With the aid of a hodge-podge of partners—some nave, others deeply disingenuous—Khartoum has made great strides recently in re-writing the history of its long and deep involvement in supporting international terrorism. The gist of the argument is that Khartoum’s National Islamic Front has long been trying to cooperate in combating terrorism, and has in recent years offered up useful intelligence to the US. The US, so the argument continues, rebuffed Khartoum and this helped to make September 11 happen. What these nonsensical accounts fail to offer is anything like a credible motive for the supposed refusal by the US to accept intelligence on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Nor do they distinguish between the easy offers of assistance that have indeed been made by Khartoum officials and the reality of their persistent failure to make good on these offers, despite numerous meetings with US officials.
Eric Reeves [December 10, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The first thing that must be understood about Khartoum and terrorism is that the relationship continues to the present. Just today, the Washington Post’s correspondent for East Africa reports on a telling episode from earlier this year. Khartoum’s embassy in New Delhi, India was the center for an effort, involving al-Qaeda operatives, to bomb the US embassy in New Delhi:
“Abdel Raouf Hawas, a Sudanese-born student arrested by Indian authorities in June , said the plan to leave a car bomb outside the visa section of the [US] embassy was hatched by an al Qaeda lieutenant he knew as Abdul Rehman Hussain Mohammed Al Safani. American and Yemeni officials said Safani, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, played a central role in organizing the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, using the name Mohammed Omar Al Harazi. He also was involved in the East Africa embassy bombings, officials said.
“In the New Delhi plot, U.S. officials said, Raouf told Indian police that the explosives and detonators police found in the car had been supplied by two diplomats at the Sudanese Embassy: its charge d’affaires and its consul, who also served as the embassy’s senior intelligence agent.
“A deputy to the charge, Babikir Ismail, also had knowledge of the plot and tried to prevent it by informing senior Sudanese Foreign Ministry officials in Khartoum and New York, according to a U.S. official. For his efforts, Ismail became the only one disciplined by Sudan’s foreign office, which dismissed him and accused him of disloyalty, the official said.”
[Washington Post, December 10, 2001]
Here we have a full-fledged terrorist attack, planned by al-Qaeda on a major US embassy abroad, and Khartoum is revealed as clearly directly supporting the effort. Moreover, when a deputy in the embassy attempted to abort the attack, he was dismissed by Khartoum for his counter-terrorist effort and accused of “disloyalty.”
How is it that the same regime that is helping to orchestrate a terrorist attack on a US embassy can be judged to be acting in good faith when it offers to provide “intelligence” on terrorism nurtured in Khartoum itself? (Bin Laden and al-Qaeda came to full fruition during the years 1991 to 1996, while hosted by the National Islamic Front in Khartoum.) The regime’s “cooperation” is clearly nothing more than an expedient effort to provide whatever sanitized documents may forestall US action against them.
And there are other recent activities that must make Khartoum deeply uneasy. On September 28, 2001 the National Post (Canada) reported on documents assembled by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, noting in particular two especially disturbing ways in which Khartoum continues to support bin Laden and al-Qaeda, two years after bin Laden himself was expediently expelled by Khartoum:
 “Sudanese leaders agreed in 1998 to use their embassy staff in
New York, London and Rome to raise funds for Osama bin Laden, according to documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”
 “The documents, filed in Federal Court, also claim the Sudanese agreed to arrange for diplomatic credentials for bin Laden followers, allowing them unfettered travel around the world. The alleged agreement was struck between bin Laden’s top aide, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, and ‘Sudanese Islamic leaders,’ the Canadian Security Intelligence Service brief said.” [National Post, September 28, 2001]
“Sudanese Islamic leaders” is simply another way of saying the ruling National Islamic Front.
In the current debate, much has been made of the purportedly “hundreds” of documents that Khartoum has turned over to the US since September 11. But of course the regime retains thousands, if not tens of thousands of documents and files that the US will never see. For certainly anything that might prove self-indicting to members of the National Islamic Front will never see the light of day (the regime is in its 13th year of tyrannical rule, having deposed an elected government by military coup in June of 1989; they have proved savagely effective survivalists).
We will never see, for example, files revealing the complicity of senior National Islamic Front officials in the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Those complicit include the now very powerful First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Nafi Ali Nafi, then Chief of External Intelligence, and now senior advisor to General Beshir, and Qutbi al-Mahdi, perhaps the most virulently anti-American member of the National Islamic Front. Significantly, Qutbi al-Mahdi seems to be the designated point man for discussions with foreign journalists trying to fathom Khartoum’s dirty past.
It should also be noted that we will never see transparent and meaningful records about the full extent of the financial intertwinings of bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the National Islamic Front. For example, even though the US State Department continues to assert emphatically that Osama bin Laden provided Al Shamal Islamic Bank in Khartoum with $50 million in start-up capital, the word out of Khartoum is that there was never more than $100,000 in any bin Laden account (and indeed we may be sure that’s all that will ever show up in any revealed records). Moreover, despite the claims that bin Laden’s businesses were legitimate, even as they went bust in Khartoum (and may even have been fleeced by the regime), all signs are that Khartoum and these various “unsuccessful” businesses were actually the focal point for massive money laundering in service of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. And there is every reason to believe that this may still be the case.
Those attempting to re-write the history of Khartoum’s efforts at “cooperating” with the US share a remarkable penchant for ignoring this well-documented behavior on the part of the National Islamic Front. And while Khartoum has every motive in the world for re-writing its terrorist-supporting past (and obscuring its present complicity), there is no credible motive adduced for the alleged US refusal to accept proffered intelligence. On this key issue the revisionists either remain silent or suggest, untenably, that US policy was driven by some incomprehensible and self-defeating spite.
To be sure, US policy toward Sudan has taken the view that Khartoum should be held responsible for its terrorist-supporting past, and for its present genocidal assault on the peoples of southern Sudan. The US has been the most insistent critic of Khartoum’s policies of deliberately bombing civilians and humanitarian relief efforts. And the US has taken the lead in criticizing the regime for abetting a vicious trade in human slavery. But there is no logic that leads from such fully justified criticism to a mindless refusal to accept terrorist intelligence.
Khartoum, and other variously interested parties, may attempt to re-write history. But this history consists not of easy offers of terrorist intelligence made with no concrete follow-up; it consists not in the easy words of condolence that followed the events of September 11; it consists of the hard facts that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were given safe haven and support in Sudan, and that al-Qaeda operatives are still given safe harbor in Sudan—and for this reason the Khartoum regime remains on the State Department’s very short list of terrorist-sponsoring and -supporting nations. Real history consists of the authoritatively documented ways in which Khartoum has continued to aid—directly and indirectly—the efforts of bin Laden and al-Qaeda to target America and Americans around the world.
It bears restating that in recent years American officials have met repeatedly with officials of the Khartoum regime, in the region (including Khartoum) and in the US. These meetings produced nothing of operational value to law enforcement or intelligence officials. Thus the only real question about the re-writing of Khartoum’s history of supporting terrorism is: who benefits?
The answer for Khartoum is obvious; for other revisionists, some hard questions are due.