By ELI LEON, ISRAEL HAYOM—
A mysterious explosion at a state-owned military factory complex rocked the southern reaches of the Sudanese capital Khartoum early Wednesday, prompting the Sudanese government once again to blame Israel for violating its sovereignty and attacking its facilities.
Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman told reporters on Wednesday that four aircraft hit the Yarmouk complex before dawn, setting off a huge blast that caused an explosion and fire that killed two people.
“Four planes coming from the east bombed the Yarmouk industrial complex,” Belal said. “They used sophisticated technology [to penetrate Sudanese airspace and avoid radars].” Belal said that parts of the complex which produced “conventional weapons” were completely destroyed, while other parts were only partially damaged.
“We reserve our right to respond in a time and place of our choosing,” Belal added. He admitted that Sudan lacked the military means equivalent to Israel’s, but said it reserved the right to respond with the means at its disposal. The minister stressed that the factory was not producing prohibited weapons, had no underground or hidden sections, and that Sudan had the national right to produce conventional weapons.
Around 300 people gathered at the courtyard of a government building where the Sudanese cabinet was in an emergency meeting, shouting, “Death to Israel” and “Remove Israel from the map.”
“Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred,” Vice President Ali Osman Taha, standing next to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, told the crowd. “This attack only strengthens our firmness.”
Osman said that Sudan intends to file an official complaint to the UN Security Council (UNSC), and also told the BBC that his country is planning more decisive action against Israeli interests saying there are legitimate targets.
The minister of media said in his press conference in Khartoum that 60 percent of Al-Yarmook ammunition factory was completely destroyed while 40 percent was partially destroyed. He revealed that the government had plans to relocate the factory to an area outside of the capital “but the Israelis knew this and decided to attack preemptively,” the AllAfrica.com website reported.
According to the Al Hayat newspaper, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum shut its door on Tuesday shortly before the attack, prompting speculation that the Americans had prior knowledge of the planned attack on the weapons factory and feared a response on its mission.
Belal, referring to a 2009 attack on an arms convoy in a Red Sea province in eastern Sudan, said, “We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same State of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty.”
Israel believes Sudan is a conduit for arms shipments through Egypt to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, as well as other terrorist groups operating in the region. Israel does not comment officially on the issue.
Belal said the complex produced conventional weapons, and that “Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel.”
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman called the attack a “blatant violation” of the U.N. charter and called for condemnation from the world body.
Belal said an analysis of rocket debris and other material had shown that the attack was engineered by Israel.
Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment on Sudan’s allegations. When asked by Israel’s Channel 2 News about Sudan’s accusations, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: “There is nothing I can say about this subject.”
Amos Gilad, head of the Political-Diplomatic Bureau at the Defense Ministry, refused to comment on Israeli involvement in the explosion, but touched on Sudan’s involvement in aiding and abetting terrorist organizations.
“There are many versions to this story and there is no point in getting into it,” Gilad said. “The flames are obvious, because they came from that place. Regarding Sudan’s role, it is a dangerous terror state, and regarding what happened there exactly time is needed to understand it,” he said.
While not confirming nor denying reports that Israel attacked the Khartoum factory, Vice Prime Minister Moshe [Bogey] Ya’alon said Israel “would not shed a tear” over the reported attack.
Shabtai Shavit, former Mossad chief told Israel Radio that Sudan has become a thoroughfare for Iranian weapons from the sea into Africa and the Middle East, including Egypt and Gaza. Sudan is a country with a weak unstable government with many regions under the control of tribal warlords, so it is easier for Iran to work there.
If Israel was indeed behind the attack, the distance to the weapons factory in Khartoum is greater than the distance to the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility in Iran.
The powerful blast at the complex sent exploding ammunition flying through the air, causing panic among residents.
Abdelgadir Mohammed, 31, who lives near the factory, said a loud roar of what they believed was a plane prompted him and his brother to leave their house around midnight to check it out.
“At first we thought it was more than one plane. Then we thought it was a plane crashing because of how sharp the sound was,” Mohammed said. “Then we saw a flash of light, and after it came a really loud sound. It was an explosion.”
He said he heard three distinct explosions.
Mohammed said the explosion caused panic among the residents of the heavily populated, low-income neighborhood. Many fled to open spaces, fearing their homes were collapsing. He said ammunition flew out of the factory into the air and fell on homes.
Thick smoke blackened the sky over the complex, and firefighters fought the blaze for hours.
In New York, Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the attack, accusing Israel of meddling in its internal affairs and providing support to rebel groups.
“Four Israeli airplanes invaded our air space and perpetrated this heinous attack,” Osman told a Security Council session on Darfur. “We reject such aggression and expect the Security Council to condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concepts of peace and security and of the principles and purposes of the charter and United Nation and it jeopardizes peace and security in the entire region and not just in Sudan.”
The Cairo-based Arab League said it was closely following the fallout after the attack. Deputy Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli said Sudanese officials were in touch with the League and had provided initial reports about Israel’s alleged involvement. “We are working to verify them,” he said.
Sudanese activists on social media websites criticized the government for placing a factory with such large quantities of ammunition in a residential area.
Meanwhile, opposition elements in Sudan claimed Wednesday that the weapons factory belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Sudanese government officials in the past have not specifically denied that Iran has military factories in their country, and foreign media outlets have reported that Revolutionary Guard troops have trained the Sudanese military.
The independent Sudanese newspaper Rai al-Shabaab revealed in 2010 that Iran had built a covert facility inside the Sudanese Military Industrial Complex near Khartoum. The factory, according to the same report, manufactured arms for terrorist organizations working with Iran, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon and radical Islamist groups in Yemen and Somalia.
Al-Shabaab was shut down by government authorities following the report and the paper’s editor was arrested and charged with espionage. A report in Foreign Policy magazine in 2010 examining Iranian activity in Sudan claimed that Israel knew of the factory’s existence.
Photographs from the explosion area, meanwhile, showed weapons parts scattered about, including metal fragments from 122mm rockets and larger ones, such as the Fajr-3 rocket manufactured by Iran.
The Yarmouk weapons complex was built in 1996. Sudan prided itself in having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite international sanctions.
Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing facilities in the Sudanese capital.
Jonah Leff of the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey told The Associated Press that the location of the two factories was “certainly a hazard” to Khartoum’s population if the weapons inside were not properly maintained or secured.
A September report from the Small Arms Survey said there was evidence from weapons packaging found in Darfur and in South Kordofan that arms and ammunition from China were being exported to Yarmouk and then transported to Kenya and Tanzania.
Leff said that although the Small Arms Survey had documented Sudanese military stocks of Iranian weapons and ammunition, there was no evidence that Iranian weapons were being assembled or manufactured in the two Khartoum factories.