Bombed Sudanese Plant Owner Files $50M Suit

BySue Pleming

W A S H I N G T O N, July 27, 2000 -- The owner of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory bombed by the United States nearly two years ago for allegedly making chemical weapons filed a $50 million lawsuit today against the U.S. government.

U.S. lawyers for Salah Idris, owner of the El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries Co. in Khartoum, argued in papers filed with the U.S. Claims Court that the plant made antibiotics, veterinary and other drugs and was bombed due to a terrible “intelligence blunder” by Washington.

“The plant did not contain any facilities that could have been used to manufacture chemical weapons or any chemical components of chemical weapons,” the court papers said.

President Clinton and senior officials said after the blast that the factory — which was linked to Saudi exile and terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden — was being used to make chemical weapons.

U.S. Stands by Bombing Decision

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, when asked to comment on the suit, said the United States stood by its original decision on Aug. 20, 1998, to bomb the factory.

“We have reliable information, this is nothing new, that Osama bin Laden was seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction for use against American targets,” Reeker said.

“Nearly two years since this attack, the evidence about the purpose of this chemical plant remains persuasive.”

U.S. missiles hit the factory just two weeks after two bomb attacks at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 211 people and injured more than 5,000. Bin Laden is wanted in connection with those blasts.

The lawsuit said there was overwhelming evidence that the factory was a commercial, pharmaceutical processing plant.

“The aim of this lawsuit is two-fold. We want the plant rebuilt so that it can go into operation and we also want to clear Mr. Idris’ name,” said Stephen Brogan, the lead lawyer in the case.

Idris, who lives in London but has Saudi and Sudanese citizenship, said in a statement he had always opposed the use of terror as a political action.

Empty of EMPTA?

“I am not nor have I ever been a terrorist or associated with terrorists. In particular I have never met nor spoken with Mr. Osama bin Laden, nor with any agent of his. Nor have I knowingly done business with him or any of his agents,” said Idris, who bought the plant for $18 million in March, 1998.

He said the effect of the bombing on ordinary people in Sudan had been devastating, adding that the plant had produced half of all the medicine and antibiotics for one of the poorest nations in the world.

“Mr. bin Laden was not affected by this tragic error. But many people at the margin of existence were not so lucky. The bombing was either stupid or evil,” Idris said.

The complaint noted that when confronted with conflicting evidence about the factory, U.S. officials had backed down from initial claims, except for one that a chemical component of VX nerve gas, known as EMPTA, was found in a soil sample near the plant.

In response to this claim, the court papers said Idris had ordered a study by experts of the ground soil and drainage sludge at El-Shifa. The study found evidence of common pesticides with a chemical similar to EMPTA but no trace of EMPTA.

The ‘Monica Factor’The civil suit also claimed Clinton ordered the attack due to his “diminished authority and popularity” following the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the president’s admission that he had an affair with the former White House intern.

“Only three days before the attack, President Clinton appeared on national television and made certain admissions about his conduct that were personally and politically embarrassing to him and the first lady,” the suit said.

A Justice Department spokesman said his department would review the suit to determine what steps should be taken next. He had no further comment.

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