June 11, 2010 (WASHINGTON) — The four men who were convicted and sentenced to death for killing a USAID employee two years ago in the Sudanese capital escaped from the notorious Kober prison through a sewage pipe, the country’s police chief said on Friday.
The inmates managed to crawl through the old pipe, which leads from the prison to a main street, on Thursday night, said police Lt. Gen. Mohammed Abdul-Rahim al-Tayeb.
This is the first time in the history of the Sudan that a prisoner succeeds in making his way out of Kober which is considered a maximum security prison where political figures are normally held when detained.
The Sudanese police said in a statement today that they suspected a Toyota Land cruiser, which apparently carried the fugitives, as it passed a checkpoint northwest of the twin capital city of Omdurman. The driver of the car refused to stop when ordered and fire exchange took place killing the police driver on spot.
Another police car attempted to carry on the pursuit but got into a wreck causing it to roll off the street upside down. The Toyota Land cruiser was found abandoned later with flat tires from bullets shot at by police.
"The federal police are investigating the matter and searching for the fugitives," al-Tayeb said in a statement carried by the state news agency.
Al-Ra’ed, the ruling party newspaper, said that police has besieged Abu Halif area southwest of Omdurman where the convicts are believed to be hiding. It further reported that they wrote a Quran verse on their cell wall and a sentence saying "the pipe is between us and you".
In Washington, the State Department said it expected Sudanese authorities to apprehend the escaped convicts and ensure that justice is served.
"The United States Government expects that Sudanese authorities will apprehend these convicted murderers and ensure that justice is served for the men killed and their families" US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.
John Granville and his Sudanese driver Abdel-Rahman Abbas Rahma were shot dead on 2008 New Years Eve by men believed to be belonging to an Islamic militant group Ansar al-Tawhid which claimed responsibility for the killing.
Granville was the first American to be killed in Sudan since 1973, when two diplomats were slain by Palestinian militants.
Only four of the five men were sentenced to death last year by hanging while the fifth was sentenced to two years in prison because his role was limited to supplying the weapon for the attack. One of the four is the son of a leader of pacifist Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna, which is linked to Wahhabism — a hard-line form of Sunni Islam practiced mainly in Saudi Arabia — but is not involved in politics.
The defendants sought an overrule of the death penalty by the appeals court particularly after it was reported that the driver’s family waived their right to request that the men be executed in accordance with Islamic Shari’a law. However in December the court upheld the capital punishment.
Under Islamic law, the victims’ families were asked in court whether they forgave the defendants, sought blood money or wanted to see the death penalty enforced.
"Sudanese law does not provide for" a life sentence for murder, said Granville’s mother, Jane Granville, in a statement.
"Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I have to conclude that I am left with no other option. The death penalty is the only sentence that will protect others from those who took my beloved son’s life."
In Sudan the lawyer for Granville Taha Ibrahim told the London based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the escape was a "political partnership that took place from inside and outside Sudan".
"They [convicts] refused [to apologize for killing the two men]....they were so surprisingly confident that the death penalty will not be carried out" he said.
Ibrahim predicted that the four men will try to head towards Somalia and expressed doubt over the police version of their escape noting that all detainees sentenced to death in Kober prison have cuffs on their hands and feet.
A Sudanese journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity from Khartoum told Sudan Tribune that "no one in the entire country believes what the police said about how they escaped".
"They [fugitives] could not have done it without some sort of facilitation from the government. No one has ever managed to do it before. It appears that they have some sort of link with officials inside the government who made this possible. I would not be surprised if the government was actually behind killing Granville in the first place for political reasons".
Granville was killed one day after former U.S. President George W. Bush signed a law encouraging divestment from companies which do business in Sudan in an effort to up economic pressure on Khartoum over Darfur.