U.S. to add Sudan to list of nations backing terrorism

August 18, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States, underscoring what officials see as a growing extremist threat to North Africa and the Middle East, has decided to label Sudan a sponsor of terrorism for providing shelter to some of the region's most dangerous organizations, officials said yesterday.

The action, set for formal announcement as early as today, increases tension between the United States and Africa's largest nation -- a new bastion of anti-Western hostility that is wracked by civil war and a strife-caused famine.

Control of Sudan's government by the militant National Islamic Front, along with its deepening ties to Iran, has caused growing concern among the United States' Middle East allies, particularly Egypt.

Officials said the decision against Sudan was made independently of an investigation into possible ties between Sudanese government officials and an alleged terrorist plot, uncovered earlier this year, to blow up the United Nations and two tunnels in New York.

ABC News reported Monday that federal agents, after monitoring the Sudanese mission to the United Nations for two months and from other evidence, had linked the mission's counselor, Siraj Yousif, and its third secretary, Ahmed Mohamed, to the terrorist plot.

Five of those arrested in the plot in June entered the United States with Sudanese travel documents.

But a U.S. official said yesterday that evidence linking the Sudanese government to the plot was "inconclusive" and "weak," and took pains to separate the events in New York with the decision by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher to place Sudan on the terrorism list.

Instead, officials pointed to Khartoum's granting shelter to various groups that have mounted terrorist attacks against the United States, Mideast and North African countries and the Mideast peace process.

The Abu Nidal Organization, believed to have carried out 90 terrorist attacks since 1974, has an office in Khartoum. Training camps are operated in the Sudan by the extremist Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, U.S. officials say.

The U.S. decision stemmed from a review ordered by former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger in December into whether both Sudan and Pakistan should be added to the terrorism list.

Pakistan, accused of supporting anti-Indian terrorism in Kashmir, is "treating the matter seriously" and was kept off the list, an official said.

But Sudan's response, in high-level diplomatic contacts, was "unhelpful," a U.S. official said.

Under U.S. law, the designation of terrorism sponsor applies to states that have repeatedly provided support for international terrorism.

The terrorist listing brings automatic economic sanctions. But in Sudan's case, it is largely symbolic, since the amount of trade it would curtail is slight, officials say.

The United States will continue to help humanitarian organizations seeking to aid Sudan's starving.

Egypt has long complained that Sudan acts as a launching point for terrorism against Egypt.

But increased diplomatic contacts in recent months have led Cairo's semi-official press to moderate its attacks.

Following a meeting between the countries' presidents during an Organization of African Unity summit, their foreign ministers met in July and another meeting is expected in September.

Besides aiding terrorist groups, Sudan has also angered the United States by supporting Somalian warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, although one official said this support is more sentimental than real.

Sudan figured as the place where Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the prominent Islamic cleric, and those accused of bombing the World Trade Center in New York obtained a visa to enter the United States.

Officials have said the visa was issued by mistake, but questions arose because of the cleric's past ties to Afghan rebels clandestinely backed by the United States.

Other countries on the United States' terrorist list are Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.

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