25 years ago, a Dassault Falcon 50 carrying Rwandan and Burundian presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira was shot down

Dassault Falcon 50 similar to the one involved in the assassination. By Markus Eigenheer from Genève – N990MM Dassault Breguet Falcon 50 FA50, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

On the evening of 6 April 1994, the Dassault Falcon 50 (9XR-NN) carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, was shot down with surface-to-air missiles as it prepared to land in Kigali, Rwanda. The assassination set in motion two of the bloodiest events of the late 20th century: the Rwandan genocide and the First Congo War.

Responsibility for the attack is disputed, with most theories proposing as suspects either the Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) or government-aligned Hutu Power extremists opposed to negotiation with the RPF. Within hours of the attack, the mass slaughter of Tutsi people began, resulting in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi in the following three months.

Shortly before 8:20 pm local time (18:20 UTC), the presidential jet circled once around Kigali International Airport before coming in for final approach in clear skies. A weekly flight by a Belgian C-130 Hercules carrying UNAMIR troops returning from leave had been scheduled to land before the presidential jet, but was waved off to give the president priority.

A surface-to-air missile struck one of the wings of the Dassault Falcon, then a second missile hit its tail. The plane erupted into flames in mid-air before crashing into the garden of the presidential palace, exploding on impact. The plane carried three French crew and nine passengers.

The attack was witnessed by numerous people. One of two Belgian officers in the garden of a house in Kanombe, the district in which the airport is located, saw and heard the first missile climb into the sky, saw a red flash in the sky and heard an aircraft engine stopping, followed by another missile. He immediately called Major de Saint-Quentin, part of the French team attached to the Rwandan para-commando battalion Commandos de recherche et d’action en profondeur, who advised him to organize protection for his Belgian comrades.

Similarly, another Belgian officer stationed in an unused airport control tower saw the lights of an approaching aircraft, a light traveling upward from the ground and the aircraft lights going out. This was followed by a second light rising from the same place as the first and the plane turning into a falling ball of fire. This officer immediately radioed his company commander, who confirmed with the operational control tower that the plane was the presidential aircraft.

A Rwandan soldier in the military camp in Kanombe recalled, “You know, its engine sound was different from other planes; that is, the president’s engine’s sound … We were looking towards where the plane was coming from, and we saw a projectile and we saw a ball of flame or flash and we saw the plane go down; and I saw it. I was the leader of the bloc so I asked the soldiers to get up and I told them “Get up because Kinani [a Kinyarwanda nickname for Habyarimana meaning “famous” or “invincible”] has been shot down.’ They told me, “You are lying.” I said, “It’s true.” So I opened my wardrobe, I put on my uniform and I heard the bugle sound.

A Rwandan officer cadet at the airport who was listening to the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines heard the announcer state that the presidential jet was coming in to land. The spoken broadcast stopped suddenly in favor of a selection of classical music.

Source wikipedia: Assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwandan genocide.


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