Khartoum Condemns 'Criminal Act'
By Howard Schneider and Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 21, 1998; Page A20 Sudanese officials branded yesterday's U.S. cruise missile attack on an industrial facility in Khartoum a "criminal act," a denunciation echoed by Middle Eastern militants who condemned the raids on Sudan and Afghanistan and warned they could provoke retaliation by their intended targets: groups associated with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Sudan's interior minister, Brig. Gen. Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, dismissed the U.S. assertion that the raid on the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum was directed at a facility where chemical weapons were being developed by organizations allied with bin Laden, a Saudi financier accused of involvement in the Aug. 7 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. "It is not chemical weapons. It is a factory for medical drugs," Hussein told CNN. "We have no chemical weapons factory in our country."
Sudanese television transmissions monitored by news services showed the factory on the outskirts of the capital in flames. Later broadcasts showed a group of about 100 angry Sudanese storming the U.S. Embassy, shouting "Down, Down USA." They pelted the building with stones, climbed over the gates, pulled down the American flag and dragged it on the ground. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir encouraged his people to protest, telling TV, "Sudanese people will defend themselves."
The embassy is officially operational, but staffed only by Sudanese. There are no resident U.S. diplomats in Sudan which is ruled by a radical Muslim government accused of sponsoring terrorism and the post of ambassador is vacant.
In Afghanistan, where U.S. cruise missiles struck alleged terrorist training camps run by bin Laden, a spokesman for the Taliban Islamic movement, which controls most of Afghanistan and has provided a haven for bin Laden, called the attack a "demonstration of enmity for the Afghan people."
Saudi dissidents claiming to have intimate knowledge of how bin Laden and his followers think said last night that the missile strikes could spell more violent and dramatic terrorist acts against Americans, possibly in Saudi Arabia.
The leader of a London-based Saudi dissident group, Saad Faqih, said in a telephone interview that "such strikes will only give [groups allied with bin Laden] more reasons to commit such acts of violence. They will not lack men or ammunition, and they are scattered all over the globe."
Bin Laden has said in several interviews that Muslims should take action against the United States and Saudi Arabia because the Saudis have debased the cities of Mecca and Medina Islam's holiest by allowing U.S. troops to be stationed on Saudi soil. Faqih, who stressed that he opposes terrorism and disavows bin Laden, said "the conduct of the United States and Saudi Arabia has justified violence in the eyes of bin Laden and his men."
Another London-based Saudi exile, Mohammed Masaari, also said the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia serves to motivate bin Laden and his followers in their attacks against U.S. interests. "There is no free lunch. Either [the Americans] pay for it in cash or in blood, and the price will increase. They have not paid enough," he said.
Maasari, the leader of the Council for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, said strikes such as the ones undertaken by the United States "will cause the proliferation of more of these disjointed groups looking up to bin Laden for inspiration. These people are angry, the masses are wrathful and spiteful, and their governments have stifled their souls."
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed support for "the United States' fight against terrorism," but key Middle Eastern allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia had issued no comment about the raids by Friday morning. Some of the states most critical of the United States in the past were quick to protest a U.S. military action that came without any U.N. consultation.
Iranian radio referred to the Monica S. Lewinsky controversy: "It is worth mentioning that following Clinton's domestic defeat in his recent court case, some international news agencies and publications raised the probability of a foreign military move by America aimed at covering up and overshadowing his problem."
In Baghdad, the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council issued a statement saying that "the terrorist crimes practiced by the United States against the Iraqis in particular, and the Arabs in general, are continuing," according to the Reuters news agency. Iraq is "ready to cooperate with any Arab and international countries to confront the U.S. hostile policies," the statement said.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi also condemned the U.S. action in a telephone call to Sudanese President Bashir, Reuters reported. Gadhafi said his country would support Sudan "in the fight against this aggression."
Palestinian militants, meanwhile, said the U.S. action amounted to "state terrorism" and also is an attack on Islam a perception President Clinton explicitly denied in his televised remarks on the raid.
"Any American aggression against any Arab country is not only aggression against them but against Islam," said Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas. "The United States says it is fighting against terrorism by individuals, but the United States itself represents state terrorism."
"In what capacity in this world does a country strike another country?" said Mohammed Sobieh, the Palestinian ambassador to the Arab League. "Is there an international resolution or do we leave it to every country to act in its own way? . . . This will lead to more terrorism in the world."
A senior Sudanese official, reached by telephone, said he appreciated the fact that Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger refrained from blaming Sudan's government for the embassy bombings or threats against Americans. Sudan is one of seven countries on the U.S. list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism.
His advice to Bashir, he said, would be to temper official Sudanese reaction accordingly. But, he said, this line would be a hard sell on the street, where the response to the U.S. action would be: "There they go again, attacking Muslims and only Muslims."
Sudanese politician Mohammed Hakim, a Cairo resident and spokesman for the Sudanese Democratic Unionist Party, said he spoke last night with relatives who live near the targeted pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. They said the Sudanese capital is often darkened at night by electricity outages, but that last night there was suddenly "a big light in the dark. . . . They heard this bomb, very strong and very big."
Schneider reported from Cairo, Boustany from Washington. Correspondent Lee Hockstader in Jerusalem and staff writer Thomas W. Lippman in Washington contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company