There were still a few twists of this bitter farce to come. A few days after the bombings, as NBC first reported in 1999, Sudan arrested two suspects who had arrived in Khartoum from Kenya. They were carrying Pakistani passports and using the names Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. They had rented an apartment overlooking the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum and appeared to be reconnoitring it for a possible future attack. The material gathered between 1991 and 1996 led the Mukhabarat to believe that the two men were members of al-Qaeda; what is certain is that they had stayed in the Hilltop Hotel in Nairobi-the base used by other members of the embassy-bombings conspiracy. The Mukha-barat cabled the F.B.I. in Washington, offering to extradite them. Without consulting the F.B.I., the U.S. Departments of State and Defense replied by bombing the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum, claiming-on the basis of what is now acknowledged to have been yet more faulty intelligence-that it was owned by bin Laden and was making VX nerve gas. In fact, al-Shifa had no connection to bin Laden. It made vaccines and medicine, and had contracts with the U.N.

U.S.-Sudan relations then reached their nadir. The Mukhabarat sent the suspects "Abbass" and "Suliman" to Pakistan, where they were promptly lost to view. Ambassador Mohamed f was withdrawn from Washington. Just before his departure, Janet McElligott arranged a meeting at her home between him and a senior F.B.I. official. McElligott says the F.B.I. man expressed his deep regret for what had happened and said he hoped that in time the politicians would allow his agency to examine the Sudanese intelligence.
(Right) Sudanese intelligence head Gutbi al-Mahdi's letter to David Williams of F.B.I; the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
(Right below) William's reply to al-Mahdi's letter.
A few months later, in yet another attempt to induce a thaw, the Mukhabarat chief, Gutbi al-Mahdi, invited McElligott to Khartoum. He gave her a hand-written note, which she delivered to the office of the then F.B.I. director, Louis Freeh. It related the circumstances of the two suspects' arrest and the offer to send them to America, adding, "The bombardment of the pharmaceutical factory blew up the link we established with the F.B.I. and the co-operation that developed on the situation." However, their interrogation had revealed "some information," and, as McEIligott reminded the F.B.I., the Mukha-barat al-Qaeda files still awaited inspection. Through McElligott, the F.B.I. tentatively suggested a meeting with al-Mahdi in Europe. Before it could take place, the State Department vetoed it.
In Sudan, the ongoing U.S. attitude produced bewilderment. "We felt it was an irrational attitude," al-Mahdi says. "We were extending our hand to some- one who badly needed help, for our mutual benefit, and it was being

rejected." He goes on to echo the claim made by Ambassador Carney: "If [the F.B.I.] had taken up my offer in February 1998, they could have prevented the bombings.

They had very little information at that time: they were shooting in the dark. Had they engaged with the Sudan, they could have stopped a lot of things." It is hard to conceive of a more serious allegation, and it appears to stand up to scrutiny. As late as the end of 1995, Osama bin Laden was not judged important enough by the C.I.A. or F.B.I. for anyone to mention him to Ambassador Petterson when he went to talk to the Sudanese about terrorism. It seems reasonable to infer that the U.S. knew little about his organization or lethal capability. Yet the Mukhabarat had all the main players taped. Besides bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, there was Muhammad Atef, said to be al-Qaeda's military commander, the man who seems to have orchestrated the 1998 bombings and, reportedly, the September II attacks. (In November, Atef was reportedly killed in Afghanistan.) Every time Abu Ibrahim, bin Laden's former C.E.O" visited his Khartoum home, Atef was there: Ibrahim also recalls seeing Atef "with Osama in Afghanistan, by his side when he delivers his messages on TV.

How useful might the files on them have been? Sitting by the pool at the Khartoum Hilton, I asked a senior officer from Egyptian intelligence, who has worked closely with the Mukhabarat, and who asked not to be named. He said, "They knew all about them: who they were, where they came from. They had copies of their passports, their tickets; they knew where they went. Of course that information could have helped enormously. It is the history of those people." There are also some inescapable specifics. During the New York trial of the four men recently convicted of the 1998 bombings, the court heard a lot about a man called Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who also appears on the most-wanted list. He set the embassy plot rolling by making two journeys to Nairobi in the spring of 1998-from Khartoum, where, the Mukhabarat believed, he was working for al-Qaeda. If F.B.I. officials had accepted the offer made by al-Mahdi that February, they would have known this too, and at some point during his subsequent murderous odyssey, when he rented a villa in Kenya, gathered the bombers at the Hilltop Hotel, or helped stuff a pickup truck with TNT, they might have stepped in and smashed the conspiracy. The Mukhabarat also kept files on another wanted embassy bomber, the Egyptian Saif al-Adel, who also appears on the list of most wanted. He is believed to be in Afghanistan.

If the 1998 plot had been foiled, per- haps there would have been no September II. In any event, Sudan had other intelligence that would have made al-Qaeda's burgeoning growth less likely. Wadih al-Hage, bin Laden's former private secretary, now serving life without parole after his conviction in New York for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings, was logged and photographed in Sudan. He is said to have moved among bin Laden cells across four continents. How much easier it might have been to cramp al-Qaeda's style had his importance been grasped in 1996. Another subject of a Mukhabarat file is Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, a Sudanese born to Iraqi parents, an Afghan-war veteran who worked for two bin Laden companies in Sudan until 1995. He provides a link with the New York suicide hijackers. From 1995 until 1998, he made frequent visits to Germany, where a Syrian trader, Mamoun Darkazanli, had signing powers over his bank account. Darkazanli has been reported to have procured electronic equipment for al-Qaeda. Both men attended the same Hamburg mosque as Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who flew the two planes into the World Trade Center.

Lobbyist Janet McElligott couldn't bridge the chasim between the U.S. and Sudan. (Right) a note written by Gutbi al-Mahdi and delivered to McElligot to F.B.I director Louis Freeh relating the arrest of two suspects in the embassy bombings.

In the end," says the former ambassador to the U.S. Mahdi Ibrahirn Mo- hammed, "when there is enough suspicion, nothing anyone says can convince you." This is what Ambassador Carney's phrase "politicized intelligence" means: the message from Sudan did not fit conventional wisdom at the State Department and the C.I.A., and so it was disregarded, again and again.

It was not until May 2000 that the Clinton administration responded to pressure from the US intelligence community and agreed to send a joint F.B.I.- C.I.A. team to Sudan.

Even then its mission was not to examine the Mukhabarat files but to ascertain whether Sudan was really sponsoring terror. In the summer of 2001 the team gave the country a clean bill of health. There were no "training camps" or sanctuaries for murderers after all. Gutbi al-Mahdi, the former Mukhabarat chief, says that a few weeks before September 11 the American team finally asked to examine the Sudanese material on al-Qaeda. Events suggest that by then it was too late.

There are uncomfortable historical parallels. By the spring of 1941 the Soviet Union's "Red Orchestra" spy ring had been warning Stalin for months that Nazi Germany was about to break its pact with the Soviet Union and invade. Convinced that Hitler remained his ally, he ignored them, so that when the Nazi troop trains began to roll, and the dive-bombers began their deadly blitzkrieg, they found themselves attacking an almost undefended country. Leopold Trepper, the spy ring's leader, wrote an autobiography, published after 20 million Soviets had died in the Second World War:

"He who closes his eyes sees nothing, even in the full light of day. ...The generalissimo preferred to trust his political instinct rather than the secret reports piled up on his desk." "He who closes his eyes sees nothing." In the case of Sudan, 1996 through 2000, Madeleine Albright and her assistant secretary for Africa, Susan Rice, apparently preferred to trust their instincts that Sudan was America's enemy, and so refused to countenance its assistance against the deepest threat to U.S. security since 1945. Ambassador Carney quoted Talleyrand, the 18th-century father of modern diplomacy. This saga was "pire qu'un crime, c'etait une betise." He provided his own translation. "It was worse than a crime. It was a fuckup."

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Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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