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Sudan Link to International Terrorism Raises Concern

U.S. defense officials remain concerned about Sudan's links to international terrorism despite what they say are recent efforts by authorities in Khartoum to cooperate in global counter-terrorism efforts.

U.S. officials say Sudan's emerging oil industry has given the country an economic respectability that could be tempering its connections to terrorism.

But one defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says there are still conservative religious undercurrents in Sudan which could pose a danger to U.S. interests.

This official also fears that Sudan's oil industry, which is 30 percent Malaysian-owned, may be a conduit for international Islamic movements that could have influence in Sudan.

The al-Qaida terrorist network is known to have connections in southeast Asia. Authorities in Cambodia recently claimed to have broken up an Islamic group with links to al-Qaida. Police said several dozen people in the group were being deported, including some from Sudan.

U.S. officials say Al-Qaida also has a continuing presence in Sudan, despite recent claims by Sudanese authorities that the group's members have all left. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan during the mid-1990's before departing for Afghanistan.

Sudan remains on the State Department list of countries that support terrorism, a source of bitter disappointment to Sudanese officials who point to a series of recent U.S. government comments that Sudan has been cooperating with counter-terrorism efforts since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The defense official who spoke to VOA acknowledges Washington has been attempting to wean Sudan away from its terrorist connections. The official says there has been a visible effort on Sudan's part to have better relations with the United States.

But neither this official nor other American authorities will detail the nature and extent of Sudan's cooperation in counter-terrorism.

There have been official suggestions that the Khartoum government has shared intelligence information with U.S. agencies.

But U.S. officials say Sudan has not handed over to U.S. officials any terrorist suspects.

Nevertheless news reports say, Sudan has turned over to Saudi Arabia 17 Saudis arrested in a remote area in western Sudan for what officials termed illegal military training and weapons possession.

One Sudanese official is quoted in news media reports as saying the men were planning for "an aggressive activity." He did not explain but said the suspects held extremist views.