“Peace in Darfur is necessary for stabilising the surrounding regions which include southern Sudan, Chad, and Central African Republic and to prevent the conflict spreading. The future of the region is at stake.”

Dr Ali Ali-Dinar [1]

Any study of the conflict in Darfur can now no longer ignore the clear involvement of Islamist extremists in fermenting rebellion in western Sudan, namely the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Justice and Equality Movement, at the heart of the Darfur conflict, is led by Dr Khalil Ibrahim, a protégé of Islamist hardliner Dr Hasan al-Turabi. Formed in November 2002, JEM is increasingly recognised as being part and parcel of Dr Turabi’s Popular Congress. Time magazine has described JEM as “a fiercely Islamic organisation said to be led by Hassan al-Turabi” and that Turabi’s ultimate goal is “the presidential palace in Khartoum and a stridently Islamic Sudan”. [2] Khalil is a long-time associate of Turabi’s and served as a state minister in Darfur in the early 1990s before serving as a state cabinet-level advisor in southern Sudan. Ibrahim was a senior member of the Islamist movement’s secret military wing. The International Crisis Group has noted that “Khalil Ibrahim…is a veteran Islamist and former state minister who sided with the breakaway [Popular Congress] in 2002 and went into exile in the Netherlands.” [3]

There is additionally evidence of some level of involvement of al-Qaeda with the Islamist JEM organisation. There is no doubt that al-Qaeda is deeply interested in Darfur. This would be for several reasons. One is the location of Darfur. American counter-terrorism expert Richard Miniter, in his latest book, Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror, has reported that the al-Qaeda network has for some time been establishing itself in the Sahel area, an area which is made up of Niger, Mali, Chad and Sudan. [4] Dozens of al-Qaeda terrorists were killed in Chad in 2004. [5] Miniter states that al-Qaeda involvement in Darfur “dovetails with other reports from North Africa. The desert wastes have become al-Qaeda’s latest battleground.” [6] There is no doubt that al-Qaeda is already seeking to turn parts of the Sahel – and in this case Darfur – into the next Afghanistan. [7] There are many all-too-familiar ingredients. Darfur’s physical inaccessibility, its Islamist heritage, its proximity to several failed or semifailed states, porous borders, and its inaccessibility to western intelligence services make it a very attractive location to hide in and from which to attack.

Mr Tom Vraalsen, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for humanitarian affairs for Sudan, has pointed out some of the regional implications of the Darfur conflict: “A continuation of the problems in Darfur could have serious political repercussions in the sense that it could destabilize the area along the Chad- Sudan border and it could have repercussions also regionally if it continues. It has to be brought to an end.” [8] Dr Ali Ali-Dinar, a Darfurian critic of the government, has made the simple point that “Peace in Darfur is necessary for stabilising the surrounding regions which include southern Sudan, Chad, and Central African Republic and to prevent the conflict spreading. The future of the region is at stake.” [9] This is also precisely why ultra Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda would be interested in a continuing cycle of violence in Darfur.

And as with Afghanistan – and Iraq for that matter – any Western military intervention in Darfur would serve as a rallying point for Islamist extremists, both within and outside of Darfur and Sudan. Darfur in any instance is fertile ground for militant Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda and JEM. ‘Al-Ahram’, for example, has described Darfur as a “traditional Islamist stronghold”. [10] It was from the Fur and Baggara that Muhammad Ahmed, the “Mahdi”, drew the fundamentalist shock troops that crushed Egyptian rule in Sudan and held the British Empire at bay for ten years up till 1898, as noted by Margolis:

“One of the Islamic World’s first anti-colonial movements, known in the west as the Dervishes, burst from the wastes of Darfur in the 1880s. Led by the fiery ‘Mahdi’, the Dervishes drove the British imperialists from the Sudan, and event immortalized in the splendid Victorian novel, ‘Four Feathers.’ The Dervishes took Khartoum, slaying Britain’s proconsul, Sir Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon.” [11]

And, in Dr Turabi’s close involvement with JEM, there is already a clear al-Qaeda link. Knight Ridder Africa editor Sudarsan Raghavan described Turabi as “preaching a strict brand of Islam that made Sudan a haven for extremists such as bin Laden, whom Turabi once called a hero”. [12] That Bin Laden and Turabi are close is undisputed. Richard Clarke, the Clinton Administration’s anti-terrorism supremo, described Turabi as a “soul mate” of Osama bin Laden who shared his “vision of a worldwide struggle to establish a pure Caliphate”. [13] Bin Laden is also married to Turabi’s niece. [14] Many of those members of the military wing of the Popular Congress now involved with JEM trained with al-Qaeda members in the 1990s. Miniter states that al-Qaeda instructors, including specialists in guerrilla and urban warfare and logistics, have been involved in training Justice and Equality insurgents in Darfur. Al-Ahram has already noted connections: “JEM also is suspected of having links with several militant Islamist groups in Africa and around the world.” [15] It is also worth noting that amongst the rebels there is a self-styled “Tora Bora” militia – named after the Afghan mountain range in which Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban fought one of their last battles, and from which bin Laden escaped American capture. [16]

In another analogy with Afghanistan, blind western support for the Darfur rebels, and especially JEM – for whatever short-term political reasons – runs the risk of repeating the mistake of building up Islamist fundamentalist forces which then themselves pose national and regional threats to western interests. Providing Afghan and Arab fundamentalists, amongst them a young Osama bin-Laden, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military and logistical support in the 1980s has been seen as a tactical error which led to the birth of the modern international terrorist movement we see today.

The possible al-Qaeda-Darfur connection is of concern to the United Nations. The Irish newspaper The Sunday Tribune reported in December that “[t]he threat of al-Qaeda opening another front against western aid organisations and personnel in Darfur is real, according to UN officials in Sudan”. A senior UN official noted that Darfur rebels had already been made a specific threat to aid workers. According to The Sunday

Tribune: “It fitted the pattern of violence against western aid organisations and personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.” [17] The fundamentalist involvement has been poorly reported, but some details have emerged. In July 2004, for example, a Saudi national said to have been “preaching holy war” within a refugee camp in Chad was arrested. There had been violent scenes at the camp in which two refugees had been short dead by local security forces. Arms caches had also been seized in the camp. [18]

It is worth noting that the pattern of terrorism in Darfur has echoed al-Qaeda and extemist tactics in Iraq, especially with regard to attacks on policemen and police stations. [19] Over 400 policemen have been murdered, and hundreds more wounded, in terrorist attacks on policemen in Darfur. The United Nations Secretary-General noted in his October 2004 report to the Security Council that Darfur rebels had attacked a police station in Medo, in North Darfur, on 12 September 2004 and that “further SLA attacks on police posts were reported on 14, 15, 17, 18, 19 and 22 September. Further SLA attacks on police in Ghubayash village, Western Kordofan, in the last week of September indicates that these violations may not remain confined to Darfur.” [20] The Secretary-General’s November report noted the “SLA reportedly attacked police posts nine times in October, killing at least nine policemen.” [21] European Union military observers mission have confirmed rebel attacks on policemen in Darfur: “The SLA has been attacking continuously police stations.” [22] These are just a few examples of UN reports of attacks on policemen in Darfur. The African Union has also confirmed that “innocent policemen” have been the “major victims” of the rebels. [23] Knight Ridder has also confirmed rebel attacks on police stations. [24] Human Rights Watch has reported: “Rebels have attacked many police stations and posts in Darfur.” [25] These attacks are of deep concern for at least two reasons. Firstly, as agreed with the United Nations, and outlined in the joint government-UN action plan, the deployment of police forces within Darfur was to protect displaced people and displaced peoples’ camps from attack by criminal elements, Janjaweed or otherwise. Attacks on police stations, therefore, fuel civilian insecurity in the region. Secondly, Darfur rebel attacks on policemen have not only mirrored attacks in Iraq, but have also been part of a pattern of similar attacks on police stations within the Sahel. Almost identical sorts of attacks to those in Iraq and Darfur have occurred as far apart as northern Nigeria and Liberia. [26] This pattern of attacks also begs a simple question. Why is the murder of hundreds of poorly armed policemen in Iraq deemed to be terrorism by the United States – with all the consequences of that definition – while the murder of hundreds of poorly-armed policemen in Darfur appears not to be terrorism by the American government? Disturbingly, it would seem that the United States is actually helping to fund some of the activities of the very gunmen involved in killing the policemen – gunmen who if not themselves Islamist extremists are nevertheless closely allied with the Justice and Equality Movement. [27]

The involvement of foreign governments such as Eritrea, and foreign terrorist networks, in encouraging the destabilisation of Darfur, and their support for, and arming of, insurgents is very serious. Any attempts to stop the war by seeking to address any marginalisation or underdevelopment – if that was ever the motivation for the violence – will cut no ice with these forces.


1 Ali Ali-Dinar, “Why Khartoum Wants a War in Darfur”, Sudan Tribune, 30 July 2004.
2 “Power Struggle: Darfur’s Janjaweed Militia Aren’t the Only Ones Sowing Chaos and Death. Meet the Two Rebel Factions Threatening Yet Another Civil War”, Time, 31 October 2004.
3 Darfur Rising: Sudan’s New Crisis, International Crisis Group, Africa Report No 76, Brussels, 25 March 2004.
4 See, also, for example, “US Says Militants Lurk in Horn of Africa”, News Article by Reuters, 28 December 2004.
5 See, for example, “Chad ‘Defeats’ Algerian Muslim Extremists”, News Article by Associated Press, 26 March 2004, and “US Applauds Chad Offensive on Islamic Militants”, News Article by Reuters, 13 March 2004.
6 Richard Miniter, Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror, Regnery Publishing, Washington-DC, 2004, pp. 98-99.
7 There is no doubt that there are a number of stark social, political and geographical similarities with Afghanistan. Compare Darfur, for example, with this background to Afghanistan: “The geographical features of Afghanistan have had a great impact on the cultural development of its people. An insufficient transportation system has impeded internal communications and, because of this, economic, social, and political integration has been slow…The mountainous features of Afghanistan make it necessary for many villages to be self-sufficient. They build their houses, grow their crops, and protect their community. Trade is primarily on the regional level, rather than national; for centuries the regional market economy was the primary source of commerce. Therefore, Afghanistan has never been able to integrate regional economies on a national scale…On the ethnic level the members of an ethnic group, in particular within a tribe, share ‘a common ancestor, a common leader and a common territory in a positive way and harbour negative attitudes towards members of other tribes.’…Because of highly ethnic and communal diversities and because of inefficient
transportation and communications systems, the linkage between governmental centers (mostly located in the towns) and rural areas was very weak. Through the course of time, this geographical and ethnic situation created a social environment that was closed to outsiders…Often the role of the central government in the daily affairs of the rural communities was marginal. Many villages not only produced their food without outside help but also managed their administrative affairs such as marriage, divorce, conflict over land, and business… Usually, the government representatives, without the help from local leaders, were seen as outsiders.” (Neamatollah Nojumi, The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, and the Future of the Region, Palgrave, New York, 2002, pp5-6. See, also, Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan, Oxford University Press, London, 1995, and Beattie Hugh, Afghanistan Studies, Volumes 3 and 4, Society for Afghanistan Studies -British Academy, 1982.
8 “Situation in Sudan’s Dafour Region ‘Very Serious’, Says UN Envoy”, News Article by Africa Online, 16 January 2004.
9 Ali Ali-Dinar, “Why Khartoum Wants a War in Darfur”, Sudan Tribune, 30 July 2004.
10 “Plot Thickens Around Darfur”, Al-Ahram (Cairo), Issue No 684, 1-7 April 2004.
11 Eric S. Margolis, “No Time for a Crusade in Sudan”, 12 August 2004, available at <http://www.bigeye.com>.
12 Sudarsan Raghavan, “Sudan Violence is Part of Power War”, News Article by Knight Ridder Newspapers, 20 August 2004.
13 Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, Free Press, New York, 2004, p.136.
14 “US Targets Three More Countries”, The Sunday Times (London), 25 November 2001.
15 Gamal Nkrumah, “Plot Thickens Around Darfur”, Al-Ahram (Cairo), Issue No 684, 1-7 April 2004.
16 See, for example, “Tora Bora Army Strikes Back at the Janjaweed”, The Independent (London), 16 August 2004.
17 “Sudanese Authorities Fear al-Qaeda Attacks on Western Aid Agencies”, Sunday Tribune (Dublin).
18 “Two Darfur Refugees Killed in Chad Amid Tensions With Aid Groups: UN”, News Article by Agence France Presse, 25 July 2004.
19 See, for example, “Khartoum Accuses Darfur Rebels of Killing Two Police in Truce Breach”, News Article by Agence France Presse, 26 September 2004; “Sudan Says More Than 30 Police Killed in Darfur”, News Article by Reuters, 23 November 2004; “Seven Police Officers Injured in Rebel Attack in Darfur: Sudanese Govt”, News Article by Associated Press, 12 December 2004; “Darfur Rebels Attack Convoy, Police – Sudan Official”, News Article by Reuters, 16 December 2004.
20 Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Sudan Pursuant to Paragraph 15 of Resolution 1564 (2004) and Paragraphs 6, 13 and 16 of Security Council Resolution 1556 (2004), S/2004/787, United Nations, New York, 4 October 2004.
21 Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Sudan Pursuant to Paragraph 15 of Resolution 1564 (2004) and Paragraphs 6, 13 and 16 of Security Council Resolution 1556 (2004), S/2004/881, United Nations, New York, November 2004.
22 “War Weary Darfur on the Brink of Deadly Famine”, Sunday Tribune (Dublin), 5 December 2004.
23 Report of the Ceasefire Commission on the Situation in Darfur, African Union, Addis Ababa, 4 October 2004.
24 “Independence of Darfur Rebel Commanders Threatens Peace Efforts”, News Article by Knight Ridder Newspapers, 4 December 2004.
25 “If We Return, We Will be Killed”, Human Rights Watch, New York, November 2004.
26 See, for example, “Liberia: Islamic Militants Launch Fresh Attacks on Police Stations”, News Article by Integrated Regional Information Networks, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 22 September 2004; “Nigerian Islamist Rebels Attack Police, Taken Officers Hostage”, News Article by Agence France Presse, 9 October 2004; “Radical Sect Attacks Police Convoy in Nigeria; 3 Officers Killed”, News
Article by Associated Press, 10 October 2004.
27 See, for example, reporting of American financial assistance to the SLA in “Sudan Government’s Attacks Stoke Rebels’ Fury”, The New York Times, 11 September 2004.

Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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