KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Around 1,000 people on Tuesday gathered in the centre of the Sudanese capital Khartoum to praise the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, chanting “Death to America”.
A radical Islamist party had called for a mass prayer to honour the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 plane attacks in the United States who was killed in a U.S. operation in Pakistan.
Mostly men dressed in traditional white robes, some of them arriving in expensive cars, gathered on a square in the centre of Khartoum to attend the prayer and denounce the killing of bin Laden. Veiled women prayed separately in a corner of the square.
After the prayer, several radical Sunni Muslim clerics praised the al Qaeda leader in speeches and called on Arab leaders to fight the United States, widely seen in the region as a supporter of Israel and biased against Muslims.
“Islam is calling to fight America because it supports Israel and the Jews,” Sheikh Abu Zaid Mohammed Hamza told the gathering also attended by junior members of the ruling northern National Congress Party (NCP).
“We hope that all Arab presidents will become like Osama bin Laden,” he said, while some in the crowd chanted “jihad” (Holy War) and “Death to America”.
“Osama bin Laden is our brother,” said Sheikh Abdul Hai Youssuf, another hardline cleric.
Bin Laden lived in Sudan for five years, arriving in 1991 after falling out with Saudi Arabia’s ruling family over the kingdom’s participation in the U.S.-led campaign to end Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait.
At first, he found a haven under Sudan’s Islamist government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. But he left in 1996 as U.S. and international pressure on Sudan mounted.
Many Sudanese have still positive memories of bin Laden because he invested in the African country and stood up against the United States which imposed sanctions on Sudan and bombed in 1998 the El Shifa medicine factory in Khartoum.
U.S. officials said it was producing chemical weapons ingredients and was partly owned by bin Laden. Sudan insisted it was only making pharmaceutical drugs.
The attack followed the bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Sudan’s neighbour Kenya, which killed at least 226 people including 12 Americans. Those attacks were blamed on al Qaeda.
Bashir’s Sudanese government stayed for the second day silent about bin Laden’s killing because it faces a dilemma.
Welcoming his death might bring Khartoum closer to its goal of getting removed from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. But it might also anger Islamists and ordinary Sudanese.