Islamists wield hidden hand in Sudan conflict, military sources say

Islamists wield hidden hand in Sudan conflict, military sources say
Sudanese army and a paramilitary force have been battling each other in Khartoum, Darfur and elsewhere for 10 weeks. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 28 June 2023
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Islamists wield hidden hand in Sudan conflict, military sources say

Islamists wield hidden hand in Sudan conflict, military sources say
  • Ex-intelligence agents fighting alongside army-sources
  • Army has leant on Bashir-era veterans since 2021 coup
  • Conflict pits army general against ex-militia leader

DUBAI: Thousands of men who worked as intelligence operatives under former president Omar Al-Bashir and have ties to his Islamist movement are fighting alongside the army in Sudan’s war, three military sources and one intelligence source said, complicating efforts to end the bloodshed.
The army and a paramilitary force have been battling each other in Khartoum, Darfur and elsewhere for 10 weeks in Africa’s third largest country by area, displacing 2.5 million people, causing a humanitarian crisis and threatening to destabilize the region. Reinforcements for either side could deepen the conflict.
The army has long denied accusations by its rivals in the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that it depends on discredited loyalists of Bashir, an Islamist long shunned by the West, who was toppled during a popular uprising in 2019.
In response to a question from Reuters for this article, an army official said: “The Sudanese army has no relation with any political party or ideologue. It is a professional institution.”
Yet the three military sources and an intelligence source said thousands of Islamists were battling alongside the army.
“Around 6,000 members of the intelligence agency joined the army several weeks before the conflict,” said a military official familiar with the army’s operations, speaking on condition on anonymity.
“They are fighting to save the country.”
Former officials of the country’s now-disbanded National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), a powerful institution composed mainly of Islamists, confirmed these numbers.
An Islamist resurgence in Sudan could complicate how regional powers deal with the army, hamper any move toward civilian rule and ultimately set the country, which once hosted Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, on a path for more internal conflict and international isolation.
Reuters spoke to 10 sources for this article, including military and intelligence sources and several Islamists.
In a development indicative of Islamist involvement, an Islamist fighter named Mohammed Al-Fadl was killed this month in clashes between RSF forces and the army, said family members and Islamists. He had been fighting alongside the army, they said.
Ali Karti, secretary general of Sudan’s main Islamic organization, sent a statement of condolences for Al-Fadl.
’OUR IDENTITY AND OUR RELIGION’
“We are fighting and supporting the army to protect our country from external intervention and keep our identity and our religion,” said one Islamist fighting alongside the army.
Bashir’s former ruling National Congress Party said in a statement it had no ties to the fighting and only backed the army politically.
The army accused the RSF of promoting Islamists and former regime loyalists in their top ranks, a charge the RSF denied. Army chief Abdel Fattah Burhan, who analysts see as a non-ideological army man, has publicly dismissed claims that Islamists are helping his forces. “Where are they?” he cried out to cheering troops in a video posted in May.
The military, which under Bashir had many Islamist officers, has been a dominant force in Sudan for decades, staging coups, fighting internal wars and amassing economic holdings.
But following the overthrow of Bashir, Burhan developed good ties with states that have worked against Islamists in the region, notably the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Gulf states provided Khartoum with significant aid.
Nowadays, former NISS officers also help the military by collecting intelligence on its enemies in the latest conflict. The NISS was replaced by the General Intelligence Service (GIS) after Bashir was toppled, and stripped of its armed “operations” unit, according to a constitutional agreement.
Most of the men from that unit have sided with the army, but some former operations unit members and Islamists who served under Bashir entered the RSF, one army source and one intelligence source said.
“We are working in a very hard situation on the ground to back up the army, especially with information about RSF troops and their deployment,” said a GIS official.
BASHIR-ERA VETERANS
The army outnumbers the RSF nationally, but analysts say it has little capacity for street fighting because it outsourced previous wars in remote regions to militias. Those militias include the “Janjaweed” that helped crush an insurgency in Darfur and later developed into the RSF.
Nimble RSF units have occupied large areas of Khartoum and this week took control of the main base of the Central Reserve Police, a force that the army had deployed in ground combat in the capital. They seized large amounts of weaponry.
But the army, which has depended mainly on air strikes and heavy artillery, could benefit from GIS intelligence gathering skills honed over decades as it tries to root out the RSF.
On June 7, fire engulfed the intelligence headquarters in a disputed area in central Khartoum. Both sides accused the other of attacking the building.
After Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, carried out a coup in 2021 which derailed a transition to democracy, Hemedti said the move was a mistake and warned it would encourage Islamists to seek power.
Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE had seen Sudan’s transition toward democracy as a way to counter Islamist influence in the region, which they consider a threat.
Publicly, the army has asserted its loyalty to the uprising that ousted Bashir in 2019.
But after the military staged a coup in 2021 that provoked a resurgence of mass street protests, it leaned on Bashir-era veterans to keep the country running. A taskforce that had been working to dismantle the former ruling system was disbanded.
Before the outbreak of violence, Bashir supporters had been lobbying against a plan for a transition to elections under a civilian government. Disputes over the chain of command and the structure of the military under the plan triggered the fighting.
About a week after fighting broke out in April, a video on social media showed about a dozen former intelligence officials in army uniforms announcing themselves as reserve forces.
The footage could not be independently verified by Reuters.
Several senior Bashir loyalists walked free from prison in Bahri, across the Nile from central Khartoum, during a wider prison break amid fighting in late April. The circumstances of their release remain unclear. Bashir is in a military hospital.


Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response
  • Israel has killed more than 33,700 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi officials said on Sunday that Iran gave wide notice days before its drone and missile attack on Israel, but US officials said Tehran did not warn Washington and that it was aiming to cause significant damage.
Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria.
Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory, though a young girl was critically injured and there were widespread concerns of further escalation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that Iran gave neighboring countries and Israel’s ally the United States 72 hours’ notice it would launch the strikes.
Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry said it had spoken to both Washington and Tehran before the attack, adding it had conveyed messages as an intermediary to be sure reactions were proportionate.
“Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” said a Turkish diplomatic source.
One senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration denied Amirabdollahian’s statement, saying Washington did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance.
“That is absolutely not true,” the official said. “They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of ... ‘these will be the targets, so evacuate them.’“
Tehran sent the United States a message only after the strikes began and the intent was to be “highly destructive” said the official, adding that Iran’s claim of a widespread warning may be an attempt to compensate for the lack of any major damage from the attack.
“We received a message from the Iranians as this was ongoing, through the Swiss. This was basically suggesting that they were finished after this, but it was still an ongoing attack. So that was (their) message to us,” the US official said.
Iraqi, Turkish and Jordanian officials each said Iran had provided early warning of the attack last week, including some details.
The attack with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles risked causing major casualties and escalating the conflict.
US officials said on Friday and Saturday they expected an imminent attack and urged Iran against one, with Biden tersely saying his only message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

ESCALATION
Two Iraqi sources, including a government security adviser and a security official, said Iran had used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack at least three days before it happened.
The exact timing of the attack was not disclosed at that point, but was passed to Iraqi security and military authorities hours before the strikes, allowing Baghdad to close its airspace and avoid fatal accidents.
“The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.
A senior Jordanian official said Iran had summoned Arab envoys in Tehran on Wednesday to inform them of their intention to carry out an attack, though it did not specify the timing.
Asked if Iran had also given details about the targets and kind of weapons to be used, the Jordanian source did not respond directly but indicated that that was the case.
An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response.
How far escalation can be avoided remains in question. Biden has told Israel the United States will not join any Israeli retaliation, the US official said.
However, Israel is still weighing its response and will “exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” Israeli minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
Updated 15 April 2024
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Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
  • The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing.
In a separate statement, the army said it was calling “approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front.”
It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.
The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.