May 31, 2006 | World Defense Review

REM: Islamist Terrorist Regime in Khartoum

In those now seemingly far-off days before the ubiquitous worldwide web, for the technologically savvy REM did not mean “rich-media email marketing.” Rather REM was short for “remarks” and was used in BASIC computer programming to enhance documentation, helping eventual readers of a given program to understand its contents, purpose, logic and other such aspects.

I bring this up because I recently finished reading the May 15 issue of The New Republic, which was largely dedicated to coverage and analysis of the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan. However, what was amazing about the magazine's coverage was not its extensive nature, but what was not mentioned.

In the astonishingly generous seventeen pages (not counting the full front cover and ads taken out advocacy groups) that the publication devoted to the humanitarian crisis – including a lengthy editorial, contributions from Andrew B. Loewenstein, Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, Samantha Power, Eric Reeves, Marisa Katz, and Michal Ronnen Safdie, and a review essay by Richard Just – the regime in Khartoum that is the cause of the ongoing slaughter is not once called what it is Islamist and terrorist. The only appearance of the first adjective is its use to describe the past of some of the leaders of one of the opposition groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement, while a cognate of the second adjective appears makes a cameo appearance in Katz's passing allusion to the fact that the Sudanese government having had “a history of support for terrorism.”

To be fair to the editors and writers at The New Republic who have, after all, done more than a yeoman's task over the last two years to keep the Darfuri tragedy from being forgotten, they are certainly not the only offenders on this score. One can read through literally dozens of accounts of the genocide without ever stumbling across as much as a hint of the type of regime that is behind the slaughter. Regardless of whether this omission is unintentional or willfully “politically correct,” it is certainly not helpful to diagnosing the current crisis, much less prescribing its resolution. What is needed is the strategic equivalent of a computer programmer's REM statement, clearly laying out the nature and background of the Sudanese regime as well as its ongoing ties to transnational terrorism in order to better appreciate the dynamics that any international attempt to end the violence and brutality in Darfur must confront.

Although some reports have acknowledged the 1989 coup that brought the Sudanese Islamists of the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power, the country's ties to international terrorism date back to at least 1969 when then military regime of Jaafar Nimeiri granted permission to Yasir Arafat's Fatah group to open an office in Khartoum. In 1973, the “representatives” at this ill-concealed front for Black September terrorists, with the knowledge and approval of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), seized the guests at a farewell reception for the departing United States deputy chief of mission, George Curtis Moore, whom they beat and killed. They also killed the newly arrived U.S. ambassador, Cleo Noel Jr., and the Belgian chargé d'affaires, Guy Eid. Nimeiri released the eventually captured terrorists into the “custody” of the PLO.

After the NIF took power, its “spiritual guide,” Hassan al-Turabi sent three envoys to talk to Osama bin Laden, then living in Pakistan. As a result of these negotiations, in 1991, the head of al-Qaeda, his four wives, their children, and dozens of his “Afghan Arab” followers arrived in Khartoum where, according to Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda member-turned-FBI-informant, they ran a series of businesses that served as the financial base for bin Laden's international terrorist network. The Sudanese Islamists did not limit their favor to al-Qaeda. Rather, they operated on the basis of a de facto open door policy for state and stateless radicals from throughout the Greater Middle East and Africa. Those welcomed included the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization (a.k.a. Fatah-Revolutionary Council), Islamic Jihad, and Hamas; Hezbollah from Lebanon; Revolutionary Guards from Iran; Gama'a Islamiya and Islamic Jihad from Egypt; the Islamic Oromo Liberation Front from Ethiopia; and Eritrean Islamic Jihad. Even the non-Muslim Lord's Resistance Army from Uganda received sanctuary, as did Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal) before the French caught up to him. By the time the U.S. State Department put Sudan on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, the department's former acting coordinator for counterterrorism, was calling the country a “Holiday Inn for terrorists.”

In response to the first Gulf War, al-Turabi established the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC) in opposition to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which he dismissed as ineffective. The PAIC was envisioned as a joint forum to bring Arab nationalist and Islamic groups together to foment a global Islamist movement. The 1991, 1993, and 1995 PAIC conferences attracted hundreds of militants from around the world and were described by the then U.S. ambassador in Khartoum, Timothy Carney, as “terrorist planning sessions.” Some of the attendees did more than just plan: Gama'a Islamiya radicals based in Sudan attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as he attended the 1995 summit of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When the plot was foiled, the perpetrators fled back to sanctuary in Sudan.

Although bin Laden moved to Afghanistan in 1996 and al-Turabi has been pushed aside in 1999 after falling out with President Umar al-Bashir, the Sudanese regime remains wedded to international terrorist organizations. In 1998, the government gave the Palestinian group Hamas offices in Khartoum as well as lands and farms as “endowments for backing the Palestinian struggle.” In 2004, a “representative” of the terrorist group, one Omar Abu Obeid, was formally accredited in Khartoum, presenting his “credentials” to President al-Bashir in the manner of an ambassador from a sovereign state. (One cannot help but wonder if his “diplomatic” exchanges with the Hamas envoy have anything to do with former Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail's bizarre claims that Israel is somehow behind the Darfur crisis.)

It should not be assumed that the ties that successive Khartoum regimes have assiduously cultivated with terrorists are directed outward. The same networks and infrastructure could be turned inward toward innocent Sudanese civilians as well as any foreign interlopers that the Khartoum regime does not want around. Bin Laden himself, in a speech which was aired in part by al-Jazeera on April 23, 2006, urged “mujahideen” to make preparations for jihad in Sudan, particularly in Darfur. Since then, a document entitled “The Road to Sudan (Darfur)” has been spread through the internet via password-protected jihadi websites. The author of the text gloats: “We can say that the foreign interference in Sudan, whatever it is, will create an appealing chance to all who belong to al-Qaeda's ideology to fight those whom they see as unbelievers, Crusaders and Zionists. The areas surrounding Sudan, Arab and African, owing to its geographical position, will make it easy for the flow of Arab and African fighters to go to Sudan.”

The situation in Darfur, as I have repeatedly mentioned in this column, is and, alas, will remain dire, absent any effective action to enforce the terms of the recently-signed Darfur Peace Agreement, including disarming the militias – especially the Sudanese-government backed Janjaweed who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the current security violations – and returning refugees to secure homes. And if the Khartoum regime continues to throw up obstacles to international efforts to establish a robust peacekeeping and security force, as contemplated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1679, then it should face an appropriately vigorous response. The fundamental humanitarian impulse encapsulated in international society's “responsibility to protect” demands as much – especially when one considers that this is not a first genocidal offense by Khartoum regime, that distinction belonging to the systematic scorched-earth ethnic cleansing of the self-proclaimed jihad that the NIF launched against the various non-Muslim African peoples of the Nuba Mountains beginning in 1992.

However, in the case of Sudan, recalling the true nature of the regime – Islamist and terrorist – leads to two significant conclusions. First, even aside from the humanitarian considerations of how it treats its own citizens, the regime in Khartoum is, by consorting with numerous terrorist groups, demonstrably a threat to regional and world order, even by the coldest Realpolitik considerations. Second, while the nature and scope of the Sudanese government's links with Islamists terrorists raises significantly the potential risks in any outside intervention, the overall cost of failure to come to terms with what is at stake in this geopolitically sensitive area are even greater. In this light, the full reality of what is being confronted not only warrants remark; it is also the first step in dealing with a humanitarian crisis that is also a strategic imperative in the global fight against terrorism.

— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an academic fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.


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