Over the last two years, Sudan has engaged in a charm offensive aimed at normalizing its relations with the United States. Despite its president being indicted for genocidal crimes by the International Criminal Court and his regime having a long history of support for terrorist organizations going back to the creation of al Qaeda, Sudan has successfully lobbied the Obama and Trump administrations to lift comprehensive sanctions.
Emboldened by this diplomatic victory, which cost the regime almost nothing in terms of substantive policy change, the regime has turned its attention to convincing Washington to remove it from the State Sponsors of Terror List, which will enable it to receive billions of dollars in debt relief.
To lead that effort and head its embassy in Washington, Sudan sent General Mohamed Atta, the former chief of the notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), who has arrived with no fanfare in Washington to embark on this new assignment.
His entrance was quiet for a reason.
General Atta, who is not related to the Egyptian with the same name who led the 9/11 attacks, brings a résumé that nonetheless represents the least appropriate track record imaginable for a regime seeking to whitewash the reputation of a government steeped in corruption, repression, genocide, terrorism, and religious and racial discrimination.
Under Gen. Atta, NISS has been deployed in the regime’s arrest and persecution of Christian priests, churchgoers, and other religious and ethnic minorities, operating jails and secret detention facilities where systematic torture and abuse of detainees are routine.
Atta also had command responsibility for Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, a brutal security-military unit built from the infamous Janjaweed militias responsible for mass atrocities in Darfur. He is responsible for using these recycled Janjaweed militiamen for the violent suppression of civil protests in September 2013 which led to the killing of more than 200 peaceful demonstrators, many of them school children. As such, Atta’s CV is directly part of the Sudanese regime’s history of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
Today, the U.S. is fully aware that Sudan is harboring radical Islamist clerics and groups that openly advocate violent extremism, indoctrinating Sudanese youth to the ideologies of the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda. Hardliners within the regime are directly implicated in recruiting youth and secretly sending them to fight for the two terrorist organizations and their affiliates elsewhere in Africa, Syria, Iraq, and beyond.
Atta, as the head of NISS, has been working at the very center of activities that give the lie to its repeated promises of cooperation with the U.S. in the war on terror. Leaked internal documents have revealed that NISS adeptly assumes the double agent role by, on the one hand, cooperating with and enabling these terror groups, while on the other hand occasionally blowing the whistle on them to NISS counterparts in the U.S. intelligence community.
It is shocking that anyone would even entertain the idea of removing the Sudan regime from the State Sponsors of Terror List.
Just this summer, the State Department alerted U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Sudan, warning that “Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Sudan, especially in Khartoum… [and] have stated their intent to harm Westerners and Western interests through suicide operations, bombings, shootings, and kidnappings.” Some of these groups and clerics are supported or enabled by the Sudan regime, in particular by the NISS under Atta.
The regime in Khartoum has remained brazenly committed to enabling extremist groups and terrorist organizations, and continues its war against its own people, including a recent escalation of attacks against civilians in Darfur and the brutal oppression of Christians and other minority groups across the country.
Sudan’s selection for the face of its D.C. charm offensive is worse than tone-deaf, it’s a shocking affront to Americans who care about human dignity and religious freedom. The Trump administration should immediately revoke Atta’s diplomatic visa and put him on a plane back to Khartoum. And Congress should send a strong signal to the administration and to the Sudanese regime that sending such representatives and continuing such actions should ensure that Sudan remains firmly on the terrorist list until there is real change in Sudan.