Alleged ex-Gambia special unit member arrested in Germany
BERLIN (AP) — An alleged former driver for a special armed unit under Gambia’s former dictator was arrested in Germany on Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in the killings of a journalist and another dissident in the West African nation, prosecutors said.
The man, identified only as Bai L. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested in Hannover and his apartment was searched, federal prosecutors said. He is suspected of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder.
Prosecutors say that the suspect was a driver for a unit known as the “patrol team,” or “Junglers,” from December 2003 until December 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, the unit — drawn from the State Guards, who played a key role in protecting then-President Yahya Jammeh — was implicated in serious human rights violations including torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances and killings.
German prosecutors say that the suspect was involved in three “liquidation” operations — the first in December 2003, when he allegedly drove other members of the unit to the shooting of a lawyer in the capital, Banjul. The lawyer was wounded but survived.
A year later, prosecutors say, members of the unit stopped a dissident journalist’s car in the town of Kanifing with help from Bai L. and fatally shot him. And, probably in 2006, he allegedly drove gunmen who killed an opponent of the president near Banjul airport.
Jammeh ruled Gambia, a country surrounded by Senegal except for a small Atlantic coastline, for 22 years. He was accused of ordering opponents tortured, jailed and killed. He lost a presidential election and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after initially refusing to step down.
The media rights group Reporters Without Borders said that, according to judicial sources, the case of the journalist killed in 2004 was that of Deyda Hydara, who was co-founder and managing editor of The Point newspaper and worked for Agence France Presse and Reporters Without Borders.
“This arrest is a very encouraging signal in the worldwide fight against impunity,” the executive director of the group’s German branch, Christian Mihr, said in a statement. He vowed that “we will not rest until … Jammeh also comes to court for this murder.”
Hydara’s son expressed hope that the arrest could bring answers more than 16 years later.
“He is someone who will be able to shed more light on the circumstances surrounding to the assassination of my father,” Baba Hydara told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
German law allows prosecutors to claim universal jurisdiction in crimes against humanity. Last month, they secured the conviction of a former member of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s secret police for his involvement in facilitating the torture of prisoners in his homeland.
Associated Press writer Abdoulie John in Mbour, Senegal, contributed to this report.
By GEIR MOULSON