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Sudan Has No Cash to Pay Damages for 1998 Embassy Bombings


FILE – A survivor pays homage to people killed in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, at the memorial wall in Nairobi, May 2, 2011.

A Sudanese political analyst says Sudan will have a hard time finding the cash to pay the punitive damages imposed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

“It’s extremely difficult to pay this amount, so the other methods of solution must be followed, including an appeal to the international community to accelerate the lifting of sanctions from the Sudan,” Abdulmuniem Himmat told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

In a unanimous decision Monday, the Supreme Court reinstated a lower court ruling that ordered Sudan to pay $4.3 billion in punitive damages to some of the victims of the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar el Salaam carried out by al-Qaida. The attacks killed 224 people and injured thousands more.

FILE - Then-al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden speaks to a select group of reporters in mountains of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 1998.
FILE – Then-al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden speaks to a select group of reporters in mountains of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 1998.

Al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum for much of the 1990s before moving to Afghanistan.

Sudan’s transitional government is pressing the Trump administration to remove the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The state sponsors of terrorism designation prevents Sudan from accessing loans and debt relief from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as investment opportunities with U.S.-based institutions.

Sudan should try to reach an amicable settlement with the victims of the embassy bombings, said Himmat.

“[The] Sudanese government should lead negotiations with the families of the victims of the bombings of United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And this should follow the same approach that took place in addressing the issue of the victims of the American destroyer Cole and that should be done as quickly as possible,” Himmat told VOA.

Last month, Sudan’s government said it reached a settlement with the families of U.S. Navy sailors killed in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000 off the coast of Aden in Yemen. The attack killed 17 American sailors and wounded 39 others.

Court affirmed 2011 ruling

Nine years ago, a U.S. Federal District Court judge in Washington said Sudan should pay about $6 billion in compensation and roughly $4 billion in punitive damages for the 1998 bombings.  The judge found Sudan guilty of giving al-Qaida and bin Laden technical and financial support, of allowing al-Qaida operatives to travel over the Sudan-Kenya border without restriction, and of permitting weapons and money to flow to the al-Qaida cell in Kenya.

The United States Embassy, left, is pictured with blasted ruins next to it in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Aug. 8, 1998…
FILE – The United States Embassy, left, is pictured with blasted ruins next to it in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 8, 1998, the day after terrorist bombings in Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

In 2017, Sudan successfully challenged the ruling on punitive damages, arguing they were awarded under an amendment to a federal law that was made after the bombings occurred and could not be applied retroactively.

But the Supreme Court reinstated the damages Monday, saying the law that authorized the punitive damages could indeed be applied retroactively.

In Monday’s ruling, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that for claims made under federal law, “Congress was as clear as it could have been when it authorized plaintiffs to seek and win punitive damages for past conduct.”

Sudan’s Ministry of Justice said in a statement Monday that “$7.4 billion of the total $10.2 billion against Sudan remains subject to further litigation,” since the decision ordered the D.C. Circuit to reconsider its decision that foreign plaintiffs who sued Sudan under state law in the U.S. could not seek punitive damages.

“As always, Sudan expresses sympathy for the victims of the acts of terrorism at issue but reaffirms that it was not involved in any wrongdoing in connection with those acts,” said Christopher Curran, a lawyer representing Sudan.

State sponsor of terrorism designation

Analyst Himmat said Sudan must continue to resolve past charges involving acts of terrorism in order to clear its name with the U.S. government.

“Sudan needs to build good international relations with all countries, not with the United States only, and that’s to build a democratic country. Also, Sudan needs support to advance the country and make use of the human and material resources in Sudan,” said Himmat.

The United States designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 because of Sudan’s connections with terrorist groups and figures like bin Laden.

After the ouster of long-time President Omar al-Bashir in April of last year, following months of mass protests against the government, Sudan formed a transitional government headed by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok.

Nabeel Biajo
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