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Sudan: Opening the doors for Al-Qaeda | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (C) talks to Vice President Ali Osman Taha (C-R) in Khartoum on January 28, 2013 upon Bashir’s return from the African Union Summit. AFP PHOTO/EBRAHIM HAMID

One is haunted by a sense of shock and sadness upon hearing that Al Qaeda in Sudan announced, just days ago, the establishment of a student wing at the University of Khartoum, which is one of the best and most prestigious universities in Sudan, as well as the most important center for student political activism. Sudan has never known violence and extremism from this quarter, whilst the Sudanese people have always been known for their moderation and tolerance, not to mention their natural wit.

This is an image that has been established and has not changed, except in the shadow of the Islamist rule of the current national “salvation” regime.

During its early days, this regime opened Sudan’s doors to Islamists of every stripe – politicians, activists and extremists – with the objective of utilizing these groups to strengthen the regime, installing it at the head of political Islamist groups.

This was only natural, particularly after this regime used political Islam to reach and monopolize power, even if this was by deception and military coup, rather than the ballot boxes, becoming the first political Islamist movement in the Arab region to monopolize power.

The regime used Islamic slogans for political purposes and in order to grant itself legitimacy after taking power by force, killing the democratic regime that had been in place.

The irony is that these Islamists had been able to operate freely in the shadow of this democratic regime.

The new regime also recruited youth and deployed them to the battlefields in the south under the banner of jihad, whilst it devoted space on state television to broadcast enthusiastic programs about the battlefield and martyrs present on the ground.

This atmosphere naturally produced some extremist and takfirist movements.

Members of such groups launched an armed attack against a mosque affiliated to the Ansar al-Sunnah group in the revolutionary city of Omdurman during which a large number of worshipers were killed during Friday prayer in an unprecedented attack in Sudanese history resulting in widespread shock.

This attack resulted in many intellectuals warning against the consequences of the rising extremist rhetoric. However the Islamic Front regime is driven by the lust for power and dreams of Islamist leadership.

This seduced Hassan al-Turaibi and some of his followers of who failed to listen to advice and went forward in the plan to hold conferences for Islamists who had fled their countries.

They opened the country’s borders to extremists wanted for trial in their home countries and even granted some of the “brothers” coming to Sudan diplomatic passports! During this time, the regime even welcomed Osama Bin Laden, who resided in Khartoum for a period of five years, during which time he headed a number of projects and farms, some of which he used for the purposes of funding and training his cadres.

In addition to this, senior figures of Egypt’s al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad group also appeared in the country, which led to tension in Sudan’s diplomatic relations with its closest neighbors and internationally.

This only increased after the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, particularly as those who participated in this attack had begun their journey from Sudanese territory.

This is how the Islamic Front regime pushed Sudan onto the list of states that sponsor terrorism and the country has been unable to extricate itself from this list even until now.

The country experienced numerous misfortunes and disasters which the Sudanese people have paid the price for over long years.

The regime realized, too late, that it could not confront this isolation and international pressure and so it asked its “guests” to leave, including Bin Laden, who went to Afghanistan, whilst it also surrendered the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos – who was living in Khartoum – to France following a deal with French intelligence.

However these steps, and other subsequent ones, failed to convince anybody or reform the image of this regime, despite the fact that Khartoum has cooperated with western and US intelligence agencies, providing them with a lot of information and intelligence, particularly following the US raid on Sudan during the Clinton administration, as well as the warnings it received from the Bush administration during the war on terror.

Domestically, the seed of extremism that the regime had allowed to be planted continued to grow and branch out, forming organizations and movements that embraced extremist ideas and views, with some of these groups taking up armed violence.

So we witnessed armed confrontations and operations carried out by extremist groups in Sudan, some of which embraced the ideology of Al Qaeda.

This could be seen in the assassination of US diplomat John Granville in Khartoum in 2008.

This operation was carried out by two extremist groups, one claiming to be “Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles”, whist the other group was called “Ansar al-Tawhid.” Despite the fact that the Sudanese authorities deny the presence of Al Qaeda in Sudan, it does recognize the presence of other extremist armed groups.

There are sporadic clashes with government forces as occurred last month when Sudanese security services raided a training camp in southeast Sudan affiliated to a radical group.

This raid was marked by a battle between the two parties – the government and the extremist group – that resulted in a number of deaths.

In addition to this, a large number of Sudanese people have been arrested or killed whilst fighting alongside Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Somalia, whilst there are also reported of Sudanese cadres involved in the current fighting in Mali.

The source of concern here is that Al Qaeda –or extremist groups sympathetic to this ideology – have recently begun to move publicly, which indicates that they are beginning to feel a sense of confidence after they successfully spread their ideology and recruited some youth.

Over the past month, the al-Hijrateen website –which claims to be affiliated to a Sudanese group with close ties to Al Qaeda ideology – broadcast a video showing four people implicated in the killing of the US diplomatic escaping from prison.

Two of the escaping extremists appeared in the video explaining the details of the escape from Kober prison alongside footage of the prison break through an underground tunnel.

However what was striking is that the appearance of one members of this group later in the video serves to discount reports that he had been killed in an operation in Somalia fighting alongside the al-Shaabab movement.

The increased visibility of elements affiliated to the Al Qaeda organization, or which embrace this ideology, signals that Sudan may be approaching a dangerous stage in terms of confrontation with groups that developed under this regime and as a result of its practices, namely opening Sudan’s doors to extremists and establishment a climate that engendered hatred and violence.

Nobody today can know where the country is heading.

There are similar examples of regimes that believed that they were capable of taming extremist movements and utilizing them to achieve their own objectives only to later discover that they had made a critical mistake…but only after it was too late!