(CNSNews.com) – As the U.S. and Sudan near a settlement over the deadliest terror attack ever against a U.S. diplomatic mission, Washington has unfinished business with another state-sponsor of terror, Iran, over the bombing of two East African embassies 22 years ago.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by phone this week to Sudan’s prime minister, and in response to questions about a possibly imminent agreement told reporters on Wednesday he was hopeful of “a really good outcome” in the coming weeks.
A total of 224 people, including 12 Americans, were killed when al-Qaeda targeted the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in near-simultaneous truck bombings in August 1998. More than 4,000 people were injured.
The attack was planned in Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime gave safe haven to al-Qaeda elements. Osama bin Laden himself had sheltered there until moving to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan two years earlier.
The fall last year of the Bashir regime paved the way for improved ties with the U.S. and Sudan’s new transitional government wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism, currently comprising Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and Syria’s Assad regime.
Last February, Sudan agreed to pay $70 million in damages to families of the 17 U.S. sailors killed in another attack carried out during the Bashir era, the Oct. 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. In 2007, a U.S. federal court found that Sudan’s support for al-Qaeda during the 1990s had enabled the terror network to carry out the attack on the destroyer.
Last month, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door to victims of the embassy bombings to pursue billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages against Khartoum.
Sudan’s foreign minister, Asmaa Abdallah, told AFP this week that once a settlement now being finalized is complete, her country will have fulfilled the last requirements to be removed from the U.S. blacklist.
Convicted, killed, at large
Over the years since the bombings, the U.S. has pursued those involved in the plot, including:
--Bin Laden himself, killed by U.S. Navy SEALS in a compound in Pakistan in May 2011.
--Mohammed Atef, bin Laden’s second-in-command, killed in a late 2001 U.S. air strike in Afghanistan.
--Wadih al-Hage, Mohammed al-Owhali, Mohammed Odeh and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed, all serving life prison terms without parole after being convicted in 2001 in New York for their roles in the plot.
-- Abu Talha al-Sudani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, both implicated in the attacks, were killed in 2007 and 2011 respectively, the former by the U.S. military near the Somalia-Kenya border, the latter by Somali soldiers at a checkpoint in Mogadishu.
--Saleh al-Nabhan, a Kenyan al-Qaeda terrorist suspect in the bombings, killed in a U.S. Navy SEALS operation in Somalia in 2009.
But two key suspects remain at large, thanks largely to the Iranian regime.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah and Saif al-Adl, both Egyptians, were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1998 for their involvement in the bombings.
According to court documents, both sat on al-Qaeda’s top decision-making body, the majlis al shura, headed by bin Laden.
After the embassy attack, Abdullah and Adl moved to Iran where, according to the State Department, they lived under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for several years, before they were placed under house arrest in 2003.
In 2015, al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate AQAP kidnapped an Iranian diplomat, and in exchange for his freedom, Abdullah and Adl were freed.
Their whereabouts were unclear for a while, until their names appeared in a U.N. Security Council al-Qaeda sanctions committee monitoring report in mid-2018, described as increasingly-prominent “al-Qaeda leaders in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Around the same time, the State Department doubled the reward offered for information on both Abdullah and Adl, to $10 million each.
The two Iran-based fugitives now have the distinction of carrying higher rewards on their heads than any other wanted terrorist, except for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ($25 million).
In May last year, at a time of growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaeda. Period. Full stop.”
“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to al Qaeda is very real,” he said. “They have hosted al Qaeda. They have permitted al-Qaeda to transit their country.”
His testimony brought push-back from some, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a critic of U.S. foreign military interventions, who said he doubted Shi’ite Iran would ally with the Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda.
The State Department’s latest terrorism report, released this week, refers to ongoing links during 2019.
“Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qaeda (AQ) members residing in the country and has refused to publicly identify members in its custody,” it says. “Iran has allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”