back to index
Prepared Statement of Mr. James R. Lyons
Statement regarding the April 6, 1994 assassination of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in addition to all others on board the Presidential Aircraft.
Sparta, New Jersey April 6, 2001
I am a retired Supervisory Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) having served from November 1970 through July 1995. Most of my FBI career was spent in the area of counter-terrorism in the New York Office. I was an original member of the FBI/New York Police Department (NYPD) Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which was formed in 1980. I was promoted to Supervisory Special Agent in 1987 with the task of forming a second task force to address the growing threat of international terrorism. In that capacity, I performed supervisory investigative duties in numerous terrorist bombing and political assassination cases commited by various international terrorist groups from all over the world. In addition, I was the FBI, New York Office on site supervisor following the bombings of the World Trade Center and was detailed as a supervisor to the post blast investigation following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
In February 1996, I was contracted by the US Department of State as an investigator for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Shortly after my arrival in Kigali, I was appointed the Commander of Investigations, which was actually a United Nations staff post. At that time there was a Deputy Prosecutor, Honre Rokatomanana, a Director of Investigations, Al Breau and only twenty-three investigators. Seventeen of the investigators were police officers seconded to the ICTR by the Government of the Netherlands.
At that time, the strategy of the Director of Investigations with the approval of the Deputy Prosecutor, was to identify victims/witnesses to the genocide in the western and southern Prefectures such as Kibuye and Butare and obtain signed statements implicating the targets who were the Prefects, communal officials, local leaders of the Hutu Interahamwe militia, and local businessmen. The strategy was to charge these individuals in connection with the Genocide with the hope of gaining the cooperation of some in order to move up the ladder to the "Big Fish." There was a separate investigation into the role of the media in inciting the Hutu population to violence against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu. In view of the lack of manpower and other resources, other avenues, such as investigating the role of national political and military leaders were put on hold.
In March/April, 1994, more investigators began to arrive, including Michael Hourigan, a former Australian Crown Prosecutor. In view of the influx of a few more investigators, I and the Director of Investigations agreed that a new "National Investigative Team" be formed to target those responsible for the planning of and the eventual execution of the Genocide and at my suggestion, Mr. Hourigan was appointed the Team Leader. The team began with three investigators but eventually grew to twenty members representing the nations of Holland, Germany, the United States, Canada, Senegal, Mali, Tunisia, Madagascar and others.
The National Team was given the task of investigating a number of the ICTR's most important lines of inquiry. Principal among these tasks were:
1. The Investigation and prosecution of Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, considered to be the leading Hutu military force behind the Genocide.
2. The investigation and prosecution of persons with overall responsibility for the selected killings of Rwandan political leaders and intellegencia by elite Presidential Guard kill teams, which occurred during the first 48-72 hours of the downing of the president's airplane.
3. The investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the rocket attack on April 6, 1994, which resulted in the downing of the Presidential Airplane, killing Rwanda President Juvenal Habyarimana, Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, the French crew and all others aboard.
As the Commander of Investigations, I believed that the investigation of the rocket attack was within the mandate of the ICTR. It was the spark that ignited all of Rwanda into a conflagration, which would ultimately take the lives of 700,000 to 1,000,000 men, women and children. The UN Security Council had expressed its abhorrence at this terrorist attack and had directed that all information regarding the event be gathered. The ICTR Statute, Article 4, specifically included Acts of Terrorism in its list of offenses. In my view, there was more than ample justification for the ICTR to consider the rocket attack as an international criminal event falling well within its jurisdiction.
No member of the ICTR leadership ever suggested to me that this investigation was outside our mandate. On the contrary, discussions among senior personnel concerned the enormous challenge that lay ahead to identify those responsible.
The National Team's investigation was thorough but slow moving initially. The world community had long attributed the attack to hard line Hutus close to the President but there was no evidence supporting that theory. There was some speculation that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was responsible and there were bits of information to support that view.
The National Team obtained information in 1996 that a United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) soldier had overheard a radio broadcast over an RPF network shortly after the plane crash saying that the target has been hit. In addition, there was a report that a soldier in the Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR) heard the same or a similar broadcast.
Mr. Hourigan regularly briefed me and other senior ICTR staff members on the progress of the investigations and that always included the plane crash investigation. Hourigan and some members of his team briefed Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour during one of her few visits to Kigali. At no time did Judge Arbour relay to me, or to my knowledge, any other senior investigator that the plane crash was outside the mandate of the ICTR.
I always worked closely with Mr. Hourigan and his team and was continually briefed on developments. In February 1997, there was a dramatic turn of events in the investigation when three potential cooperating witnesses came forward. Two of the witnesses knew of each other's cooperation. The third was independent and we believe, had no knowledge of the other two. The witnesses were all past or present members of the RPF and because of their duties were in a position to personally know the accuracy of information being furnished.
The information furnished, although untested, was extremely detailed to the point of naming individuals involved in the planning and the execution of the rocket attack. The sources advised that the then leader of the RPF, General Paul Kagame, formed a commando type group referred to as the "network" and that he and his senior advisors had put into affect the plan to shoot down the Presidential aircraft as it approached Kigali Airport.
During the last days of February 1997 I was present with Mr. Hourigan at the US Embassy in Kigali. He placed a call to Judge Arbour in The Hague on the Embassy secure telephone line. He briefed her on the latest developments in the plane crash investigation. It was obvious to me, from listening to Mr. Hourigan's side of the conversation, that Judge Arbour was pleased with the progress of the case and enthusiastic about continuing the investigation. Later, Mr. Hourigan advised me that Judge Arbour asked him to travel to The Hague so that they could further discuss this matter personally.
On the first Monday in March, 1997 I returned to the United States as my contract was finished and I did not choose to extend it. I later had a telephone conversation with Mr. Hourigan during which he advised me that during his meeting with Judge Arbour, she unexpectedly ordered him to shut down the investigation. She explained that the shooting down of the President's airplane was a crime outside the jurisdiction of the ICTR.
back to index
© keith is an INDEPENDENT freelance journalist and investigator entirely dependent on individual donations and voluntary contributions. He has lived under the poverty line for over a decade, and he has continues to work as a volunteer for three non-profit humanitarian organizations. Without your support, he cannot continue to do this important and insightful work.
||Your support makes this work possible!