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Another Rwandan assassination plot exposed

New ruling by a court in South Africa finds President Kagame's intelligence service is still sending agents to kill dissidents abroad

Rwanda National Congress supporters demonstrate in support of slain party founder Patrick Karegeya in 2014. Another case of a plot to kill RNC supporters abroad has been revealed in South Africa.

After slipping undetected across the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa, a covert Rwandan intelligence agent named Alex Ruta was ordered to befriend members of an exiled dissident group.

Then another Rwandan agent told him that a gun was being arranged for him. This was the moment when, according to a court judgment, he realized he would have to kill a member of the dissident group.

Four years after the brutal strangling of Rwandan defector Patrick Karegeya in a Johannesburg hotel room, the assassination plots are continuing. A new ruling by one of South Africa's highest courts, the Supreme Court of Appeal, has exposed fresh details of how the latest of these assassination attempts was organized.

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Mr. Ruta is only the latest Rwandan agent to become embroiled in the plots to kill dissidents abroad. The Globe and Mail has documented many of these cases, including a series of elaborate attempts to kill General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former Rwandan army chief.

Rwanda’s former army chief Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa walks into court in Johannesburg on June 21, 2012.

Six men charged with attempting to kill Rwanda’s former army chief Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa (unseen) sit in court in Johannesburg on July 10, 2012.

Gen. Nyamwasa and Colonel Karegeya were both high-ranking military intelligence officials in the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. After a falling out with Mr. Kagame, they fled to South Africa and joined an opposition group, the Rwanda National Congress. The RNC, with its links to the Rwandan military and intelligence system, has enraged Mr. Kagame and become the target of frequent threats from him.

The South African government has repeatedly complained of Rwandan government involvement in attacks on exiled Rwandan dissidents. In 2010, it recalled its ambassador from Rwanda to signal its unhappiness with an attack on a dissident in Johannesburg. In 2014, it expelled four Rwandan diplomats and accused them of "direct links" to the Karegeya assassination and other attempted murders.

This month, in a judgment ordering Mr. Ruta's deportation, the South African court described in detail how the Kagame government had organized Mr. Ruta's quest to assassinate RNC members.

Mr. Ruta is a former Rwandan soldier who reached the rank of lieutenant in the military intelligence division. In 2000, he joined a Rwandan intelligence agency and, in 2014, his superior told him to infiltrate the RNC in South Africa. "The following day, he was presented with a passport and documents to facilitate his journey to South Africa," the court said.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame attends a panel talk in Germany on Feb. 18, 2017.

Pursuing an overland route that took him through Tanzania and Mozambique, he eventually reached Zimbabwe and sneaked across the border into South Africa, the court said. "On arrival in South Africa, he met another person who was assigned by the Rwandan government to advise him about the mission. … The agent instructed him to find a channel of reaching and befriending certain identified members of the exiled Rwandan opposition party, the RNC. He was moved to a house in Regent Park, Johannesburg, and he was allocated a budget for accommodation and living expenses." But in early 2015, when the agent told Mr. Ruta about the plan to acquire a gun, he panicked and began avoiding the agent. "He did not want to kill any members of the RNC," the judgment said.

Mr. Ruta went to South African police and alerted them to the plot. Police put him into their witness protection program. A few weeks later, unknown gunmen fired bullets at his house. He was placed in a safe house and remained under police protection for most of the following year. He was eventually dropped from the witness protection program.

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Kennedy Gihana, an RNC leader in South Africa, said he's not surprised that the Kagame government is continuing to organize assassination attempts.

Mr. Kagame's government has "never stopped attempting to kill us," he told The Globe and Mail. "They are doing it every day. We know Rwanda has been dispatching its military intelligence agents to South Africa. We know they are using every means. Now they are using Mozambique and other land routes."

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