organisation and members of his family, uncovering money laundering patterns that led them to Sudan, the agency said.
Interpol first began monitoring Habtemariam’s activities in 2019.
Habtemariam had been the subject of two Interpol red notices, one from Ethiopia and the other from the Netherlands, the agency said. Dutch authorities accused Habtemariam of running a camp in Libya that housed thousands of migrants.
According to a statement at the website of the Dutch police, Kidanes victims faced “extremely cruel treatment, abduction, rape and deprivation of freedom.”
Dutch police estimates that “many did not survive the trip to Europe, and if [Kidane’s] victims managed to reach the Netherlands, he would extort them into paying for the next familymember who was making his/her way to Europe.”
Habtemariam was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment after escaping from custody in Ethiopia while on trial on people smuggling charges in 2020.