Ethiopian man suspected of murdering 101 caught hiding in Denver

DENVER — A man with several aliases who was convicted of killing 101 and torturing many others in his native Ethiopia was hiding out in Denver, according to authorities.

Referring to the man as Kefelegn Alemu Worku, Homeland Security Investigators and Immigration Customs Enforcement officers said others may have known the Ethiopian by a number of names, including Habteab Berhe Temanu or Tufa. 

Federal authorities said they now know Worku stole an identity to gain U.S. citizenship and to put a past life behind him — one in which he was a high-ranking member of a political party that killed at least 10,000 people in Ethiopia.

Worku was living in an apartment at 8861 East Florida Avenue when he was arrested on Aug. 24. Federal agents were tipped off about Worku’s location by an informant who is also a native of Ethiopia and was an inmate at a prison where Worku worked in the 1970s.

According to the indictment, Worku stole an identity that he used to forge his U.S. citizenship application. If convicted on charges of unlawful procurement of citizenship and aggravated identity theft, he could face 10 years in prison.

It is not clear if Worku would be deported back to Ethiopia, where he could potentially face charges of a much more serious variety. But deportment does not appear to be out of the question.

“Homeland Security Investigations will not allow international human rights violator fugitives to seek safe haven in the United States,” Denver Special Agent Kumar Kibble said.  “In addition to investigating these fugitives, HSI also works to strip the U.S. citizenship from these individuals who fraudulently obtained it.”

Federal authorities say Worku was a high-ranking prison guard under former Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam. Worku is believed to have been working at the “Higher 15,” a prison with the capacity for 1,500 inmates where political prisoners were often held.

During 1977 — just one year of Mengistu’s two-year reign, a time often referred to as the “Red Terror” — at least 10,000 people were killed in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa.

The federal informant told authorities he saw Worku personally torture prisoners in 1977 and later learned that many of those prisoners were being executed at Worku’s hand.

After digging further, federal authorities said they spoke with two more Ethiopian refugees who are now naturalized U.S. citizens — both of whom also identified Worku and said they were personally beaten and tortured by him.

Investigators also said they found a news story that indicates a prison guard named Kefelegn Alemu was sentenced to death for his role in the execution of 101 people. The story did not include last names, which is typical in Ethiopia, according to authorities.

Worku is scheduled to appear for a hearing in federal court on Sept. 4.

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