Sudan Says Israel 'Most Probably' Behind Attack

Official says struck convoy transported goods, not weapons smuggled from Iran as claimed by U.S.

Sudan said on Friday it believed Israel was behind two attacks on suspected smugglers which killed up to 40 people in the remote north of the country in January and February.

"The first thought is that it was the Americans that did it. We contacted the Americans and they categorically denied they were involved," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig said. "We are still trying to verify it. Most probably it involved Israel."

Sadig said Sudan was gathering evidence at the site, and would not react to the attacks while the investigation was ongoing. He added that the convoys were likely smuggling goods, but not weapons.

View Larger Map

Sadig said one attack was thought to have taken place in the last week of January and one in mid-February.

"We didn't know about the first attack until after the second one. They were in an area close to the border with Egypt, a remote area, desert, with no towns, no people," he told Reuters.

Sudan was gathering evidence at the sites where the convoys were hit, he added.

"There is no proof they were carrying weapons. They were smuggling something, but the pickups were small. You don't carry weapons in small pickups," he said.

"If it was Israel then it is clear that they were acting on bad information that the vehicles were carrying arms," Sudan's Sadig said. "It is illegal to infringe the sovereignty of another country.

He said that Sudan would not react to the attacks while an investigation is ongoing.

"We will reserve the right to react to this later. At the moment it is not confirmed it was Israel."

American officials have confirmed rumors that Israel Air Force warplanes attacked a convoy of Iranian arms passing through Sudan en route to the Gaza Strip in Sudan in January, The New York Times reported on Friday.

Officials apprised of classified intelligence assessments said that Israel carried out aerial attack as part of its effort to combat the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, according to The Times.

The officials also said they had received intelligence reports that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards operative had gone to Sudan to help organize the weapons convoy said the report.

Vince Crawley, a spokesman for the United States Africa Command, told The Times that U.S. forces had not been involved in the bombing.

"The U.S. military has not conducted any airstrikes, fired any missiles or undertaken any combat operations in or around Sudan since October 2008, when U.S. Africa Command formally became responsible for U.S. military action in Africa," The Times quoted him as saying.

One official referred to the January attack as one in a series of Israeli operations against weapons being shipped to Gaza. Another former American official, however, told The Times that the origin of the arms being transferred through Sudan was unclear.

Israeli officials have declined to confirm or deny Israel's involvement in the air strike in Sudan. They also refused to comment on the various foreign media reports about the strike.

Any Israeli decision to attack such a distant target would likely have been based on the belief that Iran could deliver arms into Gaza, possibly including 70-kilometer-range Fajr rockets.

That range would allow Hamas operatives to strike into the heart of Israel, Tel Aviv, from their Gaza bases.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Thursday following the reports that no place in the world was out of Israel's reach for attack.

"We operate everywhere we can hit terrorist infrastructure - in nearby places, in places further away, anywhere we can strike them in a way that increases deterrence," Olmert told a conference in Herzliya.

"Everyone can use their imagination. Those who need to know, know there is no place where Israel cannot operate. Such a place doesn't exist," he said.

Channel 10 television broadcast an interview with a Sudanese minister's adviser who said that targets on or near Sudanese territory were bombed twice, and the second air strike destroyed a ship carrying Iranian arms.

Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan's State Minister for Transportation, told The Associated Press he believed American planes were behind the bombings, which he said took place about a week apart.

He also claimed hundreds of people from several African states had been killed.