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Sudan: Omar al-Bashir moved to military hospital

April 26, 2023

Army officials said Sudan's former dictator was transferred to a military hospital just before fighting broke out. He remains in police custody alongside other former officials.

Omar al-Bashir in 2019
Sudan's former leader Omar al-Bashir remains in police custody, the army saidImage: Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua/Imago

Sudan's jailed former strongman Omar al-Bashir is being held in a high-security military hospital, the country's army said on Wednesday after speculation on his whereabouts.

The military said Bashir and around 30 other detainees at Kober Prison in Khartoum were moved to the nearby Aliaa Military Hospital before the fighting between the army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary (RSF) broke out on April 15.

Bashir and the others were relocated on the advice of the prison's medical staff "due to their health conditions," the army added.

Officials said he remains in police custody.

Bashir allies out of prison

Questions arose over Bashir's whereabouts after a former minister in his government, Ahmed Haroun, announced on Tuesday that he had left the prison with other former officials.

In a voice message published [in Arabic] on social media, Haroun seemingly called on his supporters to back the Sudanese army.

The Interior Ministry had accused the RSF of breaking into multiple prisons to free detainees, allegedly including Bashir.

However, it remains unclear how Haroun was able to escape, Sami Hamdi, managing director of the London-based consulting company International Interest, told DW.

He said that the situation in Khartoum is chaotic, that everybody is fleeing, and that the institutions are not working anymore. And it was a possibility that "in the midst of this chaos, Ahmed Haroun and these other Islamist leaders found an opportunity to escape."

Some opposition figures like Yassir Arman said claims about Bashir being freed is a call to widen the war.

"It is the opposite of what the Sudanese, the region and the internationals want," Arman said.

What role does Bashir play in the current crisis in Sudan?

Bashir was ousted by mass protests in 2019 after almost 30 years of authoritarian rule in Sudan.

The former president was subsequently convicted of corruption and money laundering and was sentenced to two years in prison. He remains on trial for the coup that brought him to power in 1989.

Sudan ceasefire on shaky ground

The leaders of the two current warring factions — army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as Hemeti — served under him in the past.

Analysts say the power structures that underpinned Bashir's authoritarian rule are largely intact.

"Omar al-Bashir and other Islamists are beneficiaries of Burhan staying in power," Sami Hamdi told DW. However, he doesn't believe that Burhan could actually allow them to "control operations because he believes himself to be still in control and also, it would heavily affect his standing in the face of the international community."

Meanwhile, Burhan has not yet officially removed any of Hemeti's official titles. "Hemeti is technically still the deputy," Hamdi said. "If Burhan is killed in this conflict, Hemeti becomes the head of the country under Sudanese law."

Who is Omar al-Bashir?

Bashir came to power after a coup in 1989 and proclaimed himself president in 1993.

He also served as prime minister, defense minister and commander of the reformed armed forces.

Bashir moved quickly to tighten his grip on power: ambitious military officers were executed, opposition parties were banned and independent newspapers were shut down

The leader openly supported a militant interpretation of Islam and invited al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to open a training camp in the country in the early 1990s, until international pressure forced him to expel bin Laden in 1996.

In 2003, Bashir was accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. His government permitted the Janjaweed militia to attack the region's non-Arab population. The Janjaweed, led by Hemeti, would later be turned into the semi-official RSF paramilitary.

Omar al-Bashir campaigning in Darfur in 2015
Omar al-Bashir was accused of genocide against the non-Arab population in DarfurImage: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

The International Criminal Court in The Hague released an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2008 for genocide in Darfur.

Bashir called on his supporters within the Arab League to protect him against what he called a "white" and "racist" justice system.

His plan worked and was able to evade the arrest warrant, since many African and Arab states wouldn't execute it.

In turn, in 2014, the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, told the UN Security Council she would have to stop her investigation.

Calls to turn Bashir over to the ICC continue.

Material from AP, Reuters contributed to this report

Edited by: Rob Turner

Jennifer Holleis
Jennifer Holleis Editor and commentator focusing on the Middle East and North Africa
Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East