US poised to grant Sudan immunity over past attacks

Agence France-Presse .Washington | Published: 10:54, Dec 22,2020


A Sudanese demonstrator waves a banner bearing the inscription ‘Glory to the Martyrs’, during protests in the capital Khartoum, to mark the second anniversary of the start of a revolt that toppled the previous government, on December 19, 2020. — AFP photo

US lawmakers were set on Monday to back legislation granting Sudan legal immunity for past attacks, a final step in a historic deal removing Khartoum from Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

The text would restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity with the exception of litigation already pending in US federal courts related to the September 11, 2001 attacks, democratic senators Bob Menedez and Chuck Schumer announced in a statement.

The legislation was part of the massive omnibus bill to fund the government for the coming year, which was also due to include a new aid package to help millions of Americans and businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Lawmakers were aiming to pass the legislation on Monday.

The US removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist a week ago, less than two months after the Arab nation pledged to normalise ties with Israel.

The move opened the way for aid, debt relief and investment to a country going through a rocky political transition and struggling under a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of a deal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims’ families from the twin 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a 2000 attack by the jihadist group on the USS Cole off Yemen’s coast.

Those attacks were carried out after dictator Omar al-Bashir had allowed then al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.

Adoption of the legislation was a key, final step to unblocking the money, which Sudan had already put in an escrow account.

Schumer and Menendez, who represented respectively the states of New York and neighbouring New Jersey, wanted to ensure language that would not block the right of 9/11 victims or their families from suing Sudan for its past role as a backer of al-Qaeda.

President Donald Trump’s administration, which hands power to Joe Biden in January, had been pushing for a conclusion in part to show its support for Sudan’s transition two years after the revolt that brought an end to Bashir’s reign.

The Trump White House was also aiming to remove any issues that could put in doubt Khartoum’s historic pledge to normalise relations with Israel.

Sudan recently warned that delays in the US Congress regarding its immunity could slow the application of the Israel deal.

The legislation before the US Congress also provided for assistance of $700 million to Sudan, and an additional $120 million toward the repayment of its debt to the International Monetary Fund.

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