NAIROBI — Sudan’s interim government said Thursday that it had reached a financial settlement with families of the victims of the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, an effort to persuade the United States to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Seventeen sailors died and another 39 were wounded in the attack, which took place in 2000. Sudanese officials said a settlement had been reached with the families on Feb. 7, but did not specify how much compensation would be given.
There was no confirmation of a deal from US officials. A spokesman for the State Department on Thursday morning in Washington had no immediate comment.
The USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, was attacked by suicide bombers in an explosive-laden skiff as the destroyer was preparing to refuel in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. The terrorist group Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
Relatives of victims and surviving sailors accused Sudan of having supported Al Qaeda, and sought to hold the country liable through US courts.
Sudan’s interim government said in a statement announcing the settlement Thursday that it “is not responsible for this act or any other acts of terrorism.” It said Sudan is offering the compensation “only in order to meet the prerequisites set by the American Administration for removing the name of the Sudan from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism, so that relations with the United States of America and the rest of the world could be normalized.”
The Trump administration has been looking at lifting the terrorism designation for Sudan “for quite some time,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters on a plane to Germany, before visiting several countries in Africa and the Middle East.
“The Sudanese reminded me that they would love to get off that list and we always measure twice and cut once before we remove someone from a list like that,” Pompeo said.
Sudan’s announcement of a compensation deal comes as the African nation undergoes a fragile transition after the fall last year of President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly three decades. Sudan’s interim ruling council, composed of civilian and military officials, is now seeking to shake off decades of diplomatic and economic isolation. Being removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism would be a significant step.
Sudan was added to the list in 1993, joining North Korea, Syria, and Iran. The designation restricts foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and limits financial transactions. Inclusion on the list has crippled Sudan’s economy and deterred foreign investors and commercial banks from doing business in the country.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a prominent economist, visited Washington in December in a bid to lobby the Trump administration to remove Sudan from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The two countries agreed in December to exchange ambassadors again after a break of 23 years.
In 2017, the Trump administration lifted longstanding sanctions against Sudan, saying Khartoum had made progress on counterterrorism efforts and expanded access to humanitarian aid in war-torn regions.
US officials have pressed Sudan for reparations in recent months, the State Department said, saying compensation for the victims of terrorism remained a priority if the United States was to remove Sudan from the list. Under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States has targeted in airstrikes those it suspected of plotting the Cole attack.
Sudan is still in the process of negotiating a settlement with families of those killed in the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The nearly simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed 224 people and wounded thousands.
Sudan has for years denied allegations that it provided material support to Al Qaeda or caused the attack on the Cole. In their announcement today, officials from the transitional government reiterated this.
“The government of the Sudan would like to indicate that it was clearly stated in the concluded settlement agreement that the government is not responsible for this act or any other acts of terrorism,” the state-run Sudan News Agency quoted a justice ministry statement as saying.
The government, the statement said, “has entered into this settlement out of its keenness to settle all historical terrorism claims” connected to “the defunct regime.”