Sudan's transitional government said Thursday it has reached a settlement with families of the victims of the 2000 attack on USS Cole in Yemen, in a bid to have the African country taken off the U.S. terrorism list and improve relations with the West.
At the time of the Oct. 12, 2000 attack in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 sailors and wounded more than three dozen others, Sudan was accused of providing support to al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
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Today, Sudan's interim authorities are desperate to have sanctions, linked to its listing by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terror, lifted. Sudan's justice ministry said the settlement was signed with the victims' families last Friday but its statement gave no details of the settlement.
There was no immediate comment from Washington.
Sudan's information minister and interim government spokesman, Faisal Saleh, told The Associated Press that Justice Minister Nasr-Eddin Abdul-Bari had traveled last week to Washington to sign the deal that included compensations for both the wounded and the killed.
He said the figures could not be disclosed because the Sudanese government is still in the middle of negotiations to reach a similar settlement with families of victims of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
“Our lawyer advised us not to disclose the figures because that might affect our ongoing negotiations,” Saleh said. He said, however, that the American side is free to disclose the amount if it wishes to do so.
For Sudan, having the sanctions lifted would be a key step toward ending its isolation and rebuilding the economy after the popular uprising last year that toppled longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and installed the joint civilian-military sovereign council.
The new Sudanese rulers say they were not responsible for the attack on USS Cole and that they had negotiated the deal out of their “keenness to resolve old terror claims inherited from the ousted regime” of al-Bashir.
Sudan is also seeking to to meet the requirements set by the U.S. administration to have Sudan's name removed from the list of countries sponsoring terror, the statement added.
In the USS Cole attack, two men in a boat detonated explosives alongside the U.S. destroyer as it was refueling in Aden. The victims' families, along with the wounded sailors, had sued the Sudanese government in U.S. courts demanding compensations.
In 2012, a federal judge issued a judgment of nearly $315 million against Sudan but last March, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that ruling on the grounds that Sudan had not been properly notified of the lawsuit.
Andrew C. Hall, a lawyer who represents survivors of the attack, said at the time that the victims, though disappointed with the ruling, would continue the case, along with a second related case filed by family members of the 17 sailors who died in the attack.
Thursday's announcement of the settlement from Khartoum comes two days after Sudan's provisional rulers said they had agreed to hand over autocrat al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide during the fighting in the western Darfur region.
It wasn't clear when the 76-year-old al-Bashir could be handed over to the court in The Hague, Netherlands. He faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his alleged role in leading the deadly crackdown on a rebel insurgency in Darfur. The indictments were issued in 2009 and 2010, marking the first time the global court had charged a suspect with genocide.