Sudan Arrests ‘The World’s Most Wanted Human Trafficker’

Sudan arrested an Eritrean national who is believed to have been running a network responsible for smuggling thousands from East Africa to Europe, often kidnapping, extorting and killing the migrants along the way, Interpol said in a statement on Thursday.

Migrants SmugglingA migrant rescue operation in the Mediterranean sea. (Photo: Óglaigh na hÉireann, Flickr, License)Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam has been arrested in an operation directed by the United Arab Emirates. He is accused of having smuggled people from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan to Europe and running a camp in Libya where those waiting for passage through the sea were held in precarious conditions.

“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,” said Brigadier Saeed Abdullah al Suwaidi, Director General, Federal Anti-Narcotics General Directorate of the UAE’s Ministry of Interior.

The kingpin had been on the Interpol radar since 2019. Kidane’s location in Sudan was determined through illicit financial transactions from the network detected by Emirati investigators.

“His location and 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,” said Interpol.

In 2020, Kidane was arrested in Ethiopia but managed to escape a year later. Allegedly, he went to the bathroom in the Addis Ababa court complex ahead of one of his hearings, where he changed into civilian clothes and simply walked out.

Ethiopia subsequently sentenced him to life imprisonment in absentia.

Kidabe was also wanted in the Netherlands, which accused him of organizing abuses, extorts, kidnaps and rapes of migrants and laundering large sums of money obtained through the illegal activity. Most of the abuses took place in Libya.

According to Dutch authorities, Kidabe’s network also extorted families of migrants in the Netherlands who were threatened that their family members on the way to Europe would be harmed unless they paid.

Libya, destabilized by civil conflict which erupted after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, continues to be a major transit point for migrants trying to reach Europe. In 2021, the number of those who made it from the Libyan coast to Italy and Malta was estimated to reach 32,400.

Interpol added that more arrests are expected as part of ongoing investigations coordinated across several countries.