KHARTOUM, Sudan — When the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998, U.S. retaliation aimed at Sudan and Al Qaeda was swift.
“Our target was terror. Our mission was clear — to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin laden,” then President Bill Clinton said.
Within days of the embassy bombings, which killed more than 200 people and wounded another 4,000, Clinton authorized cruise missile strikes on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
Sudan is again in the news, and again the story isn’t positive for the Islamic fundamentalist government in Khartoum. The United States has characterized a crisis in Darfur as “genocide” since 50,000 black Africans died following battles with the government-supported Janjaweed militia.
More than 1.5 million black Africans fearful of attacks by the militias have fled their villages and now are crammed in squalid refugee camps spread throughout Darfur and eastern Sudan. Refugees in camps continue to die — disease is spreading and malnutrition has become an increasing problem.
Bin Laden’s Onetime Home
The last time Americans heard this much about Sudan was when the country welcomed Usama bin Laden in the 1990s. From Sudan, bin Laden plotted attacks against American interests overseas, including the bombings on the two U.S. embassies in Africa and the resulting retaliation led to questions about the Americans’ target.
At the time, U.S. officials believed that workers at the Al Shifa plant were helping to manufacture chemical weapons for bin Laden.
FOX News went to the pharmaceutical plant to get a first-hand look. Even though the attack on the plant took place six years ago, it looks like it happened just yesterday. It appears that the wreckage was never cleaned up — part of the plant still stands, enormous craters mark where the missiles hit. Unbroken medicine bottles are strewn about the entire property.
Debate continues over whether the plant made chemical weapons but Sudan made itself a target by harboring bin Laden from 1992 to 1996 while he plotted the embassy attacks. Sudan also welcomed terrorists Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (search), better known as “Carlos the Jackal,” and Abu Nidal, a Palestinian militant who founded the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
During his four years in Sudan, bin Laden appeared to live the life of a successful Arab businessman, owning a large, white mansion in an affluent neighborhood near the airport. Even by Western standards, the house was luxurious. A large white fence surrounded his compound, which held a lush garden.
Everyone we spoke with in Khartoum was familiar with the former terror-resident and no one seemed surprised when we asked to go to some of his old stomping grounds. Less than a block away from his old house, we found the mosque where bin Laden worshipped.
Bin Laden was well known in Khartoum even before he became the world’s most wanted terrorist. In Sudan, bin Laden was a prominent member of the business community — he owned at least 35 companies, employed an estimated 4,000 workers and was responsible for building many of the major roads in and around the capital.
According to U.S. government reports, bin Laden first internationalized his terror network while he lived in Sudan. He brought in foreign fighters who were looking for a new home after battling the Soviets in Afghanistan. He provided many of these men with jobs and kept them trained in terrorist tactics by setting up training camps in remote parts of Sudan.
Also while in Sudan, bin Laden supplied Somali warlords with weapons to kill American soldiers working in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. U.S. troops were in the country to support a United Nations effort to end famine there but the country was inhospitable, as evidenced by the 18 American soldiers killed and another 73 wounded in one day in 1993.
Close Eye on Sudan
For years, Sudan knew it had a troublemaker in its midst.
The international community asked Sudan to kick out bin Laden. According to some reports, negotiations were under way to hand bin Laden over to the United States, but the plan never fully materialized and, years later, accounts of the negotiations remain murky at best.
In 1996, pressure on Sudan hit its peak and the government kicked bin Laden out. From Sudan, he went to Pakistan and then eventually Afghanistan.
Since then, relations have improved between the United States and Sudan.
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is more cooperation, information sharing from the government of Sudan, particularly when it comes to Al Qaeda,” said Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department.
Sudanese officials said they have no connection to the terror mastermind.
“We have no link to Usama bin Laden. We are fighting terrorism at a regional and international level,”? Mustafa Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister, told FOX News.
But the United States still calls Sudan’s Arab government a sponsor of terrorism since Hamas and Islamic Jihad operate there.
In Sudan, state-run media spreads misinformation and hatred for America. Shelves in shops are devoted to anti-American books, pamphlets and CDs. Relations between Sudan and the United States remain difficult with U.S. officials accusing Khartoum of genocide in Darfur and the Arab government charging the United States with trying to undermine its rule.
And as long as anti-American sentiment runs high and terrorists remain determined to set up remote training camps, Sudan will be closely watched.
WESTERN DARFUR, Sudan — It’s the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And it’s bringing out the worst in people.
At an 80,000-person refugee camp in Darfur, refugees took revenge on the Sudanese government official in charge of the camp that is now their home, blaming him for the government’s support of a brutal militia called the Janjaweed (search).
There’s a reason for this kind of anger. Since early 2003, some 50,000 black Africans have died while 1.5 million more fled the fighting to stay in squalid refugee camps. Disease and malnutrition are taking even more lives.
So when Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), sought last month to listen to the refugees’ concerns, that anger turned into rage.
A riot broke out when Natsios asked about attacks they suffered by the Janjaweed fighters. The refugees spoke of family members being murdered and villages being torched.
Under a mercilessly hot sun, Natsios asked a young boy, “Is there a school in your village?” The boy, speaking in Arabic, said no and shook his head. Tribal elders watched and listened closely as the boy spoke.
“Were there attacks on your village?” Natsios asked.
“Yes,” the boy replied through a translator. “I don’t know who [did it] but I believe it was the government.”
“Did any of your family members die?” Natsios asked. The boy said his 16-year-old brother and a younger sister were killed and added that his father was also dead. His mother was alive and in the camp.
Refugees who were gathered around began to grow increasingly tense and others stood up wanting to tell their stories. Natsios tried to calm people down — “shhhh,” he said. The Sudanese government official looked on, watching the situation develop.
As other refugees told similar stories, the government official grimaced. He tried to stop the refugees from talking, literally telling them to “shut up.”
The crowd turned on him, chasing and beating him with sticks, pelting him with stones, even throwing knives. Refugees screamed “Janjaweed,” labeling him the same way they label their attackers. The official stumbled to the ground, taking more blows for nearly five minutes. He curled up in the fetal position during much of his beating. Blood poured from the back of his head.
Natsios tried to stop the attack, repeatedly yelling “no more.” Eventually, the attackers backed off. Had Natsios not stepped in, the official could have been killed.
U.S. Assigns Blame
The U.S. government has become increasingly concerned about the situation in Sudan, to the point of identifying what’s happening in the African nation as “genocide.”?
“Genocide has been committed in Darfur and the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bare responsibility,” Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) told Congress on Sept. 9.
Hundreds of torched villages show a scorched-earth campaign by the Islamic fundamentalist government and the Janjaweed militia.
Villagers in the town of Debanaya told FOX News that a little less than a year ago the Janjaweed drove into town on 30 trucks accompanied by Sudanese soldiers. Together, they ambushed a village in a remote part of Darfur.
First, they took livestock, loading them on the trucks. Then they burned down part of the town including people’s homes so that the Janjaweed could take the land. In the village, eight people died and another 20 were hurt. Survivors fled into the nearby mountains. Eventually, they made their way to some of the more than 100 refugee camps spread throughout Darfur.
In the camps, refugee children draw the horrors they’ve witnessed — murdered parents and siblings, homes set aflame, livestock stolen. Some black Africans — children 10 or younger among them — took up arms to fight back but the government hit even harder, supplying weapons to the Janjaweed.
In a rebel town in north Darfur, a boy who lost both his parents said through a translator that he joined the Sudanese Liberation Army (search) a year ago. The boy was half my size, but held an AK-47 and stood up straight just like a soldier.
Deep in the heart of rebel territory, FOX News traveled with the Sudanese Liberation Army. Unlike the villagers, these men have truly gone up against the Sudanese government, fighting for economic opportunity from the capital in Khartoum.
The rebel soldiers believe the Arab government wants to exterminate them because they’re black Africans. They drove us to a field where we stood next to a crater 50 feet in diameter. The rebels say that the government tried to bomb their town last year but missed, instead hitting a field a half-mile from town. They also showed us what they said was an unexploded ordnance, a metal-looking box half buried in the sand.
But despite such reports, Sudan’s vice president accuses the media of exaggerating the entire crisis in Darfur.
“The situation in Darfur is far from being described as genocide,” Sudanese First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha told FOX News during an interview at his palace in Khartoum.
Instead, Taha said the United States and other countries want to topple his country’s Islamic government. He even accused the United States of arming the rebels.
John Danforth, U.S. representative to the United Nations and former special envoy to Sudan, told FOX News that the claim was “baloney.”
Whatever the truth, refugees suffer, terrified to return home. Women are afraid even to set foot outside of the camps, fearing beatings and rapes by lurking Janjaweed fighters.
The United States, the African Union and other countries are trying to broker peace between rebels and the government — and end a viciously murderous campaign. Human rights groups say if the situation doesn’t improve, 300,000 people could die by the end of 2004.
PADAK, Sudan — America is on a lonely mission to end the crisis in Sudan.
The United States is pushing for U.N. sanctions against the east African nation. But U.S.-sponsored resolutions have met resistance in the U.N. Security Council — particularly from China and Pakistan, which have major oil deals in the African country. Algeria, which is a fellow Arab league member, also is an obstacle.
John Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said “the government of Sudan has been complicit in a terrible disaster that’s been imposed upon the people of Darfur,”? the western Sudanese province where 50,000 black Africans have died following attacks by government-supported Arab militias.
“The position of the U.S. is that we’re just not going to do nothing,”? said Danforth, an Episcopalian minister and former Republican U.S. senator from Missouri, who began his work at the United Nations earlier this year. On Sept. 6, 2001, President Bush appointed Danforth special envoy to Sudan.
The United States doesn’t want a repeat of genocide in Rwanda, when 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered. Plus, officials are constantly concerned that instability could attract terrorists like Usama bin Laden, who once lived in Sudan.
“Having an unstable and unfriendly Sudan is an invitation for terror groups to come here again. They were thrown out once before, we want to make sure they’re out of here,”? said Andrew Natsios, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Natsios recently surveyed American efforts to help Sudan. He traveled throughout the south to see how American money is being spent to help build the area after more than two decades of civil war with the north.
In Darfur, he visited a dozen or more refugee camps. In Khartoum, he met with government officials whom he pressed to crack down on the Janjaweed militia and asked to give better access to aid groups who want to help in Darfur.
The United States this year will spend more than half-a-billion dollars to save the people Darfur and help rebuild the south. The American money goes to feeding and caring for refugees, building roads, supplying hospitals and fighting disease and malnutrition.
‘Now There’s Peace for You Again’
In Padak in southern Sudan, Natsios looked at the building of roads and a dam that hold back flood waters from the Nile River. The United States is spending $15.5 million on this project — without the dam, seasonal rains flood Padak and its 300,000 residents, ruin crops and spread disease.
Natsios also met with local officials and villagers — members of the Dinka tribe — who cheered him on when they were told he was responsible for bringing aid to their community during and after the civil war.
Daniel Wani, a member of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement, the political arm of rebels who fought the government of the north, spoke of his appreciation to a crowd of hundreds who came to the airstrip to greet Natsios.
“You were bombed day and night. Now there’s peace for you again,” Wani said to loud applause and chants.
Wani motioned to Natsios, adding, “much of the food that was coming to you during the bad times was coming from USAID. He is the boss of USAID.” The crowd of hundreds continued to cheer. Some pounded on drums, others sang and chanted, showing Natsios and his delegation their appreciation.
In Dinka tradition, the tribal leaders brought out two cows for slaughter, which is considered a great honor bestowed upon visitors. As villagers celebrated, the cows were killed. Natsios and his group (including the team from FOX News Channel) were asked to jump over the dying cows. We all did, careful not to slip and fall.
Relief From the Sky
Touring the troubled Darfur region was not a cause for celebration. For the most part, the people here are nowhere close to even thinking about rebuilding. One-and-a-half million Darfurians are currently living in refugee camps, and more arrive each day.
According to the World Health Organization, between 6,000 and 10,000 people are dying each month from disease and malnutrition in the camps. The United States is making the crisis in Darfur one of its top priorities on the African continent. Natsios said USAID has three major reconstruction projects underway — Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
The United States gives more than 70 percent of all aid to Darfur — more than all other countries combined. The assistance goes to agencies like the World Food Program, which then delivers it to hard-to-reach places.
In many cases, the only way to get food to townspeople is to drop it from the sky because there aren’t any roads or airstrips.
The FOX News crew, refugees and villagers watched as 3,600 tons of food — much of it grown in the United States — was dropped into Darfur by a U.N. plane. Once the bags of yellow peas hit the ground, Sudanese soldiers quickly cordoned off the area to guard anyone from stealing them.
Some of the bags split wide open upon impact. Some villagers made their way onto the field once the bags dropped — understanding the importance of the food, they walked to the burst bags, scooped up the dried peas and put them back in the bags. The peas were in bags that say “USA.” The third bag says “World Food Program” on the outside, so few really know who the real donor is.
The Sudanese government says the situation in Darfur is improving and officials have made it easier for aid groups to get into the country. But while the United States presses for more action and the United Nations studies the issue of whether genocide has taken place — something the United States determined a month ago — 1.5 million Sudanese living in squalid camps wait; 10,000 of them die each month.
“There is a climate of impunity,”? Danforth said at the United Nations when discussing Sudanese government claims that it’s prosecuting the Janjaweed and other militias. “The government claims people are being prosecuted and brought to justice. They really haven’t proven their case and this is the opportunity to do that.”
According to other U.S. government officials, refugees won’t be safe to return home to their villages until the government cracks down on militias and agrees to provide security in the villages to prevent attacks from happening again.