State Sponsors: Sudan

State Sponsors: Sudan

Despite its recent willingness to combat terrorism, Sudan is still considered a state sponsor because of its ties to Hamas, the Iraqi insurgency, and violence in Darfur.

Last updated April 2, 2008 8:00 am (EST)

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In August 1993, the U.S. State Department labeled Sudan a “state sponsor of terrorism,” alleging it harbored local and international terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. But in recent years, Sudan has signaled a willingness to combat terrorism. In light of this progress, the UN Security Council lifted terrorism-related sanctions against Khartoum in 2001, and in 2007, the U.S. State Department said Sudan had become “a strong partner in the War on Terror.” But despite Khartoum’s new counterterrorism efforts, Sudan remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors because it continues to support Hamas, which the Bush administration considers a terrorist organization. Its relationship with the United States and other Western states also remains troubled because of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, as well as U.S. allegations that Sudan is assisting the Iraqi insurgency by permitting militants from Sudan and other nations to transit to Iraq.

Does Sudan sponsor terrorism?

Despite increasing cooperation by Sudan, the U.S. State Department continues to formally designate it as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The State Department first labeled Sudan a sponsor of terrorism on August 12, 1993. Since then, the United States has accused Sudan of harboring members of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Abu Nidal Organization, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, each classified as a terrorist organization. In 1996, the UN Security Council placed sanctions (PDF) on Sudan for harboring suspects wanted for the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. The same year, U.S. investigators linked two Sudanese diplomats to a terrorist cell planning to bomb the UN building in New York. In 1998, al-Qaeda operatives based in Sudan were allegedly involved in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Throughout the 1990s, Sudan was also accused of supporting local insurgencies in Uganda, Tunisia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

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But in 1999, Sudan signaled a new willingness to cooperate with counterterrorism measures when it signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism. The following year, it ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing (PDF), which prompted the UN Security Council to lift its terrorism-related sanctions against Khartoum in 2001.

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

The United States acknowledged Sudan’s new initiatives and, in May 2004, removed it from a list of countries that were “not fully cooperating” in U.S. antiterrorism efforts. By 2007, the U.S. State Department reported that, with the exception of Hamas, the Sudanese government did not openly support the presence of terrorists in Sudan.

But despite Sudan’s recent willingness to cooperate, the U.S. State Department continues to designate Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism, meaning a range of economic and military sanctions remain in effect. The chief reason for this designation is because Sudan supports Hamas, which the Bush administration considers a terrorist organization. Sudan has welcomed members of Hamas as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian Authority, though it limits their activities to fundraising. Since 2005, the U.S. State Department has also expressed concern with Sudan’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, alleging Sudanese and foreign nationals who transited Sudan have been captured as foreign fighters in Iraq. The Sudanese government says it has worked to disrupt foreign fighters from using Sudan as a logistics base and transit point en route to Iraq.

Is Sudan connected with al-Qaeda?

Sudan does have a historic link with al-Qaeda. When al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia in 1991, he moved to Khartoum, where he was protected by a Sudanese regime that had recently imposed Islamic law in Sudan’s northern states. While bin Laden was in Sudan, al-Qaeda was involved in a series of terrorist attacks. In 1992, the group bombed two hotels in Yemen, targeting U.S. troops en route to Somalia. In 1995, al-Qaeda took part in an assassination attempt against Egyptian President Mubarak. Additional attacks—such as the 1995 attack in Riyadh and 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers—may be linked to bin Laden as well, though the evidence is scarce.

Crisis Guide: Darfur Under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia, Sudan ejected bin Laden in 1996, and he reestablished his base in Afghanistan. Four years later, the Sudanese government began uprooting al-Qaeda bases in Sudan. In 2005, the U.S. State Department reported that al-Qaeda elements had not been present in Sudan with the knowledge and consent of the Sudanese government since 2000.

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But in 2006, bin Laden’s ties with Sudan resurfaced. After the United Nations proposed to send a peacekeeping force to the war-torn region of Darfur, bin Laden released a tape that told his followers to go to Sudan to fight UN troops. Similar messages were repeated the following year by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and again by bin Laden himself.

The Sudanese government has opposed the presence of non-African UN troops in Darfur, but Sudanese officials have distanced themselves from bin Laden’s message. A spokesman for Sudan’s foreign ministry responded to bin Laden’s message by saying Sudan was “not concerned with any mujahadeen or any crusade or any war with the international community.” As of April 2007, there were still no indications that al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists were active in Sudan.

Does Sudan have weapons of mass destruction?

A 2008 report(PDF) by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says Sudan does not have nuclear or biological weapons, nor does it have ballistic or cruise missiles. It has ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and it has acceded to the Chemical Weapons and Biological Weapons Conventions. But the report also says that despite acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1999, Sudan has been developing the capability to produce chemical weapons for many years. In order to do so, Sudan has allegedly obtained help from foreign entities, principally in Iraq.

What counterterrorism measures has the United States taken against Sudan?

The designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism imposes four main sets of U.S. government sanctions:

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

  • A ban on arms-related exports and sales.
  • Controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring thirty-day congressional notification for foods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-listed country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism.
  • Prohibitions on economic assistance.
  • Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions, including: requiring the U.S. government to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions; lifting diplomatic immunity to allow families of terrorist victims to file civil lawsuits in U.S. courts; denying companies and individuals tax credits for income earned in terrorist-listed countries; denying duty-free treatment of goods exported to the United States;granting the U.S. government the authority to prohibit any U.S. citizen from engaging in a financial transaction with a terrorist-list government without a Treasury Department license; and prohibiting Defense Department contracts above $100,000 with companies controlled by terrorist-list states.

How does Sudan coordinate with the international community on terrorism issues?

In 2000, the United States and Sudan entered into a counterterrorism dialogue, prompting Sudan to close down the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, which had been functioning as a forum for terrorists. In May 2003, Sudanese authorities raided a suspect terrorist training camp in Kurdufan State, arresting more than a dozen extremists and seizing illegal weapons. Four months later, a Sudanese court convicted a Syrian engineer and two Sudanese nationals of training a group of Saudis, Palestinians, and others to carry out attacks in Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, and Israel. In August 2004, Sudanese authorities arrested, prosecuted, and convicted Eritreans who had hijacked a Libyan aircraft and forced it to land in Khartoum. Of the twelve major international conventions and protocols against terrorism, Sudan has ratified eleven.

Sudan has also worked with neighboring states to combat terrorism in the region. In 2003, Sudan ratified the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism (PDF), and by the end of the year, the Sudanese government had signed additional counterterrorism agreements with Algeria, Yemen, and Ethiopia. In 2004, Sudan cohosted a regional workshop with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on terrorism and transnational crime. Sudan has also worked to mediate peace between Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that has terrorized civilians in an effort to overthrow the Ugandan government.

These efforts have prompted the United States to commend Sudan for its counterterrorism practices. In 2007, the U.S. State Department called Sudan a “strong partner in the War on Terror,” and praised Sudan for aggressively pursuing terrorist operations that threatened U.S. interests.

But U.S.-Sudan coordination has been complicated by the ongoing violence in Darfur. In 2006, the U.S. State Department reported that the flow of weapons and personnel between Sudan and most of its neighbors had weakened efforts to stabilize the region. Amidst the violence, many of Sudan’s borders remain porous, which allows subversive elements to enter Sudan without alerting government security units. Sudan’s continued support for Hamas and its role in contributing fighters for the Iraqi insurgency also hinder coordination efforts with the United States.


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