U.S. Bombing of Sudan Questioned
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The businessman whose pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was destroyed by U.S. missiles a year ago is considering a lawsuit against the United states to recover the $30 million cost of rebuilding. His lawyers say the man has evidence that proves the bombing was unjustified.
Salah Idris, a Sudanese national who also carries a Saudi Arabian passport, has hired a high-priced team of lawyers, investigators and scientists to collect soil samples and other evidence in trying to get the Clinton administration to pay for the plant it said was manufacturing war chemicals.
The administration already has quietly freed $25 million in previously frozen assets belonging to Idris, although it maintains that its own soil sample proved the plant was manufacturing Empta, a chemical whose only use is to make VX nerve gas.
The Aug. 20, 1998, attack on the plant in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, was based on the single soil sample and on a suspected link to suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Idris has denied ties to terrorism or to bin Laden, believed to be in Afghanistan who used to live in a sprawling Khartoum hideaway. His lawyers say they’re awaiting the go-ahead to sue if the U.S. government refuses to pay.
The administration acknowledges it didn’t know Idris owned the targeted plant but says its ownership makes no difference.
``We are ready to go to trial,″ Idris’ lead attorney, George Salem, said in a recent interview. ``The plant came out clean and, of course, our client came out clean.″
Salem said Idris feels the unfreezing of his assets cleared his name of involvement in terrorism and is weighing the risks of suing the U.S. government, which can suppress evidence based on national security.
``Mr. Idris is a great believer in the American system of justice,″ Salem said. ``It has vindicated him thus far, and before taking this next step, he wishes to make sure that all of his other options are exhausted.″
Idris’ plant was destroyed in an attack coordinated with strikes on an alleged terrorist training camp in Afghanistan _ all in response to the bombings two weeks earlier of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Idris contends his factory provided 50 percent of Sudan’s basic medicines, including treatments for malaria and tuberculosis. Sudanese officials say Idris’ plant alone saved the government 28 percent of hard currency it spends on imported medicines. The bombing killed a watchman and injured several other people.
The government freed Idris’ assets in May after he filed an earlier lawsuit. Officials said they still had sensitive information about him but weren’t willing to reveal it. At the time, a senior official told reporters that U.S. agents were monitoring Idris and ``his network.″
Idris got $24 million the U.S. Treasury had ordered frozen plus another $1 million in accumulated interest.
In recent weeks, officials have refused to discuss Idris, even in background briefings, citing pending litigation.
In the last official statement more than a month ago, State Department spokesman James Foley said: ``Our actions against the al-Shifa plant were not in any way predicated on that person’s ownership of the plant.″ He said it had to do with bin Laden’s intentions, his ties to Sudan and the discovery at the plant of Empta.
Senate and House intelligence committees have raised questions about the retaliatory strike. Sudan, which denies it supports terrorism, has asked for compensation and for a U.N. inquiry into the bombing.
Idris has hired heavyweights to help him.
Salem leads a group of partners at the high-octane Washington firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Field. He would not discuss costs but described as low an estimate that Idris is paying $3 million for his U.S. legal work.
``We put together a first-class team of scientists, chemists, environmentalists, experts in every realm, in order to give a proper defense,″ Salem said.
The lawyers had E. Norbert Garrett, a former CIA station chief in Kuwait, investigate Idris’ claims and background _ he has been a banker and exporter. They also enlisted Thomas D. Tullius, chemistry department chairman at Boston University, to direct a soil investigation using a British environmental engineer to collect samples from the plant and recognized laboratories to test them.