(CNSNews.com) – The State Department on Wednesday condemned a reported decision by Sudan’s Supreme Court to order the release of the last of four militants convicted for the 2008 murders of two USAID employees, an attack claimed at the time by radical Islamist groups.
U.S. national John Granville and his Sudanese driver Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama were killed in a shooting attack as they returned by car from a New Year’s party at the British Embassy in Khartoum. Sudanese officials said at the time gunmen in another vehicle fired 17 rounds into their car.
The regime initially denied the slaying was an act of terrorism, but a group calling itself Ansar Al Tawhid (“Supporters of Monotheism”) then claimed responsibility, as did another closely-affiliated entity known as al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles.
The FBI sent agents to help in the investigation, and suspects were caught a month later.
In June 2009 four men were convicted for the murders and sentenced to death. (A fifth man, who provided a weapon but did not take part in the attack, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. He was released early, in 2016, a move criticized by the U.S. Embassy.)
In 2010, the four men on death row tunneled their way out of their Khartoum prison, killing a Sudanese police officer during their getaway. One of the four, Abdelraouf Abuzaid, was recaptured weeks later.
Abuzaid was reportedly freed this week on the orders of the high court.
According to Sudanese media reports, the court ordered his release on the basis of a 2020 settlement reached by the U.S. and Sudanese governments, which saw Khartoum pay compensation for the U.S. victims of several major terror attacks, in return for a lifting of its state-sponsor of terrorism (SST) designation.
State Department spokesman Ned Price, however, rejected that claim.
“We are deeply troubled by the lack of transparency in the legal process that resulted in the release of the only individual remaining in custody,” he said in a statement, “and by the inaccurate assertion that the release was agreed to by the United States government as part of the Sudanese government’s settlement of victims’ claims in connection with Sudan’s removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list in 2020.”
“We will continue to seek clarity about this decision.”
Asked during a State Department press briefing if the U.S. was asking Sudanese authorities to return Abuzaid to prison, principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said he had no “specific diplomatic requests” to report.
“But this is something that our embassy personnel are engaging on and monitoring very closely,” he added.
Queries sent to the Sudanese government in Khartoum and its embassy in Washington brought no response by press time.
State terror sponsor
Sudan had been on the SST list since 1993, over its support for al-Qaeda, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, until he moved to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 1996. Bashir was toppled in 2019.
The settlement with Khartoum’s new transitional civilian government to remove Sudan from the blacklist included $335 million in compensation for the victims of two major al-Qaeda attacks linked to Sudan – the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen – and the murder of Granville.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed receipt of the funds in March 2021, and the U.S. reinstated Sudan’s sovereign immunity.
The Sudan Tribune cited Abuzaid’s brother as saying the court had ordered his release after confirming with the foreign ministry that the compensation had been paid.
It also said the family of the second victim, Granville’s Sudanese driver Rahama, had “agreed to forfeit the demand for the death penalty” for his killers, as a result of a mediation process led by a prominent Islamic sheikh.
Price said that Abuzaid remains a specially-designated global terrorist (SDGT). He said the department’s offers of rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of two of his at-large fellow convicts, Mohamed Makawi Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdelbasit Alhaj Alhassan Haj Hamad, remain effective. They too were designated as SDGTs, in 2013.
The fugitives were reported to have fled to Darfur after the jailbreak, and later to Somalia. The fourth man convicted for the murders, Mohanad Osman Yousif Mohamed, was reportedly killed in Somalia in 2011, according to the State Department.
In its online claim of responsibility for the murders of the two USAID employees, Ansar al-Tawhid said its campaign aimed at avenging the “humiliation” of Muslims and stopping the spread of Christianity. Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles in its claim cited the global jihad.
Granville was 33 and Rahama 39 at the time of their murders. According to the department, Granville had been working in southern Sudan for three years, focused on democracy and governance programs.
Rahama had worked with USAID since 2004, initially as a member of a disaster assistance response team in Darfur and later with the USAID mission in Khartoum.
Then-USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said at the time the two men had been “serving the common interests of the U.S. and the Sudan in bringing peace and stability to a country that has long been wracked by violence and conflict.”
Granville was not the first American foreign service official to be killed in Khartoum. In 1973, U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and charge d’affaires George Curtis Moore, along with a Belgian diplomat, were murdered by Palestinian terrorists who seized them hostage in an operation directly linked to then PLO leader Yasser Arafat, according to subsequently released U.S. government records.
The Sudanese regime released two of the eight Palestinian terrorists, and the other six were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Within hours of the verdict, however, the authorities allowed them to fly out of the country, and back to Arafat’s PLO.