Despite U.S. claims, Sudan’s recent capture of a suspected failed al-Qaida member is hardly an example of cooperation from a regime whose leaders have direct ties to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and run international jihad camps with al-Qaida instructors, according to some close observers of the African nation.

The arrested Sudanese citizen, Abu Huzifa, was described by unnamed U.S. administration sources as an important operative with links to al-Qaida’s leadership, the Washington Post reported.

The June arrest is seen by some U.S. officials as evidence that Sudan, accused by the House of Representatives of genocide, is cooperating with the United States in the war on terror in exchange for an easing of relations. The U.S. still employs trade sanctions, but a bill that would bar nations doing business with Sudan from U.S. capital markets is opposed by the White House and stalled in Congress.

Huzifa told investigators that he attempted to hit a U.S. airplane with a shoulder-fired SA-7 surface-to-air missile at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, the main air operations center for the U.S. war against Afghanistan. According to U.S. sources, Huzifa panicked, buried the SA-7 in the sand and fled.

“As an example of cooperation, this is just nonsense,” said Eric Reeves, a noted researcher of Sudan’s declared jihad on the country’s non-Muslim south. “What possible incentive does Khartoum have to keep him around? Someone who is pretty low-level, and someone who doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.”

Reeves, a professor at Smith College in Massachusetts who has testified before Congress on Sudan, said the U.S. has tended to look at the Khartoum regime “as more trustworthy, more responsive than I think any of the evidence looked at as a whole could justify.”

Leaders of the National Islamic Front government are the same people who hosted Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996 and have continued the relationship, Reeves points out.

First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, presidential political adviser Qutbi Ibrahim and presidential adviser on peace matters Ghazi Salahadin Atabani are among key NIF leaders tied to al-Qaida, according to published reports. Taha was implicated along with other NIF leaders in the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Last year, the Sudanese first embassy officer in New Delhi was implicated in a plot to bomb the U.S. embassy in that city while recruiting for al-Qaida. In October, Canada’s Security Intelligence Service found that Sudanese embassies around the world had been used to provide cover for al-Qaida fundraising and had provided diplomatic passports to members of the terrorist network.

“What this means is that whatever cooperation we are getting, none of it is cooperation that is going to be self-indicting,” Reeves said. “These people in the NIF are not going to turn over anything that implicates them. This is so obvious it almost defies belief that anyone doesn’t see this.”

Sudan has ‘long way to go’

In addition to questions about Khartoum’s cooperation on terror, the regime’s military continues to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure in direct violation of an interim peace agreement hammered out in March by the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, former Sen. John Danforth.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner believes, however, that the U.S. will get “leverage” with Khartoum by moving toward a normalization of relations, according to his testimony this month before the House International Relations Committee.

Calls for comment from Kansteiner’s office this week by WorldNetDaily were not returned.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent monitoring and advisory panel established by Congress, believes talk of easing relations with Sudan is premature.

“Any time any country does something to help us to fight terror that is a good thing in itself, but Sudan is still engaged in massive violations of religious freedom and has a long way to go before it deserves any real improvement in relations,” commission spokesman Lawrence Goodrich told WND.

Is the U.S. making serious moves toward normalization?

“I think it’s difficult to say; the evidence is mixed,” Goodrich said. “They haven’t done anything that has drawn protest from the commission as far as normalizing relations.”

The State Department says in its background notes on Sudan that since entering into a “bilateral dialogue on counter-terrorism in May 2000,” Sudan has “provided concrete cooperation against international terrorism following the September 11, 2001 terrorism strikes on New York and Washington.”

State acknowledges, however, that “though Sudan publicly supported the international coalition actions against the al-Qaida network and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the government criticized the U.S. strikes in that country and opposed a widening of the effort against international terrorism to other countries.”

Backed by Muslim clerics, the National Islamic Front regime in the Arab and Muslim north declared a jihad, or holy war, on the south in 1989. Since 1983, an estimated 2 million people have died from war and related famine. About 4.5 million have been displaced.

“The jihad is our way, and we will not abandon it and will keep its banner high,” Taha said in October to a brigade of mujahedin fighters heading for the war front, according to Sudan’s official SUNA news agency. “We will never sell out our faith and will never betray the oath to our martyrs.”

“There is some ultimate irony in the notion that Osama bin Laden is bailing out a regime that is as rank as the regime in Khartoum,” said Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow of the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute and a leading Sudan activist. “And I would say that there are some people in the State Department who will look for any reason to avoid any form, political or otherwise, of confrontation with Sudan.”

Reeves concedes that the U.S. will get some information of use through its current tack.

“The question is, how much information, and how much really good information, and even more importantly, how much of the information that they have are they giving?” he said.

“They are savage, they are ruthless, but they are not stupid,” Reeves continued. “And they know exactly what our methods are in gathering intelligence, they know exactly what the traps are that are going to be laid by CIA and others interrogating folks there, looking over records, they know what they have to give up and they know what they don’t have to give up.”

‘Get America off our backs’

While Sudan offered its support for the war on terror following the Sept. 11 attacks, a senior aide to Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir suggested the support wasn’t as heartfelt as some U.S. officials have hinted, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 9.

“In the government, the main feeling is that we want to get America off our backs,” said Gutbi Almahdi, political adviser to the president. “We are not so concerned about their friendship; we just don’t want them as enemies.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell said just prior to that interview that Sudan had provided important help to U.S. investigators looking into bin Laden’s financial links and followers, the Journal reported.

But Almahdi denied that Sudan provided much help. He also denied reports that Sudan had arrested 27 former followers of bin Laden and members of other extremist Islamic groups and made them available to U.S. authorities.

Jihad training camps

On Thursday, President Bush referred to Sudan’s purported cooperation in the war on terror in a speech to a group of diplomats and leaders.

“Sudan’s government must understand that ending its sponsorship of terror outside Sudan is no substitute for efforts to stop war inside Sudan,” Bush said.

“President Bush is sadly mistaken if he thinks Sudan has stopped supporting terrorism outside its borders,” said Dennis Bennett, who frequently travels to remote parts of Sudan as executive director of the Seattle-based relief agency Servant’s Heart. “That is evident by jihad training camps in Juba and Malakal and the reported inclusion of al-Qaida instructors at those camps.”

On April 6, Major General Ahmed Abbas, the commander of the pro-government, paramilitary Popular Defense Force (PDF), said on Sudan TV that the force would mobilize all Sudanese people to “protect” the Palestinian people and “liberate” Jerusalem.

“This is a call to all parties, institutions, trade unions, students and youths, men and women, to join the camps,” Abbas said. “The training camps are ready to receive volunteer fighters as from today.”

Abbas said the camps were established according to a directive by Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Al-Qaida instructors have been brought into camps in Wau, Juba, and Malakal, said Bennett, citing sources who cannot be named due to security reasons. One source was an aid worker in Malakal and another a resident of the village who fled.

A source from Malakal who was there in December said the village was locked down with a 23-hour curfew and taken over by men in “white robes and long beards” who had lighter skin than Sudanese Arabs.

According to Bennett’s sources, al-Qaida instructors were brought to the camps because the former leaders were loyal to ousted leader Hassan al-Turabi, which made their loyalty to the Bashir regime suspect.

This is common knowledge in southern Sudan and in the exile community in Nairobi, Kenya, Bennett said.

At an April 7 march organized by the Popular Organization to Support the Palestinian Intifada, a committee backed by the ruling party, state-controlled trade unions, and Islamic clerics, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators chanted: “Strike back, bin Laden,” calling on bin Laden to launch attacks on Israel and the U.S., the daily newspaper East African reported May 6.

Many Sudanese have noted that the fighters can be used on most any front in the terror war.

“These are terrorists who can be used internationally and also locally,” Samson Kwaje, spokesman for the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, told the East African. “We know that the war [in Sudan] is not yet over. They can use all tactics to recruit.”

In a statement it issued April 8 in response to the announcement of the training camps, the State Department said the U.S. was watching developments “very closely” and had expressed its concern to the Sudan government.

“If the Sudanese government is serious about improving its international standing and improving its relations with the US, it must cease the rhetoric of Jihad and violence,” said the statement.

Region ‘now ceases to exist’

Bennett witnessed the aftermath of recent attacks on civilians that violated the March Danforth agreement.

In early June he traveled with Christian Solidarity Worldwide-UK President Baroness Caroline Cox to gather evidence of NIF attacks on villages in Eastern Upper Nile on May 5.

That region of 15,000 to 20,000 people “now ceases to exist,” said Bennett. “The refugees have fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Bennett and his relief colleagues fear that an estimated 5,000 people by now have died from exposure or disease, have been eaten by lions, or are lost.

More than 30 nursing women are known to have lost their breast milk after walking 13 days to safety with little food and water. Bennett said his group has arranged to bring supplies to the mothers and their children.

He spoke with some of the villagers at a place of refuge where his group provided relief aid.

A woman named Nyanyaul Moon said uniformed soldiers with guns and heavy weapons came in trucks early on the morning of May 5 and began firing their guns and burning homes and crops. Twenty-seven people were killed on the first day of the attack, including women and children.

Moon does not know what happened to villagers who fled in other directions, including her nine children and younger brother. The men tried to defend the area with farm implements, mainly axes and machetes, but they were overwhelmed and outnumbered by the better-equipped NIF troops.

A woman named Yowa Wale said her five children and her sister’s five children were killed during the morning attack

“We ran – we do not know where,” she said. “We do not know where we can settle and live because we have lost our family and everything. … After we escaped, because we had nothing, we became ill on the way. There was no treatment available and we do not what to do. … ”

Kako Pellay, a woman with a malnourished baby, said she fled with the others when the NIF troops attacked. She does not know what happened to four of her children and her husband, who stayed back to defend the village.

Lim Achong said she managed to escape with only three of her 10 children. Her breast milk dried up after a 13-day walk to safety. She had nothing to give her dying baby, who was living on only water, because it was too small to take solid food. More than 30 other mothers with babies were in the same condition, she said.

Ginar Thekie had lost contact with three of his children and a fourth, age 8, was burned inside his hut.

“When the NIF troops came to the village they saw that we had blankets and supplies, so they tried to take everything, looting, burning, leaving us with nothing,” Thekie said. “This was only a village of civilians – there was no army here. We have been left with nothing.”

In addition, on June 8 the NIF bombed Ikotos in Eastern Equatoria where at least seven children were injured, at least two of whom have since died. Also, on June 4, 5 and 6 the government’s Antonov aircraft bombed areas in Western Upper Nile.

Jihad fueled by oil

Sudan activists and lawmakers say the attacks, which occurred near Sudan’s rich Adar oilfields, underscore the need for Congress to pass the House version of the Sudan Peace Act, which includes an amendment by Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., that would prohibit oil companies working in Sudan from trading on the U.S. stock markets.

The House passed the bill by a nearly unanimous vote but the version approved by the Senate does not include the capital sanctions and the legislation is in limbo, awaiting Senate appointment of members to a conference that would reconcile the two versions.

Bennett and Reeves have publicized from their research how Khartoum has used revenue from its oil exportation to fund its holy war on the south. Civilians, such as those recently visited by Bennett, have been literally wiped off the land to facilitate oil exploration and development, their research has shown.

At a March 1999 rally in Port Sudan on the Red Sea, First Vice President Taha tied oil to jihad, calling upon “all young men and women” in the state to join the mujahidin of the recently formed Al Fatih al-Mubin [Manifest Victory] Brigade, which he said would achieve “victory for the Sudanese people on all fronts.”

“With the start of the oil exportation, we will score a decisive victory by liberating all positions and spreading peace and stability in all parts of Sudan,” Taha said, referring to the projected June 30, 1999 start of oil extraction in Sudan’s largest fields.

(When Islamic leaders use the term “peace” it implies a “Muslim extension of the Dar al-Islam – or ‘House of Islam’ – to the entire world,” according to Bassam Tibi, an Islamic scholar at Goettingen University in Germany and Harvard University, in an interview published this week by United Press International.)

Paul Marshall, a leading scholar on global religious persecution, believes the capital market sanctions are the only way to get meaningful action from Sudan.

“The United States is now more diplomatically engaged in what is going on in Sudan, but I do not believe there will be significant movement from the Sudanese government unless there are sticks, or at least sticks as well as carrots,” Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, told WND.

At the recent House International Relations Committee hearing, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., asked Kansteiner, ”Isn’t there some point where we say this has gone far enough [to justify capital market sanctions]?”

“‘I’m sure there is,” Kansteiner replied, “but this isn’t it.”

Normalizing relations only encourages Sudan’s criminal behavior, insists Faith McDonnell, international religious liberty associate at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

“That’s the way to let them know that they are doing fine, thank you, and keep on doing what you’re doing,” she told WND.

They are still on our State Department’s list as sponsors of terrorism,” notes Jeff Emerson, press secretary to Rep. Bachus. “Unless there is a regime change there, why would we want to normalize relations with a country like that?”

Emerson said Bachus believes the U.S. has a moral obligation to end Sudan’s suffering and has asserted that his amendment is the “only real source of pressure we can put on Sudan to stop the slaughter and abandon completely its support of terrorism.”

Competing views

Horowitz says there is a stronger, competing view in the U.S. administration that opposes the talk of “Sudan as our friend and all this notion of a bargain, that if they promise not to export their terrorists, not to be complicit in the export of terrorism, they’re free to commit as much as they want inside their own borders.”

That competing view is that “any country committing terrorism against its own people on an outright Jihad basis, is ultimately a terrorist threat to the United States.”

But he says the problem is two-fold in terms of moving forward. Because Sudan does not have nuclear weapons it is considered a second-tier issue regarding the administration’s time and focus in comparison to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

An even greater barrier is opposition by Wall Street and the Treasury Department to the Bachus amendment. Capital market sanctions are “anathema” to them, Horowitz said.

“The idea of de-listing companies from the stock market because they are financing human rights violators is for them a slippery slope,” he said. “As long as Wall Street and the Treasury can avoid capital market sanctions by bottling up the Sudan Peace Act – ceding the State Department the power to do whatever it wants on Sudan – they are going to keep doing that.”

Horowitz insists that once the Senate appoints conferees to work on the Sudan Peace Act, “then those voices within the State Department just don’t have enough muscle or ultimate support from the president to carry the day.”

Horowitz contends the Sudan Peace Act is being held up by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has not appointed the conferees despite strong requests by the Congressional Black Caucus, religious leaders and the human rights community.

Daschle claims that Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas is holding up the process by threatening to filibuster.

“Since when,” asked Horowitz, “was Tom Daschle in the business of protecting Phil Gramm and the administration from the wrath of the black community, from the evangelical community and the human rights community?”

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