Rwanda-France: 1994 attack on President’s plane ends in dismissal

Will we ever know who killed Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana? No one has ever claimed responsibility for the spectacular attack which, on the evening of April 6, 1994, suddenly transformed the presidential plane into a fireball, hit by two missile strikes, while it was preparing to land in Kigali, the capital city. What we do know, however, is what happened right after. Dams are erected, soldiers circulate with lists and before dawn, the first deaths are already reported. The last genocide of the XXe century has just begun. It targets the Tutsi minority in the country but also all the Hutus, the majority ethnic group, who oppose this final solution. In three months, almost a million people will die.

Friday, the memory of this tragic night which precedes the bloodbath was invited to the Palais de Justice in Paris. The Court of Appeal has indeed confirmed the end of the interminable French judicial investigation, opened twenty-two years ago, also validating the dismissal, “lack of sufficient charges», December 21, 2018 by judges Jean-Marc Herbaut and Nathalie Poux.

Admittedly, the verdict of the court of appeal still does not allow us to know the truth about this mysterious attack. But it confirms the failure of the only track which was long privileged in France. And in particular by Jean-Louis Bruguière, first anti-terrorist judge in charge of this sensitive file. In 2006, he accused nine senior officials of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) of being the perpetrators of the attack. A judicial and political earthquake. Not only because the RPF is considered to be the Tutsi rebellion movement which stopped the genocide and flees those responsible for the massacres out of the country, but also because since then, and still today, it has been in power in Kigali. By questioning the entourage of President Paul Kagame, himself protected by his immunity as Head of State, Bruguière also provokes the breakdown, for three years, of diplomatic relations between Paris and Kigali.

The fact remains that beyond the apparent “audacity” of the judge, who transforms the saviors into executioners of their own community, a thesis defended and relayed by the journalist Pierre Péan, academics such as André Guichaoua and Claudine Vidal, or the Belgian lawyer Filip Reyntjens, the instruction led by Bruguière ultimately appears to be a monstrous smoking operation.

False evidence

Rarely in the judicial annals have we witnessed such an accumulation of false evidence: false black box, false missiles only presented on photo, false messages attributed to the RPF supposedly shouting “victoryAfter Habyarimana’s death. To which are added false witnesses, including a dozen RPF defectors who, however, will be shown to have lied about their role in the rebel movement or the place of their presence at the time of the events. When they do not completely back off, destroying their testimonies themselves.

The investigation also did not avoid questionable intermediaries. Starting with Paul Barril, former gendarme of the Elysée converted into private security. Barril had caused a sensation in June 1994 by brandishing before the cameras of French television a black box, black in color, supposed to be that of the plane. Alas, it quickly appears that the real black box of Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 was actually orange. But it is true that Barril is omnipresent in this Rwandan tragedy, which has earned him being targeted since 2013 by a complaint for “complicity in genocide” He himself had first confessed in a book that he was in the region at the time of the attack, before changing versions and claiming that he was in New York. The fact remains that he was in good contact with the Rwandan extremist government during the genocide and that he signed several contracts, found during searches in 2012 at his home, to help the Rwandan armed forces.

From 1998, he actively advised Judge Bruguière. It was Barril who thus introduced the latter to a translator with an atypical profile: a former diplomat expelled from Switzerland, Fabien Singaye is indeed the son-in-law of Félicien Kabuga, considered to be the “genocide financierThen on the run. He is thus linked to the Habyarimana family, two of whose sons also married daughters of Kabuga. The latter was finally found and arrested on May 16 in Asnières in the Paris suburbs. But at the time, Bruguière therefore employed as a translator a man suspected of being at the heart of the genocidal machine and linked to one of the civil parties (the Habyarimana family) in this case.


The energy displayed by Bruguière in this investigation contrasts with the silence of Paris in the aftermath of the attack. The three crew members of the Falcon 50 were however French soldiers. Quickly repatriated to France, their families are at first curiously dissuaded from filing complaints. As will be the families of two French aid workers on the spot, one of whom was known to listen to all radio transmissions. They will be mysteriously murdered between April 6 and 8 in Kigali.

Release will reveal, however, that the death certificate drawn up for one of these victims is a forgery. Who was able to falsify this document from the French army? No one investigated, the families were advised to remain silent and no complaints were filed. As for the crew of the Falcon 50, the daughter of a crew member, Sylvie Minaberry, finally launched a first complaint in 1997. On the advice of Paul Barril. Is it then by chance that the opening of the investigation in 1998 coincides with the establishment of a “parliamentary fact-finding mission»(MIP), created to respond to growing accusations of the ambiguous role of France in Rwanda?

For the time being, this coincidence allows Paul Barril to refuse to appear before parliamentarians, on the pretext that he is reserving his revelations for judge Bruguière. Eight years later, the explosive conclusions of his investigation will effectively almost forget the accusations against Paris, however an essential ally of the Habyarimana regime, then privileged interlocutor of the extremist government which succeeds him, formed on April 8, 1994 in the premises of the Embassy of France in Kigali.

Sharing power

Bruguière’s thesis will be questioned by his successor, Marc Trévidic. He will go to Rwanda in 2010 to carry out a ballistic analysis of the remains of the plane. Which concludes that the shots came from Kanombe camp, that of the presidential guard, stronghold of the regime’s hawks. This track, that of the extremists close to the power, had however been advanced from the first days which followed the attack by the majority of the Western intelligence services, of which DGSE, how testify several documents declassified since.

Because everyone knew that on April 6, Habyarimana returned from a regional meeting in Dar es Salaam, where he had finally agreed to remove the last obstacle to the implementation of the Arusha peace agreements, concluded eight months earlier with the RPF and an internal Hutu opposition which became very virulent. Contrary to what several French officials have said, the RPF had no reason to assassinate Habyarimana at the time when power sharing was finally taking shape. The Arusha accords offered him half the posts in the army and several ministries in the future transitional government, where the leaders of the Hutu opposition also sat. Even before the Tutsis, the latter will be the first victims of the tragedy, systematically murdered on April 7 at dawn. It is much more than an attack, an attempted coup.

The most active personalities at the time when everything changed, on the night of April 6 to 7, 1994, are known. One of them, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, has been sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and is serving a sentence of thirty-five years in prison. Others have more discreetly taken refuge in France or Belgium. But Trévidic will have neither the time nor the means to pursue this new track. His requests for declassification of documents to the Ministry of Defense in Paris will remain a dead letter until the day before his departure, while the miraculous appearance of defectors will continue, having suddenly recovered their memory to accuse the RPF.

French track

His successor from 2015, judge Jean-Marc Herbaut, will also be confronted with it. He too will eventually notice the inconsistency of the pseudo-confessions of two new defectors and will definitively stop the prosecutions against the nine members of the RPF in December 2018. A decision which will be immediately appealed to the civil parties, including the president’s widow , Agathe Habyarimana, also very officially suspected by the Council of State in 2009 of being a «instigator or accomplice»Of the genocide.

French justice has therefore just dismissed this appeal. And then ? Who will take up the possibility of a track leading to incriminate the Hutu extremists close to the president? Even the French track, the last one not to have been explored. It is basically the most dizzying. It was however mentioned in 1994 by the Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman, who then put forward the hypothesis of the implication in the attack of two French soldiers, whose names were subsequently identified. In April 2019, Richard Mugenzi, the author of the false messages of “victory“Attributed to the RPF after the attack, had mentioned to Release how openly the French officers he frequented with the genocide were openly hostile to the Arusha Accords and the RPF, which they had fought alongside the Rwandan army since 1990.

From this date, despite the rise in perils, Paris never questions its political and military support for the regime in place. Then suddenly, when power sharing finally seems possible, everything changes on April 6 in the evening. As soon as the plane fell, the extremists called on the air “to avenge the president” By immediately accusing the RPF as well as the Belgians, who will lose ten peacekeepers from April 7. The manipulation was just beginning.