US to be sued for Sudan bombing

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED States may be forced to acknowledge that it mistakenly attacked a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles last year, after the threat of legal proceedings by the plant's Sudanese owner.

The US struck a pharmaceuticals plant in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and a camp in Afghanistan last August after bombs at its embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It said that both targets had links to the man they blamed for bombs, the renegade Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, and that the plant in Khartoum manufactured chemical weapons.

The strikes caused enormous controversy since they came on the day that Monica Lewinsky gave evidence on her affair with President Bill Clinton, raising accusations that the White House was seeking to distract attention.

The owner of the plant, Saleh Idris, has asked the US to apologise, to unfreeze his assets and to compensate him for damage to the factory, which he says was a legitimate pharmaceuticals factory.

"We'd like to settle this peacefully," said John Scanlon, who represents Mr Idris in New York. But a legal action was under preparation, he said.

Mr Idris has retained the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld, the same firm which employs Vernon Jordan, who gave evidence in defence of Mr Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial. A legal case would be almost unprecedented, and could have major implications for Mr Clinton and for US foreign policy.

Mr Idris, who is also an adviser to Saudi Arabia's largest bank, has retained Kroll Associates, the world's leading firm of private investigators, to examine the evidence. Mr Scanlon said it proves that there was no chemical weapons plant in the factory, that it had never belonged to Mr bin Laden and that there were no links between Mr Idris and Mr bin Laden or the Iraqi government.

The US said it found traces of chemicals that could be used to make VX nerve gas at the site. Mr Idris's representatives also conducted their own laboratory tests, said Mr Scanlon.

The US has never provided evidence of links between Mr bin Laden and Mr Idris.

Mr Idris's representatives presented their case this week to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the US House of Representatives, said a US government source. Mr Scanlon said they also asked to meet representatives from other US government agencies, but had been rebuffed.

Mr Idris has millions of dollars of assets in Bank of America in London, which have been frozen by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control on instructions from the White House. Bank of America would not comment on Mr Saleh but said that their operations in London were subject to US jurisdiction. The US Treasury also refused to comment on Mr Idris, but said that some asset freezes apply outside America to US financial institutions.

The British government has fewer concerns about Mr Idris than Washington. He is banned from entering the US, but travels freely to and from London.

The British ambassador to Sudan had also visited the pharmaceuticals plant, and British sources have been highly sceptical of the US attack.

At the time of last year's strike, there was an argument within the Administration as to whether the Sudanese plant was a legitimate target. The US said after the strike that the facility was a Sudanese government factory, but corrected this when it became clear that it had belonged to Mr Idris since April. One US government source told The Independent that it was a case of "right country, wrong building".

The US government was itself divided over the attacks. The factory was reportedly added to the target list at the last moment. America had wanted to hit the building for some time, and the embassy bombings provided a rationale, said the government official.