This study provides as much of a picture of American government
claims about its 20 August Cruise missile attack on the
al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory as has been publicly made
available by the Clinton Administration. It provides a clear
perspective on the statements and allegations made by the
United States government about the al-Shifa factory, and
how the American government has shifted its position with
regard to its claims as each of its five main allegations
have come to be challenged by scientists, chemical warfare
experts, European diplomats, and above all, the American
and British media.
It has been drawn from international
and national media sources including British papers such
as The Times, The Observer, The Guardian,
The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph,
and The Independent, as well as American newspapers
such as The New York Times and The Washington
Post. It has also drawn heavily on reports from international
news agencies such as Reuters and Agence France Presse.
THE BACKGROUND TO THE AMERICAN MISSILE STRIKE ON SUDAN
On 7 August 1998, terrorist
bombs devastated United States embassy buildings in Kenya
and Tanzania. Hundreds of people, some of whom American,
were killed in the explosion in Nairobi and dozens in the
blast in Dar-es-Salaam. Thousands more were injured. The
American government sought to identify Osama bin-Laden,
the Saudi-born millionaire funder of Islamic extremism with
The Sudanese government immediately
and repeatedly condemned the embassy bombings. The Sudanese
foreign minister, Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, stated, for example,
These criminal acts of violence do not lead
to any goal.
On 11 August, Agence France
Presse reported the Sudanese foreign minister's statement
that "We must pool our efforts to eradicate all the
causes of terrorism" and he had called for:
the solidarity and cooperation
of all the nations in the region and the international
community to stand up to international terrorism.
It is a matter of record
that the Sudanese government took its condemnation of the
Kenyan and Tanzanian bombings one step further. Sudan offered
to help in tracking down the terrorists involved. The foreign
minister stated that:
Sudan supports Kenya
in its efforts to reach the people who committed the
incident and is prepared to cooperate fully with it
in this regard.
No one can claim that the
Sudanese Government in any way supported or even sympathised
with these despicable bombings. This was in clear contrast
to the support, and indeed triumphalism, shown around the
world by several terrorist groups, and their supporters
- groups such as al-Muhajiroun in London.
On 20 August, the United
States government launched missile attacks, involving 75
Cruise missiles, on installations said to be part of Osama
bin-Laden's infrastructure inside Afghanistan. Washington
also chose to attack the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory
in northern Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, alleging that
it was making chemical weapons as part of Osama bin-Laden's
infrastructure of international terrorism.
The al-Shifa plant was totally
destroyed in the American attack. Twelve workers were killed
in the attack. Two food processing factories were also damaged
in the strike.
THE AMERICAN CLAIMS ABOUT THE AL-SHIFA FACTORY
The United States government
have made several, documented, claims about the al-Shifa
factory. In the news briefing given by United States Defence
Secretary, William Cohen, on 20 August, he stated that the
al-Shifa factory "produced the precursor chemicals
that would allow the production of.VX nerve agent".
Secretary Cohen also stated
that Osama bin-Laden "has had some financial interest
in contributing to.this particular facility".
The American government also
claimed that no commercial drugs were made at the factory.
The New York Times, for example, reported:
statements by a senior
intelligence official hours after the attack that the
plant in Khartoum.produced no commercial products.
An Associated Press report
on the evening of the American strike on Sudan, stated that
United States intelligence "could find no evidence
of" the production of medicines at the al-Shifa factory,
and that it was a thinly disguised nerve gas plant.
Associated Press also reported that:
senior U.S. officials
who briefed reporters following the attack said they
knew of no commercial products made at the Shifa plant.
President Clinton's National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger,
went on record as stating that:
There is no question
in our mind that facility, that factory, was used to
produce a chemical that is used in the manufacture of
VX nerve gas and has no other commercial distribution
as far as we understand. We have physical evidence of
that fact and very, very little doubt of it.
ABC News also stated that senior intelligence officials had
there was no evidence that commercial products were
ever sold out of the facility.
In the briefings shortly
after the bombing United States officials also claimed that
the al-Shifa facility was heavily guarded. In a briefing
on the al-Shifa factory soon after the strike on Khartoum,
a senior American intelligence official told reporters in
The facility also has a secured perimeter and it's
patrolled by the Sudanese military.
It must be noted that the intelligence officials involved
in these, and other briefings, would presumably be amongst
the best available. They would also be presenting the latest
intelligence material the United States government had to
hand to justify its Cruise missile attack on Sudan - information
which would have been gathered by the intelligence agencies
of the most powerful country on Earth, intelligence agencies
which have budgets running into billions of dollars.
And unlike intelligence gathering in other countries such
as Libya, Iraq or Iran, which is very difficult given the
closed nature of those countries, Sudan is, in the words of
, "one of the most open and relaxed
This evidence will be examined later in this briefing.
THE RESPONSE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF SUDAN
Almost immediately after the American missile strike on the
factory, the Sudanese government condemned the attack, calling
it "a criminal act" against Sudan. Within hours
of the attack, the Sudanese President, Omer al-Bashir, said
that Sudan would be bring an official complaint at the American
action before the United Nations Security Council and that
the Sudanese government would also ask the United Nations
a commission to verify the nature of the
activity of the plant.
President Bashir flatly denied American claims that the al-Shifa
plant was being used to make chemical weapons. He accused
President Clinton of lying:
Putting out lies is not new for the United States and
its president. A person of such immorality will not hesitate
to tell any lie.
In a formal letter to the United Nations Security Council,
Bishop Gabriel Rorich, the Sudanese Minister of State for
External Affairs, condemned the American attack on the factory.
The Sudanese government stated that the factory was privately
owned and had been financed by several Sudanese investors
and the Bank of the Preferential Trade Area (PTA), also known
as Comesa. The factory produced more than half of Sudan's
need for medicines. The Sudanese government stated:
The allegations in U.S. statements that Osama bin-Laden
owned this factory and that it produced chemical weapons
and poisonous gases for terrorist purposes are allegations
devoid of truth and the U.S. government has no evidence
In conclusion, the Sudanese government said that:
The behaviour of the U.S. government.represents grave
conduct and a flagrant transgression of the U.N. system
and the U.N. Charter. It takes the contemporary world
back to the law of the jungle, where force alone rules
and where each state takes the law into its own hands,
a situation which would definitely threaten international
security and peace.
Sudan requested the convening of the Security Council to discuss
the matter, and also requested a technical fact-finding mission
to verify American claims.
It is clear that if the American claims about the factory
were true then the evidence would be in the ruins of the buildings.
According to Alastair Hay, a chemical pathologist at Leeds
University, there would be obvious traces if the factory had
been producing the alleged chemicals. The Guardian
Chemicals the plant produced should still be in evidence
in the soil and debris, he said. Though there might only
be a few traces if production ended some weeks ago, it
would be difficult to eliminate all evidence.
The United Nations Security Council postponed a decision on
whether or not to send such a mission. The United States deputy
ambassador to the United Nations, Peter Burleigh, dismissed
Sudanese calls for independent verification of the site:
I don't see what the purpose of the fact-finding study
would be. We have credible information that fully justifies
the strike we made on that one facility in Khartoum.
On 24 August 1998, the Sudanese president accused the American
President Bill Clinton of being "a war criminal of the
first degree" for its attack on the al-Shifa factory,
stating that if the United States truly believed it had been
a chemical weapons installation then bombing it would have
endangered thousands of civilians. The Sudanese government
has also pointed out that if the plant had been a chemical
weapons factory, the American strike would have caused the
contamination of the Nile river itself. The American ABC News
has echoed Sudanese concerns about the possible humanitarian
ramifications had American government claims been accurate:
Another murky point is to what extent the U.S. was
concerned about unleashing a potentially toxic cloud of
nerve agent when it bombed the plant. Officials say that
they used a computer model to predict what would happen.
But there are two difficulties with that argument. Precursors
aren't toxic, so any worry about toxic fatalities would
be minimal. And if the U.S. did suspect the presence of
highly toxic VX at the plant, they certainly had no idea
how much might be there - again making it impossible to
predict impact of the explosion on the surrounding neighbourhood.
The Sudanese government also stated that it was prepared to
allow Americans to visit Khartoum to establish whether the
al-Shifa factory was involved in the production of chemical
weapons. The Sudanese interior minister, Abdel Rahim Hussein,
repeated invitations to investigate the site to The Sunday
We are ready to receive specialists from the Americans
and the West to investigate that the factory had nothing
to do with chemical weapons.
The Sudanese foreign minister also invited an investigation
committee from the United States government itself:
We, as Sudanese, are ready to receive a specialized
committee from the American administration to come and
freely investigate whether this factory.has anything to
do with chemical (weapons).
On 22 August, the Sudanese president invited the United States
Congress to send a fact-finding mission:
We have sent an official letter to the US Congress
to send a fact-finding mission so as to verify the false
claims of the US Administration.We are fully ready to
provide protection and all other facilities to enable
this mission to obtain all information and meet anyone
President Bashir also stated that Sudan was critical of the
United States government, and not American companies or citizens:
We have no animosity towards the American people and
The Sudanese government also declared its intention to bring
the al-Shifa incident before the International Court of Justice
in The Hague. The Sudanese justice minister, Ali Mohamed Osman
Yassin wrote to the American secretary of state, stating:
As Sudan respects the law and loves peace, it asks
of the US administration to consent to this proposal of
taking the dispute to the court of justice.
On 30 August, the Sudanese foreign minister reiterated the
need for a fact-finding mission from either the United Nations
Security Council or the United States government to visit
the factory and investigate allegations that it was producing
We want a fact-finding mission to come from the U.S.
Administration, to come from the U.S. congress, to come
from a neutral responsible person like (former President)
Jimmy Carter or (U.S. civil rights leader) Jesse Jackson,
to come from the Security Council. It is not difficult
to investigate. The factory is there, it has been closed
from the day it was bombarded.
THE AL-SHIFA PHARMACEUTICAL FACTORY IN KHARTOUM
Almost immediately following the American attack and their
claims that the factory was producing chemical weapons, credible
voices began to doubt the American justification for their
strike. Amongst these voices were several Britons who had
either worked at the factory, or who had visited it.
One such observer was Tom Carnaffin, a British engineer who
had helped to build and equip the al-Shifa factory. He had
worked as a technical manager for four years. He said that
it could not have been used to manufacture chemical weapons.
I have intimate knowledge of that factory and it just
does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons.
Mr Carnaffin said he doubted the US claim that the factory
was manufacturing chemical-warfare related material in the
veterinary part of the factory:
I have intimate knowledge of that part of the establishment
and unless there have been some radical changes in the
last few months it just isn't equipped to cope with the
demands of chemical weapon manufacturing.
You need things like airlocks but this factory just has
doors leading out onto the street.
Mr Carnaffin further stated that:
It was a very simple mixing, blending and dispensing
pharmaceutical facility. It wasn't a large plant. Part
of it was used to make veterinary medicines and ointments
and part for human medicines. There was never anything
like that (making precursors). It was a very open situation.
Many people from different countries visited the factory.
It would have been a very difficult thing to do (making
precursors). That wasn't the intent of the factory at
Mr Irwin Armstrong, a British film journalist, who had visited,
filmed and photographed the plant in August 1997, publicly
challenged the American claims. He stated that the al-Shifa
factory was fully open to inspection, and that there were
none of the restricted areas and special protections that
one would associate with a military function. In newspaper
interviews, Mr Armstrong stated:
The Americans have got this completely wrong. In other
parts of the country I encountered heavy security but
not here. I was allowed to wander about quite freely.
This is a perfectly normal chemical factory with the things
you would expect - stainless steel vats and technicians.
Another visitor to the al-Shifa factory was British businessman
Peter Cockburn. He too publicly contradicted the American
I was courteously received and shown round every area
[in March 1998]. I recognised it as a normal factory for
the production of simple pharmaceutical products - syrups
for humans, powders for goats and camels. Just who are
the terrorists in this case, and why is the British Government
supporting acts of incomprehensible barbarity?
Mr Alan White, the head of operations in Sudan for the DHL
courier company, had also visited the plant and was sceptical
of the American claims:
I have been there. It is a very modern facility and
a well reputed factory for pharmaceuticals.
It should also be noted that the British Ambassador to Sudan,
Mr Alan Goulty, had visited the factory on at least two occasions.
Several other ambassadors and visiting heads-of-state had
also visited the plant.
Mr Dino Romantti, from Italy, whose company supplied the al-Shifa
factory with powders that that were formed into pills, stated
that the managers of the plant left him and his technical
staff alone in the factory when they worked late, and that
he did not see any equipment which could be used for the production
of chemical weapons.
Three Jordanian engineers who had assisted with the construction
of the factory, and who supervised production at the plant,
also denied the factory had any chemical weapons capability.
One of the engineers, Mohammed Abul Waheed, said that:
The factory was designed to produce medicine and it
would be impossible to convert it to make anything else.
One of his colleagues, Ahmed Salem, said that there was no
link between the factory and Osama bin-Laden:
Osama bin Laden has no relation to this matter, whether
financial, organisational, administrative or anything.
What the factory produced, and its ownership, was addressed
by Ghazi Suleiman, the lawyer representing Salah Idris, the
owner of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory. Mr Suleiman
said that Mr Idris did not know Osama bin-Laden, and that
the factory produced only drugs, not chemical weapons. He
I think the Americans are under bad information and
they are not well briefed.... I think it would have been
prudent before destroying the plant to come and investigate
He stated that the factory had employed three hundred workers,
supporting some three thousand people. Mr Suleiman said that
the factory produced 60 percent of Sudan's pharmaceutical
drugs, including antibiotics, malaria tablets and syrups,
as well as drugs for diabetes, ulcers, tuberculosis, rheumatism
and hypertension. The factory's components had been imported
from the United States, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Germany,
India and Thailand.
Mr Suleiman has also stated:
The US has the right to defend itself against terrorism.
But on behalf of my client, an international businessman
who lives in many countries, I want to persuade the Americans
that they have made a mistake. This was no chemical weapons
factory; do you think that, if it was, all the country's
pharmacy students would come to visit as part of their
training. The Americans could not have found its equal,
for quality and sophistication, in all of Sudan.
It should be noted that that Mr Suleiman is no friend of the
present government in Sudan. He is, in the words of The
, "the country's leading human-rights lawyer
and an outspoken critic of the regime". He spent 25 days
in detention earlier this year.
Mr Suleiman also told The Toronto Star
that the factory
had no connection with the manufacture of chemical weapons,
and that speaking out put him in a quandary:
I was caught between two options: to speak the truth,
or follow my heart and seek cheap popularity.
Mr Suleiman also echoed Sudanese government calls for a fact-finding
mission to examine the factory ruins to verify American claims
of chemical weapons production.
The factory had been designed by an American, Henry Jobe,
of the MSD Pharmaceutical Company. Interviewed by The Observer
Mr Jobe stated:
We didn't intend a dual use for it. We didn't design
anything extra in there. The design we made was for pharmaceuticals.
Mr Jobe in the same interview also flat contradicted American
claims that the factory was not a commercial enterprise, and
that nothing had ever been sold out of the factory:
That is misinformation, because it was
designed for it.
Mr Bekheit Abdallah Yagoub, the deputy commissioner of the
Sudanese Human Aid Commission, said the factory supplied 70
percent of the drug needs of southern, eastern and western
Sudan, areas wracked by famine and disease.
The Sudanese government also made public the fact that al-Shifa
had been in the process of filling a United Nations-approved
contract to provide Iraq with $200,000 worth of 'Shifzole
2.5 percent (Albndazole 2.5 percent for Levamisole)', a deworming
drug for animals. The U.N.'s Iraqi sanctions committee had
approved the contract in January 1998 as part of the "oil
for food" programme. It must also be noted that the sanctions
committee is, in the words of Gabriel Carlyle, a research
fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, who has followed the work
of the committee closely:
notorious for blocking - or subjecting to prolonged
delay - the most innocuous of requests, For example, the
committee once deliberated for 170 days before approving
one consignment of syringes to Iraq. Is it really plausible
that Washington would have permitted the American representative
on the committee to approve such a contract if it had
any reason to suspect that the factory was manufacturing
VX nerve gas precursors?
Mr Neil Partrick, head of the Middle East programme at the
Royal United Services Institute, said that there had to be
a "huge amount of doubt" about the American claims
because of the difficulties in defining a plant that could
have a "dual use" capability.
On 23 August 1998, the respected British Sunday newspaper,
, a newspaper noted for its independence,
and a paper not known for its support either for American
foreign policy or the Sudanese government, stated that President
Clinton had "bombed civilians on purpose" and that
"American tests showed no trace of nerve gas at 'deadly'
Sudan plant. The President ordered the attack anyway".
reported that the American military had
flown high-tech missions over the factory and had been unable
to find nerve gas traces.
The Sudanese government had invited journalists from the print
and electronic media into the country to inspect the bombed
factory. The Washington Post
reported that whereas
the government has "routinely declined visas to American
journalists because the United States has declared it to be
a terrorist state" it now "ushered in reporters
by the score.to photograph, videotape and broadcast live".
The Washington Post
reported that visiting reporters
from American, British, French, German, Japanese and Arab
media outlets were "picking through the rubble".
Amongst the dozens of journalists who visited the site, were
the following. The flagship American international news gatherer,
The utter destruction in the wake of a missile attack.Laid
out in display: what the government says are remnants
of the missiles salvaged from the rubble, all part of
a concerted campaign to persuade the international community
that Sudan has nothing to hide. And repeated calls, too,
for an independent inspection team to investigate the
site. The government here apparently confident that no
trace of any agent used in the manufacture of chemical
weapons will be found.
CNN's Mike Hanna also reported on the Sudanese government's
clear attempts to co-operate with the international media:
have been giving the media here every access to the
site. They brought in a mobile crane on this day to allow
elevated shots to be taken of the missile site. Certainly,
the Sudanese government is going out of its way to insist
that it has nothing to hide, and it continues to call
for that international investigation team to come inspect
this missile site, and determine, once and for all, exactly
what was produced here.
also visited the scene of the American
Given free access to the site, your correspondent spent
more than two hours clambering over - and under - the
smoking ruins and found nothing to suggest that it was
anything but a plant producing medicines for humans and
veterinary drugs for animals. There was no sign of the
hidden laboratories or storage rooms underground which
some had darkly hinted at.
newspaper describes al-Shifa as "The
'secret' chemical factory that no one tried to hide",
and stated that the al-Shifa plant:
certainly did not try to hide its existence. Signs
in plenty direct you to it long before you get there.
British journalist David Hirst, in an article in The Guardian
on 24 August, reported that there was little untoward at the
There was precious little sign of anything sinister
when foreign journalists go to the controversial chemical
plant which the American cruise missiles hit. No sign,
anyway, that anyone had been trying to hide anything,
or planned to do so. Access was easy. I simply said I
was a journalist, and was invited to go around as I pleased
- provided I did not disturb anything. Everything had
to be left in place.
DISBELIEF AMONGST FOREIGN DIPLOMATS IN KHARTOUM
It is evident that there is distinct unease amongst Khartoum's
foreign diplomatic corps at the targeting of the al-Shifa
It was reported that the German ambassador to Sudan, Werner
Daum, had immediately contradicted United States claims about
the factory. In a communication to the German foreign ministry,
One can't, even if one wants to, describe the Shifa
firm as a chemical factory.
The German ambassador also stated that the factory had no
disguise and there was nothing secret about the site.
One western ambassador, who worked on chemical-weapons
control for five years, is particularly dismissive.
, reporting from Khartoum, stated that
"most European diplomats here are as aghast at the raid,
and above all the choice of target, as they (the Sudanese
The paper interviewed a senior European diplomat who said
There was absolutely nothing secret about the plant
and there never has been.
The senior diplomat in question stated that since the end
of the Gulf War, Sudan had been strictly monitored in accorded
with the chemical weapons precursor substance convention to
which all industrialised countries have signed up and which
bans the export of any substance on the proscribed list. The
diplomat pointed out that a tight monitoring system means
it would have been practically impossible for any such substances
to have entered Sudan unnoticed. The diplomat stated that:
The substances are severely controlled and are firmly
in the hands of producers in the industrialised world.
There's a system of internal alert which makes sure that
information on any order for the substances which was
out of the ordinary would be shared with police in the
countries which are potential suppliers.
The diplomat added that Sudan had never been discovered trying
to circumvent the international monitoring of substances and
equipment essential to the production of chemical weapons
The Financial Times
interviewed another European diplomat
in Khartoum who said that:
On the basis of what we know of the factory and the
evidence we have been given by the US so far, there is
no reason to believe that the US knew what was going on
inside that factory, other than with regard to its function
as a major supplier of pharmaceuticals. Nor is there any
evidence that the factory had links with bin Laden. This
robust support by other governments for the US action
was frankly very stupid.
The Financial Times
reported that several other diplomats
in Sudan viewed their governments' support for the US attack
as "seriously misguided".
SURPRISE AMONGST INTERNATIONAL CHEMICAL WARFARE EXPERTS
It is also apparent that the United States claims about Sudan
and the al-Shifa factory have come as a surprise to international
experts on chemical warfare, many of them based within the
Perhaps the most important and relevant comment was that of
Ewan Buchanan, spokesman for the United Nations Special Commission,
a body in charge of disarming Iraq of all nuclear, chemical,
biological and ballistic missile systems. Interviewed by ABC
News shortly after the missile strike, he said:
We have heard lots of claims like these and there are
various reports about cooperation between Iraq and Sudan,
but we have been unable to confirm it ourselves.
Amy Smithson, a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center,
a national security think tank in Washington-DC, said that
there was "no concrete evidence" that Iraq was involved
in developing a chemical weapons capability in Sudan:
This bombing incident came out of the blue for a number
of people. Sudan has never appeared on any public list
ever released by intelligence agencies in the U.S., Europe
Sudan was not a country identified as having a capacity for
producing chemical weapons. The internationally-renowned Center
for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of
International Studies in the United States, also stated that
there was "no confirmed evidence of a chemical weapons
program", and "no confirmed evidence of a biological
The Center for Nonproliferation Studies concluded that:
Studies of chemical weapons proliferation do not identify
Sudan as a country of concern.
Tony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies in Washington-DC, challenged claims of Osama bin-Laden
working with Iraq in Sudan on acquiring chemical weapons:
I never exclude possibilities of linkages, but there
just isn't the evidence that he is working with Iraq in
Sudan. Does he have ties with Iraq? Of course. But that
doesn't mean a network of conspiracy.
AN ASSESSMENT OF THE AMERICAN CLAIMS ABOUT THE AL-SHIFA
As we have seen above, the United States government has now
made five claims about the al-Shifa factory in its attempts
to justify its Cruise missile attack on the plant. These are
as follows: The al-Shifa plant was making precursors to the
VX nerve gas, namely a compound known as Empta; that Osama
bin-Laden either owned or had a financial link to the al-Shifa
factory; that the al-Shifa factory did not produce any medicines
or drugs; that the al-Shifa factory was a high security facility
guarded by the Sudanese military; and that there were weapons
of mass destruction technology links between Sudan and Iraq
After just over one week of sifting through American government
claims, The Observer
has spoken of:
a catalogue of US misinformation, glaring omissions
and intelligence errors about the function of the plant.
An examination and assessment of the evidence released by
the United States would appear to be confused, inconclusive
and contradictory. The American evidence was immediately challenged
by American and European scientists, chemists and chemical
Claim Number 1 The al-Shifa plant was making precursors
to the VX nerve gas
While claiming to have "physical evidence" to support
their attack on al-Shifa, United States officials initially
said that they would not be able to release it for security
Speaking on CNN's Late Edition on 22 August, the President's
National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, refused to describe
the "physical evidence" the government had, saying
that it was necessary to protect intelligence methods and
sources. In the days following the attack, Bill Richardson,
the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said that
that the United States government was in possession of "undeniable
physical evidence" that al-Shifa was being used to manufacture
chemical weapons. He admitted that the American government
had not presented this evidence to the United Nations Security
Council, but that it had been shown to United States congressional
leaders. Richardson stated that "We believe that is sufficient".
After further international pressure, the United States government
officials then stated on 24 August that the United States
had material from the plant, including equipment and containers
which carried residues of a chemical substance with no commercial
uses, but which it was said was exclusively used in VX nerve
gas. It was additionally stated by the two anonymous officials
that the CIA had used light spectrum data collected by spy
satellites to analyse emissions from the plant and that they
may also have employed banded migratory birds that fly through
Khartoum to gather information about production at the plant.
The United States position then shifted, and on 25 August
it claimed that the key evidence justifying its destruction
of the al-Shifa plant was in fact a soil sample of a precursor
chemical in the making of the VX nerve gas obtained months
previously from the factory. The United States government
then refused to identify what they claimed to be the precursor.
The White House press spokesman, Mike McCurry, speaking on
24 August, stated, for example, that:
The nature of that information is classified
After several days of attempting to avoid naming the compound,
the American government stated that the chemical was said
to be O-ethylmethyl-phosphonothioic acid, or EMPTA.
No less a person than the Under Secretary of State, Mr Thomas
Pickering, went on record to state that:
The physical evidence is a soil sample, analysis of
it shows the presence of a chemical whose simple name
is EMPTA, a known precursor for the nerve agent VX..We
think that it was this evidence, and evidence like it,
which made our decision to carry out this strike on this
particular target the correct and proper decision under
Pickering dismissed the need for an independent investigation
of the site:
I don't believe that an international investigative
committee needs to have an additional role. The evidence
in our view is clear and persuasive.
The soil samples were said to have been obtained from the
factory itself. An American intelligence official added that:
It is a substance that has no commercial applications,
it doesn't occur naturally in the environment, it's not
a by-product of any other chemical process. The only thing
you can use it for, that we know of, is to make VX.
The American claims were almost immediately challenged by
independent sources. The Independent
for example, that:
Chemical weapons experts believe the evidence presented
so far is not strong enough. They point out that key components
of chemical weapons have "dual use" and are
also used in medicines, even bubble bath and shampoo.
The newspaper quoted Alfred Frey, a chemical weapons expert
working for the United Nations, who said that EMPTA was not
conclusive scientific evidence of involvement in producing
nerve gas. Mr Frey is a United Nations Iraqi weapons inspector.
That would tell me I found this product (the compound)
and no more.
Even more damning was the finding by The New York Times
The chemical precursor of a nerve agent that Washington
claimed was made at a Sudanese chemical factory it destroyed
in a missile attack last week could be used for commercial
The New York Times
cited the Organization for the Prohibition
of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as stating that the chemical could
be used "in limited quantities for legitimate commercial
purposes". These purposes could be use in fungicides,
and anti-microbial agents. It should be noted that the OPCW
is an independent international agency which oversees the
inspections of governments and companies to ensure they are
not making substances that contravene the chemical weapons
There also appeared to be confusion in the official American
government claims about the Empta compound. On 26 August,
the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency stated that Empta
was listed as a so-called Schedule 1 chemical - an immediate
chemical weapons precursor with no recognised commercial use
- by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency then changed
its public stance within a matter of hours, after OPCW officials
said that Empta could have commercial uses. Contradicting
American government claims, the Organisation for the Prohibition
of Chemical Weapons said that the organisation classifies
Empta on its Schedule 2b of compounds that could be used to
make chemical weapons but which also have commercial uses.
The OPCW said that Empta is identified with a process to make
plastics flexible and also with some fungicides and anti-microbial
Concerns were raised by chemical weapons experts. Jonathan
Tucker, of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the
Monterey Institute of International Studies, voiced concern
about the soil sample: "There are a lot of questions
about the soil sample: Where was it taken? Who took it?".
He also queried "the chain of custody" and asked
if it had been ensured that the soil sample had not been contaminated.
All in all, he stated:
it's a bit of a dilemma in terms of the credibility
of the U.S. case.
On 27 August, The New York Times
also stated that:
Today several American experts in chemical weapons
and analysis offered another possible explanation of what
the plant made. They said the chemical's structure resembled
that of an agricultural insecticide, known as fonofos,
which is commercially available in Africa. While the two
are not identical, they have molecular similarities and
could be confused in a laboratory test performed under
less-than-ideal conditions, such as a delay between the
taking of a soil sample in Khartoum and a scientific test
of the sample.
This possibility was put forward by Mr Hank Ellison, a counter-terrorism
expert who ran the American army's chemical and biological
warfare programs at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in the 1980s.
Mr Ellison stated that the chemical characteristics of Empta
and fonofos were "very similar" and that those similarities
"could be misinterpreted in a lab analysis". Mr
I imagine this soil sample wasn't taken under the best
of circumstances by somebody placing it in a cooler and
immediately sending it to a lab. And quality control for
the storage and manufacture of pesticides and insecticides
is not the highest in the world, so that could increase
the possibility of seeing similarities in the chemical
The New York Times
also interviewed an official with
the chemical weapons organisation in the Hague who said that
research also suggested that Empta could be the by-product
of the breakdown of other pesticides. The official also stated
that companies such as Mobil and International Chemical Industries
of America had researched commercial applications using Empta.
Mike Hiskey, an expert at the world-renowned Los Alamos National
Laboratory in the United States, said that the chemical had
commercial uses, including the manufacture of some herbicides
has also reported that:
a search of scientific papers showed that it could
be used in a variety of circumstances.
has also stated that:
US credibility has been further dented by Western scientists
who have pointed out that the same ingredients are used
for chemical weapons and beer, and that mustard gas is
similar in make-up to the anti-clogging agent in biro
ink. It has also been pointed out that the cherry flavouring
in sweets is one of the constituent parts of the gas used
in combat. Empta also has commercial uses not linked to
Professor R J P Williams FRS, at Oxford University's Inorganic
Chemistry Laboratory, has also directly challenged the American
Types of the compound.an ethyl-methyl-phosphorus derivative,
can be bought on the open market. If every laboratory
which has such a chemical is to be bombed, then it is
goodbye to many chemistry departments in UK, USA and all
over the world.The public must know the facts about the
chemicals concerned in order to feel sure that terrorist
targets were attacked and not innocent parties. People
world-wide will support the effort to eliminate terrorists,
but not just random reprisal raids, just to show the ability
to strike anybody, anywhere. The USA must come clean,
as must our government.
Professor Williams has also stated that the compound in question:
could also be linked to quite other synthetic chemical
compounds. Insect and nematode (worm) agricultural chemicals
are not unrelated. Nerve poisons are used against such
He warned that:
We must not be misled by technical language to cover
up speculation. The UN or the Hague Court must ask the
US and now the UK to say clearly what information provoked
the attack on Sudan. If we want law and order to prevail
we must show that we have just cause for such action,
otherwise we are approving terrorist methods of our own.
has also reported on 28 August that:
Several American experts in chemical warfare say there
is an agricultural insecticide, with similar properties,
that can be easily mistaken for Empta.
The New York Times
voiced continuing concerns about
the American government claims:
Despite the Administration's offer of details about
its evidence, there were still unanswered questions. The
soil sample, which presumably measured either a spill
or airborne particulars, did not prove that it was the
pharmaceutical plant that produced the chemical, Empta.
The Sudanese government had itself declared that it was unsatisfied
with the American claims to have a soil sample. The Sudanese
information minister, Dr Ghazi Saleheddin, stated:
They have not produced any convincing evidence. We
have to be satisfied that the United States is not making
this up. It's not enough to produce soil which could have
been made up in the United States itself, and to claim
that the soil contains toxic agents. For a factory to
produce toxic agents, you need special facilities, special
preparations, special storage areas and preparations facilities.
You can't keep things to yourself and keep claiming you
have the final proof without allowing people to verify
It should also be pointed out that the export manager of the
al-Shifa factory, Alamaddin al-Shibli, challenged the American
claim to have obtained a soil sample:
There's no way to take a sample of soil from this factory,
according to the construction of this factory. It's either
concrete or cement or carpet.
By 26 August, ABC News reported that the United States administration
was itself unsure of its claims:
Now, U.S. officials say they do not know with certainty
whether the VX precursor was manufactured at the plant,
was stored there, or may have represented a small quantity
of research and development material.
reported that American intelligence sources
were moving to "less and less credible positions".
By 28 August, just over one week after the destruction of
the al-Shifa factory, a United States Defence Department spokesman
There may have been better places to go. That doesn't
mean it was the wrong place to go.
Claim Number 2 That Osama bin-Laden either owned
or had a financial link to the al-Shifa factory.
The United States government claimed that Osama bin-Laden
had a financial interest in the al-Shifa factory. This was
denied both by the owners and the Sudanese government. Mr
Suleiman, the al-Shifa company's lawyer said that the owner
was a Sudanese businessman, Salah Idris. The plant had been
established by Bashir Hassan Bashir, and had been sold in
March 1997 to Mr Idris.
The Financial Times
stated with reference to the ownership
The factory is owned by Salah Idris, a Saudi Arabia-based
Sudanese. Mr Salah is from a family with close ties to
Sudan's Khatmiyya religious sect which is vehemently opposed
to Sudan's Islamist government and by implication an unlikely
business partner for Mr bin Laden.
On 25 August a United States intelligence official, giving
an official briefing to the media on the American missile
strikes admitted that the ties between bin-Laden and the al-Shifa
factory were "fuzzy". On the same day, Reuters reported
that a United States intelligence official had said that he:
could not confirm any direct financial link between
Bin Laden and the plant.
The Washington Post
Within days, however, U.S. officials began pulling
back from directly linking bin Laden to El Shifa Pharmaceutical.
Instead, they said that his link was to the Sudanese military
industrial complex - and that the Sudanese military was,
in turn, linked to the VX precursor at El Shifa.
This would appear to jar somewhat with a 24 August CNN report
which investigated the ownership of the factory:
The Sudanese government says that this plant is privately
owned. It produced ownership papers of the individuals
who actually own this plant. It is part of private ownership.
The government, itself, has nothing to do with this plant.
By 31 August, it was being reported by The New York Times