The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken into custody a former Central African Republic (CAR) militia commander suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In a statement on Sunday, the court said authorities in CAR handed over Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a leader of the Seleka faction, on account of an ICC arrest warrant issued under seal on January 7, 2019. The warrant relates to alleged crimes committed in the country’s capital, Bangui, in 2013.
A date for his initial appearance in The Hague has not yet been set.
Said’s arrest comes against the backdrop of a state of emergency in the CAR, with fighting between the country’s army, backed by UN, Russian and Rwandan troops and rebels seeking to overturn a December 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
The Central African Republic has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly northern and predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka, or “alliance” in the Sango language, seized power from then-President Francois Bozize in March 2013. Their brutal rule gave rise to the opposing Anti-balaka Christian militias, several of the group’s former leaders also face charges at the ICC.
The violence left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Said, 50, was a Seleka commander during the bloodshed, the court said. In that capacity, he is suspected of being responsible for the crimes against humanity of imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts; and the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment.
He has not yet been transferred to the court in the Dutch city of The Hague, an ICC spokesman said. Reports said he was due to arrive in the Netherlands on Monday.
“I welcome today’s transfer of the suspect, Mr Mahamat Said Abdel Kani … to face justice for his alleged crimes as charged before the ICC,” said prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a statement.
“As I have previously stated, my office will relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of atrocities in the Central African Republic … irrespective of which side of the conflict they may be on.”
Two other suspects in the violence in the CAR are currently on trial at the ICC.
Former Anti-balaka chief Alfred Yekatom, accused of crimes against humanity, was handed over to the ICC in 2018.
He was joined in 2019 by CAR football chief Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona, arrested on an ICC warrant that described him as the “most senior leader” of the Anti-balaka.