, KHARTOUM, Jun 12 – US officials made it clear they expected Sudan to capture and punish four prisoners who escaped after being sentenced to death for the 2008 murders of a US diplomat and his driver.
The four Sudanese Islamists escaped on Thursday from the Kober jail in northern Khartoum, a security source in the Sudanese capital told AFP.
The escapees exchanged fire with police at the Abu Halif checkpoint, southwest of Omdurman, police spokesman General Mohammed Abdel Majid al-Tayeb said Friday.
"We followed them and we arrested the driver of the vehicle which the fugitives used to go out from Khartoum State," he added.
The four men had been sentenced to hang for the murder of US diplomat John Granville and his driver Abdel Rahman Abbas in Khartoum on New Year\’s Day 2008.
"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.
Granville, 33, worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He and Abbas, 40, were shot dead in their car on as they returned from a New Year\’s Eve celebration.
Sudanese authorities charged five young Islamists with the double murder, of whom four were handed the death penalty. The other man was sentenced to two years in prison for providing the arms and released in 2009.
Two influential journalists with Al-Intibaha newspaper earlier this week urged President Omar al-Beshir to give the four an amnesty, after they had appeals turned town.
Under Islamic law, the victims\’ families were asked in court whether they forgave the defendants, sought compensation or wanted to see the death penalty enforced.
The death sentences were first handed down in June but suspended in August after Abbas\’s father forgave the men. The convictions were renewed in October when both families formally called for the sentence to be carried out.
"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."
Adil Abdelghani, the Granville family\’s Sudanese lawyer, said after news of the escape: "The authorities have assured us they will continue searching for them."
Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Raj Shah on Friday expressed "once again their full support for these brave public servants (killed in Sudan) and their families."
One defendant, Mohaned Osman Yusef, shouted after the second sentencing in October: "You cannot kill a Muslim because he killed a Christian."
Yusef, a former military officer, also accused the United States of killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Islamic law condemns murder, regardless of the nationality or religion (of the victim)," the judge countered. Some Muslim scholars say a Muslim can be punished, but not executed, for killing a non-Muslim.
The others on death row were Mohammed Mukawi, Abdelbassit Hajj al-Hassan and Abdelrauf Abu Zeid Mohammed Hamza.
One of the four is the son of a leader of pacifist Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna, which is linked to Wahhabism — a hardline form of Sunni Islam practised mainly in Saudi Arabia — but is not involved in politics.
The killings sent shockwaves through the sizeable Western community in Khartoum, a city usually considered one of the safest in Africa. Most Western nationals work in embassies, for NGOs or the United Nations.
The United States, however, advises its citizens against visiting Sudan.
A group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid claimed it killed Granville and his driver, according to SITE, a US-based organisation which monitors Islamist websites.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officers from the United States helped to investigate the killings, which came amid strains with Khartoum over a government crackdown on a revolt in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Kober prison, built in the 19th century on the banks of the Blue Nile, houses mostly political prisoners and Darfur rebels.