On August 19, 1998, 14 cruise missiles destroyed El-Shifa, Sudan’s largest pharmaceutical factory, which produced life-saving medicines for the country’s citizens. The attack on the plant and a training camp in Afghanistan was ordered by then-US President Bill Clinton in response to the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network two weeks earlier.
A submarine launched 79 missiles into the Red Sea, 14 of which hit the El-Shifa industrial site near a residential neighborhood of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The hit occurred in the middle of the night, and one person was killed and ten others were injured.
El-Shifa, Clinton alleged at the time, was part-owned by bin Laden, the major suspect in the embassy bombings, and was making nerve gas.
The US case was built around a single soil sample allegedly obtained by the CIA from outside the main entrance of El-Shifa. When journalists from around the world visited the bombed site a few days later, they saw something was wrong. Antibiotics, malaria tablets and syrups, as well as medications for hypertension, diabetes, ulcer, tuberculosis, and rheumatism, were all created at the plant, according to records and documents found at the site, according to a report.
According to another report, the factory supplied half of the supply of chloroquine, the then-standard malaria medicine, as well as the majority of veterinary medications used in Sudan. Sudan, as one of the poorest countries in the world, was hit hard by a shortage of essential goods very away. And it didn’t get any better.
But, before that, journalists at the blasted site noticed something that American intelligence had missed: the plant/factory was privately owned and partially funded by a Kenyan development bank. The facility was owned by Saleh Idris, a Sudanese-born industrialist. The US government froze his bank assets, including over $24 million with Bank of America, shortly after the incident. According to one story, he then filed a civil suit in a US court against the Treasury Department and Bank of America, alleging that his assets were frozen despite the fact that there was no evidence that his plant was involved in the fabrication of materials for chemical weapons.
The assets were frozen by the US authorities until just before a court response was due. Despite this, Idris’ charges of “international terrorism” were not dismissed. Despite the fact that the charges were dropped, Idris sued the US government in federal court in Washington for destroying the plant without justification, defaming him, and failing to provide full compensation for the facility’s destruction.
However, the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge, and the decision was reaffirmed by an appeals court. According to Reuters in 2010, “the appeals court ruled the issue constituted a political subject covered by a legal theory that says the complaint cannot be examined by the judicial branch.”
However, there was a disagreement inside the US administration at the time over whether the El-Shifa plant actually represented a threat, and that discussion is still ongoing.
Before the strike, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen stated that the US was unaware that El-Shifa was producing pharmaceuticals. Surprisingly, the factory had signed a huge UN oil-for-food contract with Iraq prior to the bombing, which had been cleared by the US. As a result, some of the pharmaceuticals manufactured in El-Shifa were exported to Iraq. According to analysts, America’s bombing of El-Shifa was intended to send a clear message: “Help our adversary, and you will pay the price.”
Years before the missile attack, intelligence assessments said that “Iraq had relocated some chemical weapons capability to Sudan.” This was reported years before bin Laden was expelled from Sudan in 1996, allegedly due to US pressure. Bin Laden had spent the previous five years in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, constructing farms, bridges, roads, and his al-Qaida terrorist organization. The Sudan missile strike occurred two years after he was ousted.
When the strike happened, the country was still fighting to recover from years of economic hardship, tyranny, and police and military brutality. El-Shifa was the only factory in Sudan making inexpensive tuberculosis and veterinary medications when it was destroyed during the famine. Authorities believe that if replacement drugs had not been delivered swiftly, a public health calamity may have occurred. Even months after the attack, Sudan was plagued by a meningitis epidemic. Hundreds of children and adults have died as a result of a dearth of antibiotics.
The bombing of Sudan’s largest manufacturer of medicinal items, according to Dr. Idris Eltayeb, chairman of El-board, Shifa’s was “just as much an act of terrorism as the twin towers.”
The Guardian paraphrased him as saying, “The only difference is we know who did it.” “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life there, but this was worse in terms of numbers and relative cost to a poor country.”
Sudanese citizens are currently battling an economic crisis that has worsened as the country emerges from years of isolation and conflict. Inflation has surpassed 300 percent, resulting in shortages of basic goods such as food, medication, and other necessities.