KHARTOUM, Sudan – When the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998, U.S. retaliation aimed at Sudan and Al Qaeda (search) was swift.
"Our target was terror. Our mission was clear — to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin laden (search)," then President Bill Clinton said.
Within days of the embassy bombings, which killed more than 200 people and wounded another 4,000, Clinton authorized cruise missile strikes on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum (search), Sudan's capital.
Sudan is again in the news, and again the story isn't positive for the Islamic fundamentalist government in Khartoum. The United States has characterized a crisis in Darfur (search) as "genocide" since 50,000 black Africans died following battles with the government-supported Janjaweed militia.
More than 1.5 million black Africans fearful of attacks by the militias have fled their villages and now are crammed in squalid refugee camps spread throughout Darfur and eastern Sudan. Refugees in camps continue to die — disease is spreading and malnutrition has become an increasing problem.
Bin Laden's Onetime Home
The last time Americans heard this much about Sudan was when the country welcomed Usama bin Laden in the 1990s. From Sudan, bin Laden plotted attacks against American interests overseas, including the bombings on the two U.S. embassies in Africa and the resulting retaliation led to questions about the Americans’ target.
At the time, U.S. officials believed that workers at the Al Shifa plant were helping to manufacture chemical weapons for bin Laden.
FOX News went to the pharmaceutical plant to get a first-hand look. Even though the attack on the plant took place six years ago, it looks like it happened just yesterday. It appears that the wreckage was never cleaned up — part of the plant still stands, enormous craters mark where the missiles hit. Unbroken medicine bottles are strewn about the entire property.
Debate continues over whether the plant made chemical weapons but Sudan made itself a target by harboring bin Laden from 1992 to 1996 while he plotted the embassy attacks. Sudan also welcomed terrorists Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (search), better known as "Carlos the Jackal," and Abu Nidal (search), a Palestinian militant who founded the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
During his four years in Sudan, bin Laden appeared to live the life of a successful Arab businessman, owning a large, white mansion in an affluent neighborhood near the airport. Even by Western standards, the house was luxurious. A large white fence surrounded his compound, which held a lush garden.
Everyone we spoke with in Khartoum was familiar with the former terror-resident and no one seemed surprised when we asked to go to some of his old stomping grounds. Less than a block away from his old house, we found the mosque where bin Laden worshipped.
Bin Laden was well known in Khartoum even before he became the world's most wanted terrorist. In Sudan, bin Laden was a prominent member of the business community — he owned at least 35 companies, employed an estimated 4,000 workers and was responsible for building many of the major roads in and around the capital.
According to U.S. government reports, bin Laden first internationalized his terror network while he lived in Sudan. He brought in foreign fighters who were looking for a new home after battling the Soviets in Afghanistan. He provided many of these men with jobs and kept them trained in terrorist tactics by setting up training camps in remote parts of Sudan.
Also while in Sudan, bin Laden supplied Somali warlords with weapons to kill American soldiers working in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. U.S. troops were in the country to support a United Nations effort to end famine there but the country was inhospitable, as evidenced by the 18 American soldiers killed and another 73 wounded in one day in 1993.
Close Eye on Sudan
For years, Sudan knew it had a troublemaker in its midst.
The international community asked Sudan to kick out bin Laden. According to some reports, negotiations were under way to hand bin Laden over to the United States, but the plan never fully materialized and, years later, accounts of the negotiations remain murky at best.
In 1996, pressure on Sudan hit its peak and the government kicked bin Laden out. From Sudan, he went to Pakistan and then eventually Afghanistan.
Since then, relations have improved between the United States and Sudan.
"What we've seen over the past few years is more cooperation, information sharing from the government of Sudan, particularly when it comes to Al Qaeda," said Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department.
Sudanese officials said they have no connection to the terror mastermind.
"We have no link to Usama bin Laden. We are fighting terrorism at a regional and international level,” Mustafa Ismail, the Sudanese foreign minister, told FOX News.
But the United States still calls Sudan's Arab government a sponsor of terrorism since Hamas and Islamic Jihad operate there.
In Sudan, state-run media spreads misinformation and hatred for America. Shelves in shops are devoted to anti-American books, pamphlets and CDs. Relations between Sudan and the United States remain difficult with U.S. officials accusing Khartoum of genocide in Darfur and the Arab government charging the United States with trying to undermine its rule.
And as long as anti-American sentiment runs high and terrorists remain determined to set up remote training camps, Sudan will be closely watched.