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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Satellite photos suggest airstrike destroyed Sudanese arms plant, US group says

An American monitoring group said on Saturday that satellite images of the aftermath of the explosion on Wednesday at a Sudanese weapons factory suggested the site was hit by an airstrike.

The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project to The Associated Press on Saturday showed six 52-foot (16-meter) wide craters near the epicenter of Wednesday’s explosion at the compound.

Military experts consulted by the project found the craters to be “consistent with large impact craters created by air-delivered munitions,” Satellite Sentinel Project spokesman Jonathan Hutson told the AP.

The Sudanese government has pointed the finger at Israel for the fire at the Yarmouk Complex that killed two people, and said that four Israeli aircraft bombed the factory. On Saturday Khartoum claimed it had proof of Israeli involvement. Sudan says 60 percent of the factory was completely destroyed in the attack, and the rest badly damaged.  
The target may have been around 40 shipping containers seen at the site in earlier images. The group said the craters center on the area where the containers had been stacked.

Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied striking the site. Instead, they accused Sudan of playing a role in an Iranian-backed network of arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel believes Sudan is a key transit point in the circuitous route that weapons take to the Islamic militant groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaeda militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers. Israeli officials believe arms that originate in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas go through Sudan before crossing Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert and into Gaza through underground tunnels.

The Satellite Sentinel Project is a partnership between the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide advocacy group and DigitalGlobe, which operates three commercial satellites and provides geospatial analysis. The project was founded last year with support from actor George Clooney, and in the past has used satellite images to monitor the destruction of villages by Sudanese troops in the country’s multiple war zones.

Opened in 1996, Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing plants in the Sudanese capital. Sudan prided itself on having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite United Nations and US sanctions.

The satellite images indicate that the Yarmouk facility includes an oil storage facility, a military depot and an ammunition plant.

The monitoring group said the images indicate that the blast “destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged at least 21 others,” adding that there was no indication of fire damage at the fuel depot inside the military complex.

The group said it could not be certain the containers, seen in images taken Oct. 12, were still there when explosion took place. But the effects of the blast suggested a “highly volatile cargo” was at the epicenter of the explosion.

“If the explosions resulted from a rocket or missile attack against material stored in the shipping containers, then it was an effective surgical strike that totally destroyed any container” that was at the location, the project said.

A witness told the project that three planes were seen “flying fast around southern Khartoum, to the northwest and northeast,” while a fourth larger plane flew toward the northeast at a higher altitude.

Yarmouk is located in a densely-populated residential area of the city approximately 11 kilometers (seven miles) southwest of the Khartoum International Airport.

Wednesday’s blast sent exploding ammunition flying into homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the factory, causing panic among residents. Sudanese officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.

A man who lives near the factory said that, from inside their house, he and his brother heard a loud roar — what they believed was a plane — just before the boom of the explosion sounded from the factory.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s explosion, Sudanese officials said the government has the right to respond to what the information minister said was a “flagrant attack” by Israel on Sudan’s sovereignty and right to strengthen its military capabilities.

The images were released shortly after the publication of a report in the Examiner on Saturday that quoted an “Israeli counterterrorism source” saying Israel bombed the Sudanese munitions plant, which has also produced chemical weapons.

The Examiner’s source claimed that “the Israeli government reported to news reporters that four Israeli military planes attacked and destroyed the arms factory in Khartoum.”

Contrary to the Examiner report, Jerusalem has been tight-lipped since Khartoum. Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday had no comment about the incident. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 there was “nothing to say” about the subject.

The Examiner’s source reiterated the charge made in the Israeli press since the alleged attack that Sudanese-made arms funded by Iran make their way to Hamas and Hezbollah armories. The article claimed that Iran pays Bedouin to smuggle Sudanese arms from the Red Sea coast across Sinai to the Gaza Strip.

According to the Examiner’s Israeli source, “hundreds of rockets (mostly with ranges of 20-40 kilometers), about 1,000 mortar shells, dozens of individual anti-tank missiles, and tons of explosives and explosives-making materials have been smuggled” via Sinai to the Gaza Strip.

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