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Eritrean Air Force Captains Steal Eritrean Presidential Jet, Defect to Saudi Arabia

Tigrai Online Oct. 07, 2012

Eritrean presidential jet stolen
In an event that is sure to embarrass Eritrea’s President for life, two Captains of the armed forces fled Eritrea, flying in none other than the presidential jet defecting to Saudi Arabia

In an event that is sure to embarrass Eritrea’s long-time ruler, two pilots of that country’s armed forces fled the country on Tuesday, flying in none other than the presidential jet. According to Jazan News, on Tuesday the air force captains flew the aircraft at low altitude across the Red Sea towards Saudi airspace, and were met by two Saudi F-15 fighter jets before landing at a regional airport in the Southwestern city of Jizan.

The two pilots have been tentatively identified as Yonas Woldeab and Mekonnen Debesai -- a witness at that airport reported seeing two men disembark from the aircraft, and multiple sources report they’ve
sought political asylum from Saudi authorities.

According to Radio France Internationale, the two individuals are not just any “ordinary” military officers, as they worked directly for President Afewerki and were involved in secret missions to Somalia, including ferrying equipment for the Islamist al-Shabaab militia. The U.S. has in the last few years turned its attention onto Eritrea due to its government’s alleged support of al-Shabab, which is categorized as a terrorist organization and is recognized as the Somalia branch of al-Qaeda.

The latter claim by RFI seems further corroborated by Eritrea’s dispatching of a high ranking military officer, General Tekle Habteselassié, on an “urgent” mission to Riyadh. A blogger familiar with events claims the aircraft in question is an Israeli-built IAI Astra 1125, a twin-engined VIP jet transport, and the only such aircraft currently known to be operated by Eritrea.

Thousands of Eritrean youth mostly from the armed forces of Eritrea are defecting to the neighboring countries. Over 70 thousand are in Ethiopia in three separate comps. An estimated sixty thousand Eritreans are in Israel waiting to be deported to their homeland. Some of them are kidnapped by Bedouin gangsters in the Sinai desert in Egypt for ransom. Those who could not pay thousands of US dollars are killed and their organs harvested for illegal organ trade.

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