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Sudan Called Crossroads for Islamic Militants, Guerrillas

July 18, 1993|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KHARTOUM, Sudan — On a dusty back street of this remote African capital, miles from Jerusalem, the office of Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine calls for holy war against Israel and resistance against America.

"I believe if the United States continues in this manner, it will lose more and more. This is only the beginning. You can expect more, because the Islamic world is very angry," Abu Abdullah, Islamic Jihad's envoy in Khartoum, says of the recent bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

A few streets away, in a room where a slow overhead fan keeps a lonely vigil against the merciless afternoon heat, a representative of Hamas, the leading Palestinian Islamic militant organization, sits beneath a poster depicting a map of Israel ripped from the heart of Palestine.

"We believe that the Zionist colonization in Palestine is endangering Palestine and the Arab world, and it is our duty to combat it," Mounir Sayed says. "We are here in Sudan to make our work because the question of Palestine concerns not only the Palestinians. It concerns all Muslims."

Though both groups consider themselves legitimate political organizations waging an Islamic struggle against Israel, the United States considers them terrorist groups and wants to know why they are doing business in Khartoum.

The recent arrest of five Sudanese among the suspects accused in a wide-ranging plot to blow up the United Nations and other key targets in the United States has added new urgency to the debate over whether Sudan's Islamic fundamentalist regime is waging a quiet war of terror against its Arab neighbors and America.

Sudan's Islamic leaders make no secret of their disdain for secular regimes in neighboring Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Tunisia, which they perceive as selling out the interests of their own citizens to serve distant masters in the West.

But they laugh at the idea that an impoverished nation like Sudan--combatting famine, civil war and economic crisis in the heart of Africa--could act as anything more than a powerful model for the world's Muslims.

"The Sudanese don't have a tradition of terrorism at all in their history, not in this century or the last one," said Hassan Turabi, the urbane, Sorbonne-educated leader of Sudan's National Islamic Front. "Never an assassination in Sudan, much less a background in violence as the U.S. has."

Nonetheless, the sweltering streets of Khartoum often provide an unlikely meeting place for some of the world's most notorious Islamic renegades.

Members of the shadowy Abu Nidal organization and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah have been seen in Khartoum, as has the outlaw Somali militia leader Mohammed Farah Aidid. The militant Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, whose followers have been accused in the recent New York bombing cases, received his visa to travel to the United States from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. Rachid Ghanouchi, leader of the outlawed An Nahda Islamic movement in Tunisia, formerly traveled on a Sudanese diplomatic passport.

Sources in the Sudanese capital say Khartoum has become a way station of sorts for former Arab moujahedeen with the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan, young fighters whose military training and vigorous Islamic ideology have prompted their own governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria to deny them entry upon their return because of fears they will join violent underground Islamic opposition movements at home.

Sudan has become a meeting point for many of these so-called Afghans and other Islamic opposition figures because, unlike most other Arab countries, it does not require visas for any Arab.

"We are sure that a lot of people are coming here as a transit station from Afghanistan to any other place, or from (Arab countries) to other places, maybe like New York," said one source who has studied the movement. "This transition period takes a long time. At the end of this period, these people go out with another name, another nationality, another passport."

Many investigators say a key figure is Osama ibn Laden, a wealthy Saudi businessman with ties to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. For years, he recruited young Arabs to join the Afghanistan resistance, and now he has offices in Khartoum. Former Afghanistan fighters in Kuwait have described him as a "spiritual leader" of the moujahedeen.

Ibn Laden is working on a number of investment and construction projects in Sudan, including construction of a new highway from Khartoum to Atbara, an airport at Port Sudan and establishment of the North Bank of Khartoum.

Rose al Youssef, the Egyptian weekly magazine, said Ibn Laden has recently contributed $1 million to help relocate former Afghanistan fighters after Western governments demanded their ejection from Pakistan and helped transfer at least 480 to Sudan in May.

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