Sudan Alleges Foreign Airstrikes Near Border With Egypt

By Hadeel al-Shalchi and Maggie Michael
Associated Press
Friday, March 27, 2009

CAIRO, March 26 -- Sudanese officials said foreign warplanes launched two airstrikes last month on Sudan near its border with Egypt, targeting convoys packed with light weapons and African migrants trying to sneak across the frontier.

Just who was behind the strikes remains a mystery, but the United States and Israel immediately came under suspicion.

Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan's transportation minister, told the Associated Press he believed American planes were behind the bombings, which took place about a week apart in early February, and said hundreds were killed. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Saleem's account but said there were discrepancies on casualties.

The U.S. military denied any recent airstrikes in or around Sudan.

"The U.S. military has not conducted any airstrikes, fired any missiles, or undertaken any combat operations in or around Sudan since the U.S. Africa Command formally began operations October 1," said Vince Crawley, a command spokesman.

Arab and U.S. news media reports said Israel was behind the attacks because the convoys were smuggling weapons to Egypt destined for Gaza. The militant Hamas group, which rules Gaza, smuggles weapons into the region through tunnels along the Egyptian border.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted Thursday at possible Israeli involvement.

"We operate everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure -- in close places, in places further away. Everywhere where we can hit terror infrastructure, we hit them, and we hit them in a way that increases deterrence," he said at an academic conference.

"It was true in the north in a series of incidents, and it was true in the south in a series of incidents," he added. "There is no point in going into detail, and everybody can use their imagination. Those who need to know, know. And those who need to know, know that there is no place where Israel cannot operate. There is no such place."

Asked specifically about the report, Israeli officials would not confirm or deny it.

The allegations come as Sudan is under scrutiny after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant March 4 for the country's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. He is accused by the court of orchestrating a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that has involved killings, rapes and other atrocities against civilians. Sudan denies the charges.

A new Egyptian newspaper, al-Shurooq, was the first to report on Saleem saying that two convoys trying to cross into Egypt were bombed by U.S. jets. It said there were suspicions that the convoys carried weapons for Gaza.

According to Saleem, the first strike hit 16 vehicles carrying 200 people from various African countries being smuggled across the border. It also carried some "light weapons" such as Kalashnikovs, he said.

In the second attack, Feb. 11, he said 18 vehicles were hit, and they were carrying only immigrants. He said that several hundred people were killed in each bombing and that the first strike was about a week before the Feb. 11 attack.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company