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Rwandan extremists blamed for arson attack on embassy

Rwandan extremists are suspected of attempting to destroy the country's London embassy in a firebombing as part of a wider campaign to deny the 1994 genocide by harassing diplomats and intimidating expats based in Europe, The Independent can reveal.

The plot was only averted after a member of staff living in the fortified building smelt fumes from a petrol canister which had been rigged to explode. The rudimentary device was placed on the ground floor by attackers who sprayed the area with fuel before trying to set it alight.

The Rwandan ambassador to Britain, Claver Gatete, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that the assault, in May this year but only now been made public, was conducted by Hutu extremists with links to genocide suspects hiding in Europe.

At least 37 suspected organisers of the killings in 1994, which claimed the lives of between 800,000 and 1.2 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, remain at large in Britain and other European countries including the Netherlands and Belgium, according to prosecutors in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The Independent understands that at least four men wanted for crimes during the genocide are known to live in Britain or are regular visitors to the UK.

The arson attack on the embassy coincided with an email campaign targeting the embassy close to Baker Street, publishing the home addresses of diplomats involved in efforts to track down the remaining genocide suspects.

In December 2006, four Rwandans who had sought asylum in the UK were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the genocide and ordered to be extradited to face trial. The men – Vincent Bajinya, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Charles Munyaneza and Emmanuel Nteziryayo – are appealing against the decision taken in June to send them back to Kigali.

Mr Gatete said of the embassy attack: "It was a well-planned attempt to cause maximum damage to the embassy at a time when a member of staff was on the premises. It was clearly premeditated and designed to send a message that those Rwandese who deny the genocide are conducting a strong and dangerous campaign. We have very good reasons for believing that these extremists are behind the arson attack. When the four men were arrested in 2006, there was a series of threatening phone calls to the embassy. The callers threatened harm against embassy officials and the embassy itself because of the arrests. The calls started again after the decision to send them to Rwanda."

Scotland Yard, which has beefed up its presence around the embassy in Seymour Place, confirmed that the attack on 11 May involved a petrol can which had been stuffed with a rag and that CCTV footage from the vicinity was being examined. A police source said the involvement of ex-pat extremists opposed to the current government in Kigali was a "strong line of inquiry".

Human rights campaigners said the attack was consistent with a pattern of increased harassment against the Rwandan authorities from abroad. Last month, the Rwandan cultural centre in Brussels was the target of another arson attack.

Emails from one extremist group, seen by The Independent, name three employees at the embassy along with their home addresses, including one man who is named as playing a key role in securing the arrest of the four UK-based suspects.

Experts said there was evidence that genocide suspects who remain at large were directly involved in the denial movement. Juergen Schurr, of the human rights organisation Redress, said: "There is no doubt that suspects are in touch with each other in an informal manner as part of a wider network of deniers of the genocide. They can use their network in Europe and Rwanda to intimidate people in the country that is investigating them."

The genocide

The Rwandan genocide was sparked on 6 April 1994 when a plane carrying the country's Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down. Between 6 April and mid-July, Hutu militias slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus opposed to the genocide. By the end of the killing, stopped when a Tutsi army reached Kigali, between 800,000 and 1.2 million Rwandans were dead. A UN commission found the genocide had been planned before the death of the President. Revisionists claim there was a "counter-genocide" by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Tutsi army that stopped the slaughter.