Story highlights Hassan al-Turabi died after an illness, Sudanese state TV reports He was an Islamist leader who invited Osama bin Laden to Sudan
Turabi was once an ally of President Omer al-Bashir, although the two were later at odds
(CNN)Hassan al-Turabi, who invited Osama bin Laden to Sudan and remained a powerful presence in that African nation even after the al Qaeda leader’s exit, has died, Sudanese state television reported Saturday.
He was 84. The state TV report indicated that Turabi died from an illness. Turabi established himself decades ago as a leading Islamist fundamental and force in Sudan society, as illustrated by his founding of the National Islamic Front. His stature rose when his then ally Omer al-Bashir seized power in a military coup in 1989, which gave Turabi more power and leverage than ever.
That was around the time that Turabi reached out to bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and “urged him to transplant his whole organization to Sudan,” according to the United States’ 9/11 Commission report.
Bin Laden “agreed to help Turabi in an ongoing war against African Christian separatists in southern Sudan and also to do some road building,” the report said. “Turabi in return would let [bin Laden] use Sudan as a base for worldwide business operations and for preparations for jihad.” And this bargain held, picking up steam especially after bin Laden himself made Sudan his home in 1991. The 9/11 report noted that the terror leader, who was a trained civil engineer, helped build a highway from Khartoum to the Red Sea, while al Qaeda officials (via bin Laden’s businesses) amassed “weapons, explosives and technical equipment for terrorist purposes.” Meanwhile, Turabi continued to exert himself as an Islamist leader who perhaps inspired bin Laden to rally Muslims together. “Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and join against the common enemy,” the 9/11 report said, noting Sudan’s part in supporting al Qaeda and Iranian operatives’ “training for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.” He retained influence, too, with bin Laden as when he reportedly brokered a deal so al Qaeda wouldn’t back insurgents against then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. By the mid-1990s, Western and other governments ramped up pressure on Bashir not to harbor al Qaeda anymore. in 1996, Sudanese officials expelled bin Laden, who moved with his family to then Taliban-run Afghanistan. Turabi’s place in Sudanese politics began to fade as well, as his relationship with Bashir diminished. He was speaker of the national legislature and chairman of the Congress Party, which he had formed, in 1999 when he proposed laws limiting a president’s powers. Bashir responded by dissolving the assembly.
That put Turabi out of the speaker’s job, but not out of influence. He remained a force in Sudanese politics and a thorn in Bashir’s side, a fact that may have contributed to his being arrested several times — including in 2010, after criticizing the President and the recent elections in an interview with a local newspaper.