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Cablegate: Asmara Assassination Attempt: More Details Emerge

VZCZCXRO0028
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0850/01 2990919
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 260919Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9208
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1482
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1658
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ASMARA 000850

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

LONDON, PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/25/2017
TAGS: PGOV ASEC ER
SUBJECT: ASMARA ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT: MORE DETAILS EMERGE

REF: A. A) 00821 ASMARA

B. B) 00838 ASMARA

Classified By: CDA Jennifer A. McIntyre, for reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

1. (S) Summary: As the investigation into the shooting of
National Security Agency Deputy Colonel Simon Ghebredenghil
continues, an Eritrean businessman believed to be involved in
the assassination attempt was shot and killed by Government
of the State of Eritrea (GSE) officials near the Ethiopian
border. The GSE allegedly has arrested over 500 individuals
in connection with the shooting, which may include the arrest
of General Gerezgheri "Wuchu" Andemariam on October 24. The
emerging details surrounding the assassination attempt are
shining a bright light on the extent of corruption within the
senior ranks of the military and showing the cracks in the
outwardly unified faade of the President Isaias' government.
Post will continue to monitor fallout from this incident and
its possible implications for the GSE's inner circle and
military preparedness in the face of possible conflict on the
Eritrean-Ethiopian border. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --
IMPLICATED BUSINESSMAN SAMSON KILLED BY THE GSE
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (S/NF) Following the October 13 assassination attempt on
Colonel Simon Ghebrendenghil, wealthy Eritrean businessman
Samson (LNU), who had been implicated in the attempt, fled
Asmara. Accompanied by the personal driver of General
Gerezgheri "Wuchu" Andemariam and a military guard under
General Wuchu's command, Samson traveled overland in a
military Landcruiser stocked with a cache of arms. The group
took refuge in an Eritrean Orthodox Church monastery near Adi
Quala (to which Samson previously had made donations) waiting
for the right time to flee across the Ethiopian border. GSE
officials tracked Samson to the monastery. A firefight
ensued and Samson was killed. The driver and guard were
taken into custody and returned to Asmara. In a separate
conversation with Emboff, XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed Samson's
death, the existence of the weapons cache and the presence of
General Wuchu's driver and guard at the shootout between
Samson and the GSE officials.

3. (S) Samson, who was also know as the "civilian general",
had a long-time business relationship with General Wuchu and
others in the Eritrean military. In his late 30's, he ran a
hardware and import/export business reported to have made
millions by means of government contracts arranged by
high-ranking military officials, and illegal foreign currency
transactions and import/export exchanges over the past ten
years. A partial owner of the Midian Hotel, Samson
reportedly used the hotel as a means to launder money for
military and government officials.

-----------------------
GENERAL WUCHU ARRESTED?
-----------------------

4. (S/NF) Rumors abound as to the status of General Wuchu.
The reports have varied from claiming his departure from the
country to his death. One Eritrean contact told Poloff he
saw General Wuchu driving through Asmara on Monday, October
22. The resident Reuters stringer shared with Poloff that in
the late afternoon on Wednesday, October 24 one of his
sources informed him of General Wuchu's arrest.
XXXXXXXXXXXX told to Poloff on Friday, October 26 that
the GSE had arrested General Wuchu earlier in the week.
(Comment: Post has been unable to confirm this report.
Local observers also claim that over 500 individuals have
been arrested so far and anticipate that more arrests are on
the horizon. These interlocutors also believe no government
or military officials are immune from indictment.
End Comment.)

-----------------------------------------
BUSINESSMAN FIKRE'S DEATH AND HIS FUNERAL
-----------------------------------------

ASMARA 00000850 002 OF 003


5. (S) Reading like a John Grisham novel, more details of the
circumstances leading to Fikremariam "Fikre" Andemariam's
death are coming to light. (Fikre's death allegedly was the
lead up to the assassination attempt.) According to a
well-connected Eritrean, the saga began several months ago
when Samson and three other businessman approached General
Wuchu to contest the awarding of a tender to Fikre's company
for installation of water pipes in the city of Asmara. Despite the protests and GSE investigation, Fikre retained the contract.
(Note: Fikre's company had also received all of the supply
contracts for the construction of the Sawa Military Camp in western Eritrea for the past 10 years. End note.)
Tensions arose given the fierce competition among the
few Eritrean businessmen who receive government contracts )
contracts that are primarily awarded to friends of
high-ranking government officials (namely the military) who
then skim a portion of the profits for themselves. Fikre
reportedly began to fear for his life and asked for
protection from XXXXXXXXXXXX.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Fikre returned to Asmara the week of October 1, at which
point, the GSE detained him in Police Station #2, with at
least two of his brothers. (Note: The brothers were released
after a few days. In addition, employees of Fikre's supply
company have been in detention in Police Station #2 since
the middle of August. End Note.)

6. (S) Fikre reportedly died in jail on October 8. The
family requested an autopsy be completed prior to his burial,
protesting that Fikre had been young and healthy when
entering the jail only a few days earlier. An Eritrean contact
told Poloff that only President Isaias, Colonel Ghebredenghil
and XXXXXXXXXXXX received copies of the autopsy report.
Despite never having done his mandatory national service,
Fikre received a hero's burial and was laid to rest in Asmara'
Martyr's Cemetery on October 12. The funeral became a
city-wide event. One witness commented that attendance at
Fikre's funeral exceeded that of the two biggest funerals since
the country's 1993 referendum - the former Foreign Minister's
funeral in 2005 and the funeral of one of the founders of the
struggle in 2000. He observed that the turnout essentially
represented a silent demonstration by the people, as they are
unable to protest in other ways.

-----------------------
THE GSE'S OFFICIAL SPIN
-----------------------

7. (U) The Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) announced
Tuesday, October 23 that "perpetrators" of the assassination
attempt on Colonel Simon Ghebredenghil were in GSE custody,
although the announcement did not include the names of those
arrested. In an interview with Reuters, Acting Minister of
Information Ali Abdu stated "the government had full control
of the situation" but refused to comment on the details of
the detentions. According to the Acting Minister, the
investigation is ongoing.

8. (U) Complementing the statements about the investigation,
the GSE published an editorial about fighting corruption in
the Arabic, Tigrinya and English government-controlled
newspapers. Describing corruption as, "treason against our
martyrs", and a vice that "pollutes and weakens any given
society", the editorial likened fighting corruption to
continuing the independence struggle and urged the people to
join with the Government to fight against corruption. The
editorial further insisted that "law enforcement bodies and
the means for surveillance at their disposable should be
strengthened and constantly updated", thus empowering the
GSE to fight corruption by any means necessary.


ASMARA 00000850 003 OF 003


-------------------------------
WHAT THE MAN ON THE STREET SAYS
-------------------------------

9. (C) Residents of Asmara state they were aware of the
shenanigans of their military officers and their corrupt
business activities. For example, General Filipos
Woldeyohannes (formerly head of the western Gash Barka region
and now head of the Asmara region) is well-known as the
"go-to" general to arrange an escape to Sudan. Many Eritreans regularly gossip about the homes which have been appropriated from civilians and given to military or government officials, or about the foreign travel of the officers' families. As the details about corruption in the military become public, Poloff has heard a common refrain that "it is about time" these activities have come under
public scrutiny. Many Eritrean observers believe that this
incident will begin to crack the iron grip of President
Isaias and his military officials over the government and the
people of Eritrea. One high-ranking government official told
Emboff, "Thank goodness. Now maybe things will change for
the better."

-------
COMMENT
-------

10. (C) The assassination attempt on Colonel Ghebredenghil
has created a real dilemma for the GSE by publicizing the
existence of deep-rooted corruption within the military --
making it impossible for the GSE to hide or deny these
charges. Within the higher levels of the GSE, there appear
to be a split into two tiers: those who are still committed
to the ideals of independence struggle and who will use any
means to bankroll and continue the struggle, and those out to
make as much money as possible for their own bank accounts.
The question remains: can the first tier ) the President and
his immediate circle - effectively battle and contain the
fallout from this incident or does this incident presage the
beginning of the regime's fall from grace?

11. (S/NF) Post will continue to monitor the potential
impacts on the military. Multiple sources indicate that the
GSE leadership anticipates an outbreak of hostilities with
Ethiopia in the near future. With General Wuchu possibly in
prison, speculation from many observers that General Filipos
is next, and reports that numerous colonels have fled or are
in prison, the military leadership is clearly shaken and the
impact on morale of the military is unknown at this point.
Finally, if the GSE cracks down on the illegal financial
operations of the military and its privileged businessmen,
the GSE may end up limiting those resources available to the
military for maintaining its large number of recruits and to
prepare for conflict. End Comment.
MCINTYRE

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