Following the uncovering of an Al-Qaeda cell in Khartoum, columnist Muhammad Hassan Al-Ahmad, a former editor of several Sudanese dailies, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that it is the conduct of the Sudanese government that has encouraged Al-Qaeda to infiltrate Sudan. The government, he wrote, has been spreading extremist propaganda and inciting jihad as part of its campaign against the deployment of international forces in Darfur, and it is this atmosphere that has inspired Al-Qaeda to operate in Sudan.
The following are excerpts from the article: ( 1 )
“Sudan has [recently realized] the danger posed [to it] by Al-Qaeda when the Interior Minister announced the arrest… of a [terrorist] cell that had been stockpiling weapons, ammunition and explosives in three hideouts in different parts of the capital. The minister said that the group had [operated under] the slogan of ‘preventing foreign intervention [in Sudan].’The press reported that the explosives captured [in the hideouts] bore the name ‘Ayman Al-Zawahiri,’ [bin Laden’s] number two man, and that some of them also bore the name ‘Al-Qaeda between the [Blue and White] Niles [i.e., in Sudan],’ and the words ‘a present from Al-Qaeda.’
“[Following the exposure of the Al-Qaeda cell], the government asked the relevant authorities – the local media, the education institutions, and the authorities [in charge of] religious indoctrination – to conduct an open and honest dialogue with the youth in order to eradicate extremism in society.
“But this call came too late, because unfortunately, for over a year now, the state media and the most senior figures in the regime have been conducting an ongoing indoctrination [campaign], which included [incitement] to wage jihad against the international forces that are to be deployed in Darfur. It is noteworthy that the army and police force have held mass rallies in which they pledged to [wage] jihad against the international forces, and [even more so] against the ‘[foreign] agents’ and ‘traitors’ who had supported the deployment of international forces in Darfur. The leaders of this campaign were [Sudanese] President [Omar] Al-Bashir, the defense and interior ministers, and the head of the security forces.
“The most serious fact of all is that some of the statements by those who spread this propaganda were aimed at intimidating the international community, by hinting that if international forces are deployed in Sudan, Al-Qaeda would immediately arrive there as well. Al-Qaeda, [for its part], did not hesitate to exploit this propaganda, and immediately began to warn against the arrival of the [international] forces, and announced that it was willing to fight the infidel forces and defeat them.
“A stream of bombastic announcements began to appear in the media, issued by religious jihad groups which, as a rule, are only encountered during the hours devoted to [programs of] religious preaching. These announcements all called for jihad and threatened the U.N. – to the extent that U.N. personnel in Sudan, especially in Khartoum, began to feel frightened. The government, instead of reassuring the U.N., made things worse by expelling [Jan Pronk], the organization’s top representative in Sudan, from the country, on accusations of interfering in Sudan’s affairs. [The expulsion was ordered] after [Pronk] wrote in his blog that Sudanese forces had suffered defeat in a battle with rebels which took place in Darfur while he was [visiting] the region.
“Now the government has woken up to the danger posed to the state by Al-Qaeda, and has asked the media, and the religious and educational authorities, to conduct an open and honest dialogue with the youth in order to eradicate extremism in society. This call is justified, but we think that the government should… first of all direct it to those among its members who are still riding the wave of [extremist] propaganda despite the discovery of the [terrorist] sleeper cells.
“This applies especially to the defense minister, who held a press conference in which he welcomed the [deployment of an] international force, but then immediately began to threaten the international community. [He said that] he could expel [from the country] whomever he wishes – mentioning [as an example] the precedent of Jan Pronk – and declared that no force would [be allowed to] operate on the ground [in Darfur] except the African forces…
“What the government must do is set an example… by restraining the statements and positions of its members, which frequently contradict one another. As for the education and religious authorities, the government must order the education and religious affairs ministries to examine the [academic] and religious curricula, in order to make sure that they contain no extremism or incitement to violence. Radio and television broadcasts must also be examined, in order to reduce the amount of religious content, which far exceeds the appropriate level in some programs. As for the press, I believe that it is generally free of calls to violence.
“However, when it comes to the [various non-governmental] organizations, I think that the government must review the long list of organizations with religious names… and look into their identity, their plans, and their activities, in order to ensure that they do not incite to violence or support it, directly or indirectly.
“It was clear to everyone that the slogans found in the [Al-Qaeda] cell’s possession were slogans against foreign intervention in Sudan, and that they [were inspired by] the clamorous government campaign against the international forces. A responsible government would not have declared war on the international community vis-à-vis such a controversial issue that has nothing to do with an attack on Sudan, or with any conspiracy against it – [contrary to what] the government initially claimed.
“It is unworthy for the government to evoke conspiracy theories to explain all its conflicts with other elements. The government seems to suffer from a complex called ‘international forces [mania],’ since it won’t stop talking about the [U.N.] Security Council resolution, about how it [managed to] remove explosive articles [in the resolution] and articles that had been inserted [into it] as part of a plot to harm Sudan’s sovereignty, and other such tales – all intended to justify its earlier clamoring [against the deployment of the international forces]. But the government has not taken into account that this approach encourages the belligerent slogans against the foreign intervention that are spread by the sleeper cells – slogans that [the government] is now trying to suppress.
“The crucial point is that Al-Qaeda has already arrived in Sudan. The question now is: do we have a way out? The government must hasten to find a peaceful resolution to the Darfur [crisis], and to resolve its differences with the [Democratic] Popular Front [Army] within the framework of a peace agreement. Above all, [the government] must make serious efforts to achieve national accord, instead of using the Reconciliation Committee, headed by General Siwar Al-Dhahab, as a meaningless banner that can be waved from time to time.
“[The government] must also free the political prisoners, revoke all laws that limit political freedom and freedom of the press, guarantee the holding of general elections on schedule, and ensure that these elections are fair and internationally supervised. [In addition, it must] stop hurling accusations at the international community.”