Foremost among those critics is Mr. Rusesabagina, who leveraged his celebrity as the world’s most famous Rwandan to launch scathing attacks on Mr. Kagame, gradually transforming from activist to opponent to, as the government now alleges, a supporter of armed struggle.
Mr. Rusesabagina was a leader of a coalition of opposition groups, all in exile, that includes an armed wing. In an address to those groups in 2018, recorded in a video now widely circulated by the government, Mr. Rusesabagina says that politics has failed in Rwanda. “The time for us has come to use any means possible to bring about change,” he said. “It is time to attempt our last resort.”
From prison, he said his group’s role was not fighting, but “diplomacy” to represent the millions of Rwandan refugees and exiles.
“We are not a terrorist organization,” he said.
Experts say his situation is emblematic of Rwanda under Mr. Kagame: As the ruling party totally dominates the political space, some exiled opponents have turned to more extreme measures.
“Coming on the heels of something as horrific as 1994, foreigners often want to paint the situation in black and white, good and bad, with heroes and demons,” said Anna Cave, a former National Security Council director for African Affairs under President Barack Obama. “But it’s more nuanced today. There are a lot of shades of gray.”
In an interview, Rwanda’s spy chief gleefully described how Mr. Rusesabagina had fallen for an elaborate ruse, involving a private jet from Dubai, that he called “flawless.” Human Rights Watch called it illegal, a “forced disappearance.”
Mr. Rusesabagina, speaking in jail, said he believed he had been flying to Burundi. His family insists that he cannot speak freely.
“With guns around him, he’s saying that in the belly of the beast,” said his son, Trésor Rusesabagina, 28, speaking from the United States. “And the beast can bite at any time.”
“An island of fear in a sea of fire,” Mr. Rusesabagina once called it.
November 2005, the pro-government New Times published a series of articles attacking the hotelier. “A man who sold the soul of the Rwandan Genocide to amass medals” read one article.
Months later, Mr. Kagame delivered his own broadside. Rwanda had no need for “manufactured” heroes “made in Europe or America,” he said.
Mr. Rusesabagina published a memoir, “An Ordinary Man,” that contained sharp criticisms of Mr. Kagame’s Rwanda —
“A nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis,” he wrote. The few Hutus in power were “known locally as Hutus de service, or ‘Hutus for hire.’”
Over six months, the New Times published 21 articles with headlines like “Rusesabagina’s Megalomania Has No Limit.” Survivors from the Mille Collines came forward to accuse Mr. Rusesabagina of exaggerating his role, and even profiting from the genocide. A government official published a book that purported to tell Hotel Rwanda’s “real story.”
Mr. Rusesabagina had some influential backers. In early 2006 Alison Des Forges, a noted scholar on the genocide, conducted a review of “An Ordinary Man” for his publisher, Penguin.
Mr. Rusesabagina’s account was “true to what I have witnessed and experienced in this complicated society,” Ms. Des Forges wrote in a confidential letter seen by The Times.
The Rwandan government intensified its campaign. In 2007, at a forum in Chicago, Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States accused Mr. Rusesabagina of financing rebel groups in eastern Congo.
In Brussels, Mr. Rusesabagina began to feel unsafe. Intruders broke into his home twice, his children said, rifling drawers and stealing documents. When a car drove him off the road, he took it as an assassination attempt, they said.
In 2009, Mr. Rusesabagina and his wife moved to a gated community in San Antonio, Texas, near the home of an ally — Bob Krueger, a former United States Senator and ambassador to Burundi, whom he had befriended.
“He delivered himself here,” said Rwanda’s spy chief, Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, with a smile. “Quite a wonderful operation.”
If that operation was straight out of the Kagame playbook — dissidents say a private jet flew another opposition leader from the Comoro Islands to Rwanda last year — the nature of the bait used to entrap Rwanda’s latest victim was unclear.
General Nzabamwita dismissed any suggestion of illegality because, he said, the United States and Belgium had been cooperating with his investigation all along. In fact, he added, the head of Belgian intelligence and the C.I.A. station chief in Kigali had personally congratulated him on the arrest.
“They were only surprised how we could conduct such an operation, and very successfully,” he said.
American and Belgian officials denied the general’s assertion. In an email, a spokesman for Belgium’s SGRS intelligence service said its head, Claude Van de Voorde, had “NEVER congratulated the Rwandan authorities” on the arrest.