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US poised to grant Sudan immunity over past attacks

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) greets in August Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (R) of Sudan, which wants US legislation to grant legal immunity for past attacks./AFP
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Dec 22, 2020 - 12:22 PM

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers were set Monday to back legislation granting Sudan legal immunity for past attacks, a final step in a historic deal removing Khartoum from Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

The text would restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity with the exception of litigation already pending in US federal courts related to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Democratic Senators Bob Menedez and Chuck Schumer announced in a statement.

The legislation is part of the massive omnibus bill to fund the government for the coming year, which is also due to include a new aid package to help millions of Americans and businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Lawmakers were aiming to pass the legislation on Monday.

The US removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist a week ago, less than two months after the Arab nation pledged to normalize ties with Israel.

The move opens the way for aid, debt relief and investment to a country going though a rocky political transition and struggling under a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of a deal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims’ families from the twin 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a 2000 attack by the jihadist group on the USS Cole off Yemen’s coast.

Those attacks were carried out after dictator Omar al-Bashir had allowed then al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.

Adoption of the legislation is a key, final step to unblocking the money, which Sudan has already put in an escrow account.

Schumer and Menendez, who represent respectively the states of New York and neighboring New Jersey, wanted to ensure language that would not block the right of 9/11 victims or their families from suing Sudan for its past role as a backer of al-Qaeda.

President Donald Trump’s administration, which hands power to Joe Biden in January, has been pushing for a conclusion in part to show its support for Sudan’s transition two years after the revolt that brought an end to Bashir’s reign.

The Trump White House was also aiming to remove any issues that could put in doubt Khartoum’s historic pledge to normalize relations with Israel.

Sudan recently warned that delays in the US Congress regarding its immunity could slow the application of the Israel deal.

The legislation before the US Congress also provides for assistance of $700 million to Sudan, and an additional $120 million toward the repayment of its debt to the International Monetary Fund.

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