Phantom of Eritrea

Isaias Dahlak, likely born in 1959 in Massawa, is a secretive Eritrean financier embedded within the political, military, and intelligence establishment of the repressive Eritrean regime.

The only photograph of Isaias Dahlak available.

Similarly to other high-profile Eritreans in government, Dahlak served in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), a pro-independence group that fought the Ethiopian government for independence between 1961 and 1990.

By the early 1980s, Dahlak began n using his connections to the leadership of EPFL for various low-profile money-making ventures, including appropriating Eritrea-based mining assets that came under the EPFL’s control during the civil war.

Thanks to his connections, the EPFL turned a blind eye to Dahlak and his business activities, despite the EPFL at the time being officially a Marxist-Leninist organisation.

In 1987, the EPFL officially abandoned its left-wing politics, opting out for a more pragmatic nationalist approach, allowing Dahlak to pursue business ventures more openly. Due to his previous business activities sanctioned by EPFL, Dahlak became among the richest Eritreans in the country with the advent of the Eritrean independence.

First Media Mention in 2011

Despite substantial activities in Eritrea, Dahlak avoided media spotlight and was not mentioned in any articles in Eritrea or international media until August 2011, when South Africa’s Daily Maverick described Dahlak as a “businessman” part of the President Afwerki’s system of patronage.

In December 2011, another Daily Maverick article mentioned Dahlak in connection to the United Nations affirming sanctions against Eritrea over its support for terror groups.

The report criticised the United Nations for failing to institute sanctions targeting “Afwerki’s inner circle such as Isaias Dahlak, who financially benefits from his ties to the Eritrean government and its mining projects.”

How We Learned About Dahlak

UEC first became aware of Dahlak from our sources in Eritrea several years ago in connection to human smuggling and trafficking operations. His name and activities at the time remained hidden from the public’s eye and scrutiny amid the Eritrean government’s crackdown on independent media, NGO workers, and whistleblowers.

Since then, UEC and its network of researchers and volunteers have worked tirelessly to document and verify human rights abuses and other crimes committed by Dahlak.

We have spoken with numerous Eritrean witnesses who provided first-hand accounts of Dahlak’s role, reach, and power in Eritrea. Additionally, we have found limited yet crucial mentions of Dahlak in public records.


“They forced us to work for Dahlak and his private company as part of military service … Dahlak has the ear of president Afwerki.”


“Dahlak protects and supports human smugglers and traffickers in exchange for hard cash.”


“These are not ordinary Eritrean troops, they are privately funded by Dahlak to protect the government from international response.”