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Sudan Finalizes Settlement with Victims of USS Cole Terror Attack

— April 10, 2020

Sudan refuses to admit responsibility, saying it’s only cooperated to get off a U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.

Sudan says it has finalized a settlement deal with the families of 17 United States sailors who were killed in a 2000 terror attack on the USS Cole.

According to al-Jazeera, Sudan’s Ministry of Justice was keen to reach the agreement. While the Sudanese government has repeatedly denied its involvement in the attack, it acceded in hopes of being removed from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terror.

News of the settlement was announced Monday, and comes two months after Sudan said it would make payments to the relatives of Cole victims.

“After the final deal, and as per the agreement we signed in February, we confirm that the procedures of the deal have been finalized, and the two sides have requested to remove the case,” Sudan said in a joint statement with victims’ families.

Al-Jazeera notes that the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer, was struck with an explosives-laden boat while docked in Yemen. Responsibility for the attack was later claimed by al-Qaeda, which, prior to 9/11, had bases in Sudan. Subsequently, the United States blamed the Sudanese government for providing shelter and support to the terror outfit.

al-Qaeda suicide bombers piloted a skiff loaded with explosives into the side of the USS Cole. Image via Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy. Public domain.

For 30 years–from 1989 to 2019–Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ruled the country as a dictator. He categorically refused to cooperate with terror-related lawsuits, including those which arose from the 2000 attack on the Cole.

Btu in April, the Sudanese military overthrew al-Bashir. Top-ranking generals, in an unusual move, signaled a willingness to cede power, agreeing to form a transitional government with civilian administrators. In the meantime, “veteran economist Abdalla Hamdok” has been appointed as a transitional prime minister.

Since al-Bashir’s ouster, Sudan has worked to reclaim its international reputation. Gamal Gasim, a professor of political science at Grand Valley State University, told al-Jazeera that Sudan must rehabilitate its image—and that means making certain concessions.

“The new leaders of the country must address al-Bashir’s legacy through democratic and economic reform,” Gasim said.

Part of that has been closing the Cole case, which has been stalled in the courts for close to a decade.

“The settlement deal […] with the families of the victims of the destroyer USS Cole, who initiated judicial procedures against the Sudanese government before the U.S. courts, has been fully completed,” the Sudanese Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The same statement noted that Sudan and the victims’ families submitted a joint petition asking the courts to write off any and all remaining lawsuits. The settlement will, in its entirety, end remaining litigation against Sudan in the United States.

However, Sudan maintains that it was neither responsible for the attack nor culpable in providing assistance to al-Qaeda. In the settlement, Sudan says they reached an agreement “because of the strategic interests of Sudan and as part of its efforts to deal with terrorist claims against Sudan so it can remove its name from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.”

Sudan, notes al-Jazeera, has been designated state sponsor of terror since 1993. Being on the U.S. black-list makes Sudan ineligible to receive debt relief and certain forms of foreign aid.

“Removing Sudan’s name from this list is necessary to remove the stigma of terrorism off the people of Sudan and to reintegrate Sudan back in the international community,” the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.

The settlement will pay an estimated $70 million to victims’ families, although the total figure hasn’t yet been made public.


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