The man who has come to symbolize the death and suffering caused by illicit sale of diamonds and who escaped custody in Nigeria has been captured and is being flown back to his homeland, The Associated Press reports.
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was captured Tuesday night by Nigerian security forces in the far northeastern border town of Gamboru, more than 970 miles from the villa in southern Calabar from which he disappeared Monday night, information minister Frank Nweke reportedly said in a statement. Taylor was trying to cross the Nigerian border into Cameroon in order to evade trial by a U.N. tribunal for crimes against humanity.
Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, on a visit to the United States, gave few details about Taylor’s arrest except to say he was picked up in a car with his wife and taken to a regional state capital, the AP reports.
A Nigerian police official said Taylor was in a vehicle with his son, an aide and a local guide when arrested, the AP reports. They also were carrying two 50-kilogram sacks filled with U.S. and European currency. Taylor and his son were taken into custody, while the others were freed.
A plane carrying Taylor left from the northwestern Nigerian city of Maiduguri for Liberia, a senior police official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Taylor disappeared just days after Nigeria bowed to international pressure to surrender Taylor to face justice before a U.N.-backed tribunal. Nigeria had granted him asylum under a 2003 agreement that helped end Liberia’s 14-year civil war.
All 22 Nigerian police officers responsible for guarding Taylor have been arrested, the Nigerian government reportedly said Tuesday.
The admission that Taylor had slipped away came an hour before Obasanjo left Nigeria for Washington to meet with President George W. Bush. The White House had suggested the meeting might be cancelled if Nigeria’s leader did not have some answers for Bush about Taylor’s disappearance.
Obasanjo reportedly said the mood of the White House encounter had “changed drastically” as a result of Taylor’s arrest.
“I feel vindicated,” Obasanjo reportedly said rejecting the notion that Nigerian authorities may have had a hand in Taylor’s escape.
Taylor, a one-time warlord and rebel leader, is charged with backing Sierra Leone rebels, including child fighters. He would be the first African leader to face trial for crimes against humanity.
While the Sierra Leone tribunal’s charges refer only to the war there, Taylor also has been accused of starting civil war in Liberia and of harboring al-Qaida suicide bombers who attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people.