CAIRO – Sudan's defense minister, who led the overthrow Thursday of autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir, has had his assets blocked by the U.S. Treasury since 2007 for supporting and managing militias accused of carrying out genocide in the country's Darfur conflict.
In a televised statement, Gen. Awad ibn Ouf declared that the military had removed and arrested al-Bashir and that it will rule the country for the next two years as part of a transitional council along with the powerful security and intelligence agencies.
His appearance made him the face of military rule, and the general is likely to become the country's formal leader, though the makeup of the council has not yet been announced. That has stunned and angered protesters who have been holding rallies for months demanding al-Bashir's ouster and the establishment of civilian-led democracy.
Ibn Ouf, in his mid-60s, is a longtime insider in the leadership of al-Bashir's 30-year rule. He rose up in the ranks to become chief of Sudan's military intelligence and was made defense minister in 2015. Al-Bashir named him as a vice president in February.
He was among other Sudanese officials placed on a U.S. sanctions list for his role in the bloodshed in the western region of Darfur. Al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide over the conflict in which 200,000 people were killed.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes in militias known as the Janjaweed and unleashing them on civilian populations. The militias became notorious for massacres and rapes. Government officials denied the charges.
In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department blocked ibn Ouf's assets along with two other Sudanese officials for their role in "fomenting violence and human rights abuses in Darfur."
It accused them of acting as "liaisons" between the government and the Janjaweed. It said ibn Ouf "provided the Janjaweed with logistical support and directed attacks."
At the time, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. said, "Even in the face of sanctions, these individuals have continued to play direct roles in the terrible atrocities of Darfur."
George Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founders of The Sentry, an investigative initiative created to uncover the financial networks behind conflicts in Africa, singled out ibn Ouf for his role in Darfur and said al-Bashir's ouster is not enough.
"Removing the leader of a violent, corrupt system without dismantling that system is inadequate. The next steps are crucial," the two said in a statement. They urged the international community to help Sudan to have a new president who "reflects the will of people."