NAIROBI, Kenya — Sudan’s interim government said on Thursday that it had reached a financial settlement with families of the victims of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, an effort to persuade the United States to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Seventeen sailors died and another 39 were wounded in the attack, which took place in 2000. Sudanese officials said a settlement had been reached with the families on Feb. 7, but did not specify how much compensation would be given.
There was no confirmation of a deal from American officials. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Thursday morning in Washington had no immediate comment.
The U.S.S. Cole, a Navy destroyer, was attacked by suicide bombers in an explosive-laden skiff as the destroyer was preparing to refuel in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. The terrorist group Al Qaeda claimed responsibility.
Relatives of victims and surviving sailors accused Sudan of having supported Al Qaeda, and sought to hold the country liable through American courts.
Sudan’s interim government said in a statement announcing the settlement on Thursday that it “is not responsible for this act or any other acts of terrorism.” It said Sudan is offering the compensation “only with a view to fulfill the conditions set by the U.S. administration to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in order to normalize relations with the United States and the rest of the world.”
The announcement comes as Sudan undergoes a fragile democratic transition after the fall last year of president Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the African nation with an iron fist for nearly three decades. Sudan’s interim ruling council, composed of civilian and military officials, is now seeking to shake off decades of diplomatic and economic isolation. Being removed from the American list of state sponsors of terrorism would be a significant step.
Sudan was added to the list in 1993, joining North Korea, Syria, and Iran. The designation restricts foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales and limits financial transactions. Inclusion on the list has crippled Sudan’s economy and deterred foreign investors and commercial banks from doing business in the country.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a prominent economist, visited Washington in December in a bid to lobby the Trump administration to remove it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. In 2017, the Trump administration lifted longstanding sanctions against Sudan, saying Khartoum had made progress on counterterrorism efforts and expanded access to humanitarian aid in war-torn regions.
American officials have pressed Sudan for reparations in recent months, the state department said, saying compensation for the victims of terrorism remained a priority if the United States was to remove Sudan from the blacklist. Under presidents Obama and Trump, the United States has targeted in airstrikes those it suspected of plotting the Cole attack.
Sudan has for years denied allegations that it provided material support to Al Qaeda or caused the attack on the Cole. In their announcement today, officials from the transitional government reiterated this.
“The Government of the Sudan would like to indicate that it was clearly stated in the concluded settlement agreement that the government is not responsible for this act or any other acts of terrorism,” the state-run Sudan News Agency quoted a justice ministry statement as saying.
The government, the statement said, “has entered into this settlement out of its keenness to settle all historical terrorism claims” generated by “the defunct regime.”
Lara Jakes contributed reporting from Washington.