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Sudan, Libya, and Support for Radical Islamic Militants: A Vignette


By Eric Reeves | June 21, 2017

In October 2014, I analysed some of the implications of minutes reflecting the deliberations of the most senior military and intelligence officials of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime during a “Joint Military and Security Committee Meeting held at the National Defense College on 31/08/2014 (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1wk ). These minutes have been repeatedly and authoritatively confirmed by a wide range of sources (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5 ). They were leaked to me by a Sudanese source of unimpeachable character and honesty, although his identity—and those who assisted him in this extremely dangerous undertaking—must remain confidential for obvious reasons.
The minutes are highly revealing on various counts, including what at the time was the vehement insistence that Iran was Khartoum’s singularly vital ally in the region. This insistence is a virtual refrain, appearing in the comments of nearly every senior official present, including First Vice President Bakri Hassan, who presided at the meeting. The ongoing implosion of the Sudanese economy has forced that Khartoum regime to abandon Iran and side with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; but ideologically—as the minutes clearly reveal—the regime is very much on the side of Tehran. Only the possibility of immense financial assistance from the Saudis and the Gulf States compelled the abandonment of Iran. Notably, the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, mentioned in the minutes as recipients of aid from Khartoum, are now being targeted by Sudan Armed Forces in concert with the Saudi-led campaign.

This is the context in which to see the import of a dispatch in today’s Sudan Tribune, concerning the repatriation of Sudanese nationals who had gone to Libya to fight with ISIS (Sudan Tribune, June 21, 2017). This is obviously a delicate issue for Khartoum’s security services, something reflected clearly in the Sudan Tribune analysis.

But let’s return to the views of the Khartoum regime in late 2014, and the question of how that regime saw the opportunities presented by Libya in chaos. I offered contemporaneous commentary on particular passages from the minutes, reproduced here without change or editing. The leaked minutes obviously put Khartoum in an extremely awkward position in communicating with recognised Libyan authorities, and this is where I began. Although reflecting only one issue in a very wide-ranging set of topics covered in the meeting of senior officials, let us remember that there is not a shred of evidence that ideologically the NIF/NCP has changed its views about radical Islamic militants.

“Fallout from Leaked Minutes of August 31 2014 Military/Security Meeting: Khartoum’s Obligatory Lies" | 29 October 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1wo

(Speakers in each case are identified; emphases in bold have been added; my commentary appears in italics followed by my initials, ER)

Travelling to Khartoum this month [October 2014], the Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani undoubtedly had the August 31 minutes much on his mind when meeting with regime officials. Libya comes up frequently in these minutes, and at several points in ways that must be deeply disconcerting to the struggling Libyan government, and reveal yet again the depth of the mendacity that characterises the regime. On 7 October 2014 Sudan Tribune reported:
The head of the Libyan government, Abdullah al-Thani, will visit Khartoum in response to an invitation extended by Sudanese president Omer al-Bashir, a government source disclosed this week. “The Libyan government welcomes the invitation received from President al-Bashir. (The government) considers it as a step in the right direction and a confirmation of Sudan’s support to the democratic process in Libya,” a Libyan official told the Libyan Bawabat Alwasat on Monday.

The official further said that al-Thani accepted the invitation after Khartoum’s full recognition of the House of Representatives as the sole legitimate body representing the will of the Libyan people. Observers in Khartoum says the public acceptance of the invitation is seen by the Sudanese government as the first positive signal from Tripoli after repeated Libyan accusations of supporting extremists groups in the north African nation. On 2 October, Sudan’s foreign ministry for the second time within a less than three weeks summoned the Libyan ambassador in Khartoum to protest against these accusations.

Earlier, on 2 October 2014, the Sudan Tribune reported more particularly on the accusations by Libya against Khartoum:

The Sudanese foreign ministry announced on Thursday that it summoned the Libyan charge d’affaires to protest recent remarks by an army general in which he accused Khartoum of backing extremist groups in the North African nation. This follows a similar move on September 15th by the ministry in which the acting Libyan CDA was summoned to complain over same allegations made by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. The latter warned that Tripoli may sever ties with Khartoum as well as Doha if they continue aiding these militias. Sudan’s foreign ministry reiterated its denial of meddling in Libyan internal affairs or taking sides in the ongoing conflict.

"The misleading information transmitted by media that is attributed to Libyan [army] officer claimed Sudan’s interference in the internal affairs of his country,” the ministry said in a statement adding that this information is “unfounded." It denounced attempts seeking to involve Sudan in the Libyan conflict and noted the Sudanese government’s recognition of the legitimacy of the elected Council of Representatives, which meets in Tobruk.

So Khartoum would appear to be ready to bluster with denial of what is revealed clearly in the minutes of the 31 August 2014 meeting of senior regime officials:

"We have intensified the work to train and graduate Libyan [Islamist rebels] Military Intelligence cadres. Currently, they are doing an advanced course on Internet operation, deciphering of codes, interception of telephones and wireless radios. Their leadership requested us to train and establish for them a strong Military Intelligence system." (General Siddiq Amer, Director General of Intelligence and Security)

"Our intelligence and security files can play a role in the improvement of our economy [how is never explained—ER] and diplomatic relations. They can also be used to abort the conspiracies of the rebellion against us. The victory of our people [Islamists of the Libya Dawn rebel movement—ER] in Libya is an indication that we will also achieve victory over the New Sudan Project ["New Sudan Project" is Khartoum’s catch-all phrase for any movement toward democratization, press freedoms, equality in citizenship, and secular governance—ER]

And there seems no way to deal with this assertion by General Imad al-Din Adawy, Chief of Joint Operations:

"The Libyan border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our allies [Libya Dawn forces] in Tripoli. We managed to deliver to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room with them under one of the colonels in order to coordinate and administer the military operations. Turkey and Qatar provided us with information in favour of the revolutionaries on top of the information collected by our own agents so they can control the whole country."

Radio Dabanga reported very recently (28 October 2014) on further details of the Libyan accusations:

[In] late September, Libyan army officers intercepted a Sudanese convoy with Yemeni fighters at El Kufra on the Sudanese-Libyan border. On 6 September, a Sudanese military aircraft was grounded at El Kufra airport, “laden with weapons bound for [Libya Dawn] rebels.” The week before, the Sudanese military attaché in Tripoli was declared persona non grata, after being accused of supporting Libyan militia groups.

Our best news account of what is really at stake here, and the character of Libya Dawn militias is The Guardian [Tunis], 7 September 2014:

Libya has expelled the Sudanese military attaché after accusing Khartoum of flying weapons to Islamist rebels in Tripoli, raising fears of a widening regional conflict. The government, which has fled Tripoli for eastern Libya, accused Khartoum of sending a transport plane loaded with munitions for the Islamist-led Libya Dawn militias who control the capital.

"Sudan is interposing itself by providing arms to a terrorist group that is attacking the headquarters of the state," said a government statement. "This also represents a clear violation of international resolutions, and the latest UN Security Council resolution." The government said the plane entered Libyan airspace without permission on Thursday, making a refuelling stop in the southern oasis town of Kufra, where the weapons were discovered. It said the weapons were destined for the Tripoli airport of Mitiga, controlled by Libya Dawn. Sudan, which is sympathetic to Libya’s Islamists, confirmed sending the plane but insisted the weapons were intended for legitimate border forces patrolling the southern desert.

This is who the NIF/NCP was and remains. And if we want to know the face of radical Islam in Libya in 2014, I can think of no more telling image than one showing some twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians being led to their beheadings on a beach in November 2015: http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Cg .

Sudan and Terrorism

In Senate testimony of July 2009, the Obama administration’s first special envoy for Sudan, Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration, declared that:

"There’s no evidence in our intelligence community that supports [Sudan] being on the state sponsors of terrorism. It’s a political decision," Gration said.

At the same hearing, former Senator Russ Feingold, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa rightly pushed back:

Gration said Sudan, once home to Osama Bin Laden, has been helpful in counterterrorism efforts. However, Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said Sudan’s cooperation is always overstated in this area.
More fully, Feingold had issued a strong statement in May of that year (2009):

"I take serious issue with the way the report [on international terrorism by the U.S. State Department] overstates the level of cooperation in our counterterrorism relationship with Sudan, a nation which the U.S. classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. A more accurate assessment is important not only for effectively countering terrorism in the region but as part of a review of our overall policy toward Sudan, including U.S. pressure to address the ongoing crisis in Darfur and maintain the fragile peace between the North and the South." (Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, May 1, 2009)
Gration was spectacularly ignorant about Sudan and was simply wrong in his claim about what U.S. intelligence knew at the time—and on multiple counts, including Khartoum’s assistance in Iran’s movements of weapons to Gaza—well reported at the time in The Guardian (December 6, 2010)—and the bald fact that Hamas was allowed to operate freely in Khartoum, despite being on the list of terrorist organizations compelled by a wide range of countries besides the U.S. There were many other examples as well that Gration simply chose to ignore. Rightly, Sudan remains one of only three countries on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” including Syria and “best-strategic-ally-for-life” Iran.

All this becomes particularly important as a Trump administration, easily as ignorant as former special envoy Gration and even more cynical, approaches a decision about whether or not to lift U.S. economic sanctions on Khartoum permanently. The terribly misguided and mendaciously justified decision by the Obama administration in January 2017 provisionally to lift sanctions can still be reversed. But depending on the administration of a xenophobic, pathologically narcissistic, and profoundly ignorant President Trump seems to make reversal a distinct long shot. And although the Trump administration that will make the decision, it was President Obama that set the clock ticking. In rewarding Khartoum’s génocidaires, he is a disgrace to the campaign statement he made in running for the presidency in 2008—“that genocide in Darfur was a "stain on our souls" and that he would not "avert his eyes from human slaughter."

Unctuous words that meant nothing for the eight years of his administration, which concluded with Obama’s decision to begin the process of lifting longstanding U.S. economic sanctions on a regime guilty of serial genocides.

Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

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