The Blog

The Pope of Terrorism, Part II

Hassan al-Turabi, Sudan, and the bin Laden-Iraq connection.

12:00 AM, Jul 26, 2005 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Even after bin Laden departed Sudan in 1996, however, both al Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence remained active in the country. According to IIS documents first discovered by Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star and Inigo Gilmore of the Sunday Telegraph after the beginning of the Iraq war, the Iraqi intelligence station in Khartoum was still actively facilitating the relationship with al Qaeda in 1998. A "trusted confidant" of bin Laden's traveled, with the help of Iraqi intelligence, from Sudan to Baghdad in March 1998. He stayed in Baghdad for more that two weeks.

This meeting in Baghdad was one of many throughout the 1990s and, in particular, in 1998. Many seek to downplay the meaning of all these meetings, but it was also in 1998 that the relationship underlying these contacts would become transparent.

In August 1998 it became clear that Turabi's vision for an Iraqi alliance with al Qaeda had come to fruition. On August 7, 1998 al Qaeda launched nearly simultaneous attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Nearly two weeks later, on August 20, the Clinton administration struck back by simultaneously destroying al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.

The strike on Afghanistan was seen as relatively ineffectual, but generated little controversy. The second target in Sudan, which was part of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, was the source of almost instantaneous controversy. The Clinton administration argued that the plant was a front for joint Iraqi-Sudanese-al Qaeda chemical weapons development efforts. This claim was hotly contested in the press.

But, the supporting evidence offered by the Clinton administration and reported in the press pointed to an Iraqi presence much greater than just one facility. Al-Shifa, it turned out, was only one of several suspected facilities where Iraqi agents supported Sudan's and al Qaeda's efforts. Turabi's support for Iraq during the Gulf War was reciprocated by Saddam's support for the Sudanese chemical weapons infrastructure.

For example, according to an account in the Associated Press, State Department deputy spokesman James Foley explained that "hundreds of Iraqi experts have worked in Sudan since the war, including in the manufacture of munitions." He further explained that Iraq and Sudan worked together on joint chemical weapons projects. Numerous press reports, statements by various Clinton administration officials, and other pieces of evidence (including the CIA's own analysis) all pointed to broad Iraqi support for Sudan's and, thus, al Qaeda's chemical weapons development efforts.

Perhaps more telling than the Clinton administration's choice of retaliatory targets, however, was the reaction by the Sudanese and Iraqi governments. While the Clinton administration was defending the strike on al-Shifa to the press, the Sudanese leadership turned to Iraq for support and began issuing not-so-thinly veiled threats of terrorist retaliation by bin Laden.

The Sudanese foreign minister was in Baghdad and met with Saddam just days after the strike on al-Shifa. Saddam did not disappoint his guest; Baghdad firmly endorsed Sudan and pledged its support. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz "stressed the need for Arab solidarity in standing up to America." Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf (aka "Baghdad Bob"), the Iraqi foreign minister, reportedly made Iraq's "resources available to support Sudan against American 'aggression.'"

On August 27, Babel, Uday Hussein's newspaper, published a startling editorial proclaiming bin Laden "an Arab and Islamic hero." Just a few days later Saddam dispatched his vice president, Taha Yasin Ramadan, to Sudan to survey the site of the strike. Sudanese television covered his visit on August 31 and Ramadan used the occasion to openly chastise the Clinton administration's "Zionist aims."

What was not shown on Sudanese television were Turabi's efforts to negotiate safehaven for bin Laden in Iraq. According to a press account in Milan's Corriere Della Sera in September and several others that followed, the Sudanese government approached Ramadan and his delegation about sheltering bin Laden in Iraq. According to some of these accounts the Iraqis agreed.