By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
With depositions of the first Saudi government witnesses now underway, the huge 9/11 lawsuit brought by thousands of survivors and family members in federal court in New York has opened a second major active front – against the government of Sudan.
Among the original defendants when the civil cases were filed in 2003-2005, Sudan was until last month on the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993 because of its involvement with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Sudan was a no-show in U.S. courts to defend itself against accusations of complicity in not only the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America, but the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS Cole.
When the Cole was bombed, several of the 9/11 hijackers were already in the U.S. training for their gruesome missions which were to take place 11 months later.
A total of 2,977 people died in the passenger jet attacks on New York and Washington; 224 people died in the embassy blasts, including 12 Americans; and 17 U.S. sailors died in the suicide attack on the USS Cole. Thousands more were wounded.
But following the ouster of long-time Sudan dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 and the emergence of a civilian-led transitional government, President Trump announced last fall that he would delist economically devastated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, then days later said that Khartoum intended to normalize relations with Israel – a key administration goal.
The Sudan deal
The deal was formalized four days before Christmas with Congress’s passage of a $2.3-trillion omnibus spending package best known for its $900 billion in COVID-19 relief. The bill, signed by Trump, included more than $900 million to pay off Sudan’s debt and provide it with additional financial assistance. Further, it allocated $150 million to compensate the American victims of the embassy bombings – atop another $335 million in compensation committed to by Sudan.
Before that, in April, Sudan announced it had agreed to compensate the families of the 17 U.S. sailors who were killed in the suicide attack on the USS Cole at a port in Yemen. The government did not disclose the amount of the compensation, but numerous news accounts reported it was $30 million.
Omitted from the U.S.’s calculations, however, were the thousands of victims of 9/11. “At no time did our nation’s diplomats contact the 9/11 families or seek to act on our behalf,” wrote Terry Strada, who lost her husband Tom on Sept. 11th, in a Dec. 30 op-ed in the New York Daily News.
Further, Strada wrote, the Trump administration sought to “trade away our right to hold Sudan accountable for an unrelated foreign policy priority” by offering “the Sudanese an incentive to pay” the Cole and embassy bombing victims’ families in exchange for eliminating the claims of the 9/11 victims.
“Our own government told Sudan that it would persuade Congress to wipe out our 9/11-related lawsuit altogether, depriving us of any accountability and justice. The State Department was essentially playing one set of terrorism victims off the other, in an incredibly dishonest and dastardly act,” Strada wrote.
Political pressure thwarted that “secret bargain,” as Strada put it. While Sudan was granted legal immunity from past terror attacks, the final bill exempted lawsuits filed by the 9/11 families. Strada credited the change to congressional allies Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Hours after Congress passed the bill, Khartoum announced it was ready to appear before U.S. courts to answer the 9/11 lawsuits. Sudan retained the international law firm White & Case and senior litigation partner Christopher M. Curran to defend it.
The allegations against Sudan, detailed in two lawsuits filed by different segments of the 9/11 plaintiffs, are ugly.
As one of those lawsuits put it, Sudan was the “critical incubator” for al Qaeda. “The success of the September 11th attacks was made possible by Sudan’s pervasive state sponsorship of al Qaeda beginning in 1989 and continuing through the September 11th attacks.”
More specifically, the lawsuits list detailed accusations alleging how Sudan enabled the 9/11 attacks:
- By raising laundering and paying “substantial financial support to al Qaeda to fund its budget and terrorist activities.”
- Funding and sponsoring al Qaeda’s terrorist training camps
- Providing logistical support and resources to al Qaeda around the world, including safe houses, false passport, cash and weapons.
- Actively supporting al Qaeda’s plans to attack the U.S. through a network of Sudan’s “officers, employees and/or agents” who provided the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists with “money, cover advice, contacts, transportation and other assistance.”
The lawsuits are littered with the names of dozens of individuals and corporations responsible for the creation and nurturing of al Qaeda.
“When bin Laden and a handful of close associates reached their agreement to establish al Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989, it was merely an aspirational idea, and a range of prohibitive practical, financial, political, and logistical obstacles stood in the way of their ambition to establish a global jihad organization. Absent the intervention and support of the government of Sudan, those formidable obstacles would have remained insurmountable, and al Qaeda would never have come into being,” says one of the complaints.
Bin Laden in Sudan
Bin Laden lived in Sudan from 1991 until 1996 – when Sudan expelled him apparently under pressure from the U.S.
Last week, Sudan’s lawyers filed paperwork in court seeking to dismiss the two complaints on technical grounds, asserting the court lacks jurisdiction to decide the case and that the complaints failed to state a proper claim.
Sudan’s motion begins by “unequivocally” condemning the 9/11 attacks and offering its “deepest condolences to the victims and their families.”
“Sudan categorically denies providing material support or resources for the attacks, or otherwise causing the attacks and, if necessary, will prove that the allegations against it are wholly unfounded,” says the motion to dismiss.
The “extensive allegations” regarding bin Laden’s residency in Sudan, and the “purported support the Sudanese government allegedly provided to bin Laden and al Qaeda during that period” are insufficient to support the plaintiffs’ claims, the motion says.
“The expulsion of bin Laden from Sudan in May 1996 breaks any causal chain, and allegations from the late 1990s are too attenuated in time from the 9/11 attacks to support … jurisdiction.”