Date of Publication: 17 September 2001




"the Central Intelligence Agency...recently concluded that reports that had appeared to document a clear link between the Sudanese Government and terrorist activities were fabricated and unreliable...The United States is entitled to use military force to protect itself against terrorism. But the case for every such action must be rigorously established. In the case of the Sudan, Washington has conspicuously failed to prove its case." (1)

The New York Times, 23 September 1998

We are all still stunned by the horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. The response of the United States will doubtless be vigorous and hard, and rightly so.

However, in considering their options President Bush and his national security team should look carefully at previous mistakes made by the Clinton Administration with regard to international terrorism. Any serious attempt to wage war on international terrorism must seek to drain the sea within which these terrorists and terrorist movements swim. This is a point well made in the aftermath of the recent attacks by former British SAS commander General Sir Michael Rose: "In the longer term, a war against terrorism can be won only if it is treated as a people's war in which the continuing support of the people, in this case most probably the Arabs, is regarded as being of critical importance." (2) Any errors or mistakes on the part of the United States will merely perpetuate the problem it faces and fuel Arab and Muslim resentment.

The Bush Administration must differentiate, for example, between reality and the propaganda and politics that distorted Sudanese-American relations during the Clinton years. A previous Administration has already made one catastrophic mistake with regard to Sudan, namely the August 1998 cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum. This attack seriously undermined America's standing within the international community and fuelled resentment amongst many Third World countries. It was very possibly one of the reasons contributing to the United States being voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission and its replacement by countries such as Sudan. (3)

The attack on al-Shifa followed the murderous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Clinton Administration claimed that the factory was owned by Osama bin-Laden and produced chemical weapons. The Clinton Administration failed to produce any evidence for these claims, and blocked any subsequent United Nations inspection of the factory. Every one of the American claims about the al-Shifa factory subsequently proved to be false. Independent tests carried out on the factory by a distinguished American chemist showed no traces of anything associated with chemical weapons. (4) Agence France Press reported as recently as this month that "Western diplomats in Khartoum and other analysts have rejected the US claims that the factory was used for such a purpose". (5) It is now accepted that the attack was a disastrous blunder by the American government. (6)

In August 2001 Bush Administration officials stated that American counter-terrorism analysts had concluded that Sudan was moving in the right direction on terrorism. (7) Early in September 2001, the United Nations Security Council set a date to lift the five-year-old limited diplomatic sanctions on Sudan - sanctions imposed after questionable allegations of Sudanese involvement in the attempted 1995 assassination of Egyptian President Mubarak. Ambassador Jean-David Levite, the president of the Security Council, stated that: "This signals the encouragement we feel from Sudan and the United States to move forward." (8) Given Britain's support for forthcoming American action, it is also worth noting that in February 2001, the British government stated that it would be "quite wrong" to describe Sudan as a terrorist state. (9)

In a comment as relevant now as it was then, the New York Times concluded in September 1998, in the wake of the al-Shifa fiasco, that "[T]he United States is entitled to use military force to protect itself
against terrorism. But the case for every such action must be rigorously established. In the case of the Sudan, Washington has conspicuously failed to prove its case." Any such case has diminished further since 1998. At the invitation of the Sudanese government there have been United States counter-terrorist teams, from both the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, continuously present in Sudan since June 2000. (10) These teams had been invited in by Khartoum to investigate any allegations of Sudanese involvement in terrorism. The Sudanese Foreign Minister stated that they were in Sudan "carrying out their assignment of verifying allegations that the Sudan sponsors terrorism".(11) Earlier this year, these counter-terrorist teams reported that Sudan was not involved in terrorism.

Given that despite these developments, the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has called for attacks on countries such as Sudan (12) and that there have been other attempts to exploit this American tragedy (13) the reality of Sudan's relations with the United States, especially with regard to the issue of international terrorism, should be carefully examined.

The Sudanese Reaction to the Tragedy

The Sudanese President, Omer Bashir, immediately condemned the attacks and extended his condolences to the families of the victims and to the American people. President Bashir also stated that Sudan "is not a terrorist state, does not sponsor terrorism and does not advocate terrorist acts targeting innocent people".(14) The Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, denounced "the vicious terrorist attacks on a number of American targets". He described the attacks as "criminal acts of terrorism which caused a great loss of precious human lives". Dr Mustafa "offered his sincere condolences to the American government and the American people". He also reaffirmed Sudan's "willingness to co-operate fully with the U.S. Government and the international community to combat all forms of terrorism and bring the perpetrators to justice." (15) This was confirmed by a Sudanese government statement which reiterated Sudan's support for any means chosen by the international community to confront terrorism.(16) The Sudanese information minister, Mahdi Ibrahim, also stated that "the phenomenon of violence and terrorism deserves condemnation for it is contrary to the customs and traditions of Sudan on the one hand and our religious values on the other...This stand should be very clear in all our condemnations of the occurrence of such a phenomenon, in any country or continent, and from what ever origin or source, be it a government, a movement or an individual."(17) It should also be noted that Sudan's response echoed its reaction to the 1998 terrorist bombings of the American embassies in east Africa. (18)

A State Sponsor of Terrorism?

In the light of the fact that there have been intermittent calls for attacks on all countries listed by the United States as "state sponsors" of terrorism, the listing mechanism must be examined, especially with regard to Sudan. The Clinton Administration listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in August 1993. It is not good enough to label a state as a state sponsor of terrorism because one disapproves of its politics. That was certainly the case with Sudan during the Clinton years. It was clear that Sudan was listed without any evidence of its alleged support for terrorism. This much is a matter of record. Former United States President Jimmy Carter, long interested in Sudanese affairs, went out of his way to see what evidence there was for Sudan's listing. Carter was told there was no evidence:

"In fact, when I later asked an assistant secretary of state he said they did not have any proof, but there were strong allegations." (19)

The United States ambassador to Sudan at the time of Sudan's listing, Donald Petterson, has stated on record that he was "surprised" that Sudan was put on the terrorism list. Petterson said that while he was aware of some contact between "some elements of the Sudanese Government" and various "terrorist" organisations:

"I did not think this evidence was sufficiently conclusive to put Sudan on the U.S. government's list of state sponsors of terrorism." (20)

Nevertheless, the Clinton Administration's listing of Sudan set the tone for all future American claims about Sudan and terrorism. It is clear that the Clinton Administration's listing of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, in the absence of any proof or evidence of such activity, was an abuse of United States anti-terrorism legislation for policy reasons.

Sudan continued to be listed despite having expelled Osama bin Laden before he commenced his involvement in international terrorism. Afghanistan was not listed although Osama bin Laden and his followers were based in that country throughout his active involvement in terrorism. The extent to which inclusion on the list is dependent on policy considerations at any one moment in time, is exemplified by the case of Iraq. Iraq was first listed in 1979, was de-listed in 1982 when it went to war against Iran, something seen as being in the American interest, and was put back on after the Gulf war. Nothing had changed in the meantime - Saddam Hussein's government was in power throughout. Expediency had dictated Iraq's removal and then relisting.

An even more clear cut example of the Clinton Administration's misuse of anti-terrorist "listing" legislation for political reasons followed Washington's cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum. It is now abundantly evident that this attack, allegedly on a chemical weapons facility owned by Osama bin-Laden, was a disastrous Intelligence failure. Clinton Administration officials also subsequently admitted that while they had claimed bin Laden was the owner when they attacked the factory they did not know who the actual owner was. Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering admitted that who owned the plant "was not known to us". When, several days later, the American government learnt, from subsequent media coverage of the attack, who actually owned the factory, that person, Mr Saleh Idris, was then retrospectively listed under legislation dealing with "specially designated terrorists". On 26 August, 1998, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the unit within the U.S. Treasury Department charged with the enforcement of anti-terrorism sanctions, froze more than US$ 24 million of Mr Idris's assets. These assets had been held in Bank of America accounts. On 26 February 1999, Mr Idris filed an action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, for the release of his assets, claiming that the government's actions had been unlawful. His lawyers stated that while the law used by the Clinton Administration to freeze his assets required a finding that Mr Idris was, or had been, associated with terrorist activities, no such determination had ever been made. Mr Idris had never had any association whatsoever with terrorists or terrorism. On 4 May 1999, the deadline by which the government had to file a defence in court, the Clinton Administration backed down and had to authorise the full and unconditional release of his assets. (21) Mr Idris is continuing legal action for compensation for the destruction of his factory.

The listing of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism provides a macro example of the Clinton Administration's abuse of anti-terrorist legislation. The case of Mr Idris provided a micro example of this misuse. The Clinton Administration's clear perversion of anti-terrorist legislation and its manipulation and distortion of legal measures for political expediency and convenience was not only immoral - it also
discredited American anti-terrorist legislation internationally. (22)

It is also worth noting that the Clinton Administration clumsily attempted to implicate Sudan in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In the process it contradicted itself on several occasions. In March 1993, for example, the United States government stated that the World Trade Center bombing was carried out by a poorly trained local group of individuals who were not under the auspices of a foreign government or international network. (23) In June 1993, the American authorities again stated there was no evidence of foreign involvement in the New York bombing or conspiracies. (24) The American government then reversed its position in August 1993 alleging Sudanese involvement in the New York bomb plots.(25) (This may well have been related to the fact that it was then convenient to do so given the policy decision to list Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism). This finding was in any event subsequently comprehensively contradicted in 1996 by Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox Jr., the Department of State's Coordinator for Counterterrorism. On the occasion of the release of the 1995 'Patterns of Global Terrorism', on 30 April 1996, Ambassador Wilcox made it very clear that there was no Sudanese involvement whatsoever in the World Trade Center bombings:

"We have looked very, very carefully and pursued all possible clues that there might be some state sponsorship behind the World Trade Center bombing. We have found no such evidence, in spite of an exhaustive search, that any state was responsible for that crime. Our information indicates that Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and his gang were a group of freelance terrorists, many of whom were trained in Afghanistan, who came from various nations but who did not rely on support from any state." (26)

Yet, earlier that month, on 3 April, the then American ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright, in meetings at the United Nations, claimed that two Sudanese diplomats had been involved in the World Trade Center bombing, and other "plots".(27) This presents an interesting situation. The political appointee, Mrs Albright, with a political and policy line to follow, claiming one thing, and the professional anti-terrorism expert, Ambassador Wilcox, saying something completely different. On an issue as serious as allegations of terrorism, allegations involving the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a conspiracy to bomb other targets in New York, such as divergence is totally unacceptable and once again only but undermined the credibility of previous American claims with regard to Sudanese "involvement" in terrorism.

Sudan and Terrorism

In September 1998, in the wake of the al-Shifa fiasco, both the New York Times and the London Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had previously secretly withdrawn over one hundred of its reports alleging Sudanese involvement in terrorism. The CIA had realised that the reports in question had been fabricated. The London Times concluded that this "is no great surprise to those who have watched similar CIA operations in Africa where 'American intelligence' is often seen as an oxymoron." (28)

Sudan arrested and extradited Illyich Ramirez Sanchez, "Carlos the Jackal" to France, and, as requested by Washington, in 1996 it expelled Osama bin Laden, and his associates, from Sudan. In September 1995 Sudan imposed strict visa requirements on visitors to Sudan, ending its no visa policy for Arab nationals. In May 2000, Sudan completed the process of acceding to all of the international instruments for the elimination of international terrorism. It has signed the following international agreements: 'The 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings'; 'The 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism'; 'The 1988 International Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation (Montreal 1988)'; 'The 1980 International Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Vienna 1980)'; 'The 1992 International Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf'; 'The 1963 International Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on board Aircraft'; and 'The 1991 International Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection'.

Sudan has also become a party to regional agreements and a participant in regional programmes for the suppression and elimination of terrorism on the African continent through the Organisation of African Unity. It has signed similar agreements within the framework of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. In April 1998, for example, Sudan became a signatory to the Arab Agreement for Combating Terrorism. (29) In August, 1998, the Sudanese ambassador to Egypt stated Sudan welcomed an Egyptian proposal to convene an international conference on combating terrorism.(30) Sudan also signed the chemical weapons convention in May 1999.(31)

Furthermore in March 2000, Sudan also comprehensively updated its own legislation for the suppression of terrorism. The Sudanese Government has since 1997 repeatedly invited the United States to send its own anti-terrorist teams to Sudan to investigate and follow-up any information they may have about Sudan's alleged involvement in terrorism. In 2000 and 2001 American anti-terrorist teams spent months doing just that. Their reports were instrumental in the moves by the United Nations Security Council to release Sudan from the 1996 limited diplomatic sanctions.

The United States and its allies will soon be responding to the murderous attacks in New York and Washington. The example of the previous mistakes made with regard to Sudan illustrate the need for the exercise of extreme caution in the selection of appropriate targets.


1 'Dubious Decisions on the Sudan', Editorial, 'The New York Times', 23 September 1998.

2 'The Sunday Times', London, 16 September 2001

3 See, for example, 'U.S. Ouster from Rights Body Reflects Hostility', News Article by IPS on 5 May 2001; 'U.S. Loses Seat on U.N. Human Rights Commission, Sudan Joins Commission', News Article by
Associated Press on 3 May 2001; and 'U.S. Loses Seat on U.N. Rights Body: Defeat Laid to Irritation at White House Policies', 'The Washington Post' on 4 May 2001.

4 See, 'U.S. Evidence of Terror Links to Blitzed Medicine Factory Was "Totally Wrong"', Andrew Marshall, 'The Independent', London, 15 February 1999; 'No Trace of Nerve Gas Precursor Found at Bombed Sudan Plant', 'Chemical & Engineering News', 15 February 1999.

5 'Khartoum Doubtful Over Likelihood of US Strike on Sudan', News Article by Agence France Press on 16 September 2001.

6 'Clinton Bombed Civilians on Purpose. American Tests Showed No Trace of Nerve Gas at "Deadly" Sudan Plant. The President Ordered the Attack Anyway', 'The Observer', London, 23 August 1998. Front-page.

7 'Powell Mulls U.N. Action on Sudan After Report African Government is Moving in Right Direction on Terrorism', News Article by Associated Press on 22 August 2001.

8 'Security Council sets date to life Sudan sanctions, signalling U.S. support', News Article by Associated Press on 5 September 2001.

9 See comments by Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, House of Lords 'Official Report', 26 February 2001, column 935.

10 See, for example, 'US Intelligence Delegation Still in Sudan: FM', News Article by Agence France Presse on 16 August 2001.

11 'US Intelligence Delegation Still in Sudan: FM', News Article by Agence France Presse on 16 August 2001.

12 Comments made during a Channel 4 Television interview, London, on 16 September 2001 at 7:20pm.

13 See, for example, Eric Reeves, 'Sudan, Osama bin Laden, and Terrorism', 12 September 2001 and the speech of Baroness Cox in the House of Lords, Westminster, 14 September 2001.

14 'Sudan Denounces Terror, Urges "Unemotional US Response', News Article by Agence France Press on 12 September 2001.

15 'Official Statement on Terrorist Attacks', Embassy of the Republic of Sudan, Washington-DC, 11 September 2001.

16 'Sudan supports "any" means of confronting terrorism', News Article by Agence France Press on 15 September 2001.

17 'Sudanese Foreign Minister Says US Attack "Unlikely": Other Officials Comment', Text of Report by Sudanese Radio on 15 September 2001, BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, 16 September 2001
18 The Sudanese government immediately and repeatedly condemned the embassy bombings. The Sudanese foreign minister, Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail, stated, for example, that: "These criminal acts of violence do not lead to any goal." ('Sudan Condemns Bombings of U.S. Embassies', News Article by Reuters on August 8 1998) 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." ('Sudan offers to help find Kenya bombings', News Article by Reuters on August 11, 1998) The government of Sudan also immediately granted United States requests for access to Sudanese airspace to evacuate American diplomatic staff and citizens and to provide relief for those affected in the bombing. When the United States requested further humanitarian overflight authorisations they too were granted.

19 'The Independent', London, 17 September 1993.

20 Petterson Donald Petterson, 'Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict and Catastrophe', Westview Books, Boulder, 1999, p.75.

21 See, 'US Unfreezes Assets of Sudan Factory Owner', News Article by Agence France Press, 4 May, 1999, 20:51 GMT; 'US Oks Payout for Sudan "Mistake": Faulty Intelligence Blamed for Air Strike', 'The Washington Times', 5 May 1999; 'US Admits Sudan Bombing Mistake', 'The Independent', London, 4 May 1999; 'US to Unfreeze Accounts Frozen Over Plant', 'The Asian Wall Street Journal', 5 May 1999.

22 See, also, 'The Clinton Administration and Sudan: A Systemic Intelligence Failure', The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, January 2001 at

23 'The New York Times', 26 March 1993.

24 'The New York Times', The Washington Post, 25 June 1993.

25 'The New York Times', 18 August 1993.

26 'Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1996 Briefing, Press briefing by Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox Jr', Washington-DC, 30 April 1996 on US Government Home Page, at

27 'U.S. Expels Sudanese Diplomat: Diplomat Implicated in U.N. Bomb Plot', News Article by United States Information Agency, 10 April 1996.

28 'The Times', London, 22 September 1998; 'The New York Times', 21 and 23 September, 1998.

29 'Internal Affairs Minister: Arab Agreement For Combating Terrorism is a Strong Reply to Enemies', Sudan News Agency, 25 April 1998.

30 'Sudan Welcomes Egypt's Anti-Terrorism Conference Proposal', News Article by Xinhua on 22 August 1998 at 14:32:43.

31 'Sudan Says Joins Pact Against Chemical Weapons', News Article by Reuters on 19 August 1999 at 10:31:52.

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