Sudan’s Islamists Seek US Shelter from Anti-Terror War

Published September 26th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US, and subsequent American declarations of a "war on terrorism," Sudan’s Islamist regime seems to be scrambling for Washington’s approval by providing information on Osama bin Laden’s network. 

United Press International (UPI) has quoted US officials as saying that Sudan's intelligence ministry has handed over the names and locations of individuals in bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to US intelligence services. 

"There are anti-American groups that were still around, and they have shut them down. We pointed them in a direction in a few cases to people we knew were still in the Al Qaeda network," UPI quoted a senior US administration official as saying. 

The Bush administration is particularly interested in information on some two dozen people closely tracked by the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum, officials there said, according to an online report by the Mail&Guardian.  

The targets are considered key players around bin Laden, whom top US officials has accused of masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks. 

In fact, the US has now been collaborating with the NIF for over a year, despite the African state’s presence on Washington’s list of international terrorist supporters, according to a report this week on Oneworld.net. 

The news service claims that a recent statement of condolences for the September 11 attacks, which was sent to the US by Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, reveals that "the two governments, without making too much noise but with dedication, work together on issues regarding international terrorism." 

"The secret services and intelligence agencies of the two nations in fact developed relations that prepared them to ‘work together in individuating the culprits of such [terrorist] crimes," according to the Oneworld.net report.  

There is more at stake than the war on terrorism, however. 

On the US side, there is great interest in contracts to exploit Sudan’s vast oil resources, which have been slipping through American fingers since Washington began trying to economically and politically isolate Sudan in the 1990s. 

According to the Mail&Guardian, oil is Sudan's most lucrative export, earning it some $500 million a year, and is being pumped out by firms from Canada, Sweden, Malaysia, Italy, and China.  

On the Sudanese side, there is a desire to throw off long-running UN sanctions with the help of the US, which has until now been a key backer of such measures in view of Sudan’s hosting of figures like bin Laden. The sanctions were imposed after a 1995 assassination attempt aimed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which allegedly had NIF approval. 

Any attempt at reconciliation will be rocky, however, given the history of US-Sudan animosity over the terrorism issue. 

The NIF sheltered Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from 1991 to 1996, and Sudanese agents were implicated in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Under heavy US and Egyptian pressure, Khartoum ordered bin Laden to leave Sudan in 1996.  

Based on reports of extensive bin Laden holdings left over from his stay in Sudan, the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles into a pharmaceutical factory outside Khartoum in retaliation for the terrorist attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.  

In spite of these clashes, US-Sudan relations were inching forward even before the September 11 attacks changed the political landscape. 

According to the Guardian&Mail, the Bush administration, citing progress in bilateral talks with Khartoum on counter-terrorism, had "quietly decided to go along with an Egyptian bid to lift the UN sanctions."  

A September 14 vote on the sanctions has been indefinitely delayed, reportedly due to mutual agreement between Washington and Khartoum.  

"I think the US said (to Khartoum after the attacks), 'Don't push on this; we'll take care of it down the road'," one US Congressional aide told the papers.  

But even as moves toward reconciliation gather steam, pressures on both sides could put on the brakes. 

On the one hand are US activists opposed to the NIF, which accuse it of an 18-year genocidal war against Sudan’s largely Christian and animist population in the south. 

A coalition of far-right Christian groups, the Congressional Black Caucus, labor unions, and assorted human rights activists had hoped that the September 11 terrorist attacks would convince Bush to treat the NIF as part of the terrorism problem.  

"Sudan must be seen as an essential piece of the (terrorism) puzzle," Nina Shea, an analyst at Freedom House, a conservative human rights group, and member of the quasi-governmental US Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the Guardian&Mail.  

Shea cited the US State Department's most recent report on international terrorism, published last April, which found that, despite some improvement, Sudan "continued to be used as a safe haven of various groups," including Al Qaeda, the Islamic Group, and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.  

Sudanese President Omar El Bashir, meanwhile, may have a tough sell at home if the US presses on with what looks like a major military assault on Afghanistan, a fellow Muslim state. 

Bashir said after the terrorist attacks in the US that his country had long broken all links to bin Laden, but cautioned against retaliatory military action.  

"We are against any attack in Afghanistan or any other countries in which civilians can be the victims," he was quoted as saying in a news report from Khartoum - Albawaba.com

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)


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