On Sunday, the leading experts on terrorism finance in the Middle East and North Africa will convene for a five-day conference. The Financial Action Task Force is essentially the United Nations for combating terror finance, and MENAFATF ranks among its most important regional bodies. So why is the group meeting, in all places, in Khartoum?
Sudan was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 by the Clinton administration for providing support to a wide range of terrorist organizations. Sudan remained on the list because it provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the early 1990s.
While Washington successfully pressured Khartoum to purge al Qaeda from the country after the September 11 attacks, Sudan remains on the terrorism list today because, among other things, it provides financial, military and material support to Palestinian terrorist groups such as the Iran-sponsored Popular Resistance Committees, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
Sudan maintains a close and continuing relationship to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is perhaps the most prolific of the countries on the state sponsor of terrorism list. Iran uses Sudan as a hub to provide weaponry to local conflicts throughout Africa. Port Sudan, on the Red Sea coast, is a key node in the smuggling routes that bring Iranian weapons to the Gaza Strip. Iranian warships have docked recently at Port Sudan for unspecified reasons. Sudan furnished Hamas with Iranian-made Fajr 5 rockets last year, an arsenal that precipitated Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November.
Somehow, MENAFATF doesn’t seem to see a problem with any of this. As the website states, “The MENAFATF is voluntary and co-operative in nature and is established by agreement between its members…and sets its own work, rules and procedures.”
That would appear to be an understatement.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.