DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- Hissene Habre, the former dictator of Chad who fled to Senegal two decades ago and has spent years fighting accusations that he ordered systematic killings during his time in power, was taken away by paramilitary police from his villa here on Sunday morning, according to his lawyer and a court official.
Habre has become a symbol of impunity, and an uncomfortable reminder of Africa's unwillingness to hold its leaders accountable. Rights groups have accused the regime of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who was ousted at the polls last year, of accepting kickbacks from Habre in order to delay prosecution. The latest development comes two days after President Barack Obama visited Senegal, praising the nation's democracy and the example it was setting in maintaining rule of law.
Habre's lawyer El Hadji Diouf said neither he nor Habre's family knew where he had been taken.
"We will continue to fight these injunctions that are coming from abroad," Diouf said by telephone. "He was grabbed and taken away like a hostage being taken away by bin Laden. This is not the normal procedure. This is irregular and illegal. For the procedure to have been followed they would have had to notify Habre that he was being summoned and notify his lawyers."
Marcel Mendy, a spokesman for the Extraordinary African Chambers Court inaugurated earlier this year to try Habre confirmed that Habre had been taken into custody, though he has not yet been charged.
In the United States, Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, said he had been expecting Habre to be taken into police custody in the coming days, the first step in bringing charges against him. Under Senegalese law, the gendarmerie can hold him for 48 hours, renewable once, before charges must be filed. Human Rights Watch has compiled extensive evidence of crimes committed by Habre's regime during their time in power in Chad, including thousands of political killings that left areas of his native country dotted with mass graves.
"The wheels of justice are turning," said Brody, who has worked with Habre's victims since 1999. "After 22 years, Habre's victims can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Brody said that he believes the prosecutor will request Habre's indictment before his period of police custody expires on Monday or Tuesday. If the indictment is filed, Habre could go to trial as early as 2014 or 2015, assuming a pretrial investigative period of around 15 months, he said.
"I have been waiting more than two decades to see Hissene Habre in court," said Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissene Habre's Regime, who as a political prisoner during Habre's rule claims he was forced to dig mass graves and bury hundreds of other detainees. "We are finally going to be able to confront our tormentor and regain our dignity as human beings."
Associated Press writer Babacar Dione contributed to this report.
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