Sudanese government officials blamed Israel on Tuesday for an explosion that killed a Sudanese arms smuggler in the city of Port Sudan. The explosion, which occurred at around 8:00 a.m. (local time), destroyed the vehicle in which the man was travelling.
According to Sudanese news agency SUNA, the victim of the attack was Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, 65, who was described as a local businessman. A local journalist in the Red Sea port said he saw two small but deep holes near a gutted car and another hole beneath it. Photographs from the scene showed blood splashed on the road.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti, the highest level official yet to comment on the blast, stopped short of directly blaming Israel, but said the explosion looked similar to an April, 2011 attack Khartoum blamed on an Israeli missile strike.
"The style of the car explosion was similar to Israel's attack on Red Sea state (in 2011)," he told the pro-government al-Shorooq television station, according to its website. A foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the remarks.
An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment on the explosion in Sudan's east, which analysts say is used as an arms smuggling route to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip via neighboring Egypt.
Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told Reuters: "I'm not going to respond to generic allegations."
Israel, which Sudan considers an enemy state, declined to comment on the 2011 blast that killed two people, and neither admitted nor denied a similar attack in eastern Sudan in 2009.
A local security source in Port Sudan said the car's driver was a prominent member of the Ababda tribe known for smuggling weapons and goods. Port Sudan is the country's main port.
State news agency SUNA said a team of experts would be sent to investigate the explosion, and identified the dead driver as trader Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, 65.
Spokesmen for Sudan's police and armed forces were not immediately available for comment.
Sudan denies allowing illegal weapon shipments across its territory, but analysts say smugglers bring in weapons through the country's east, then route them through Egypt's Sinai desert and into the Gaza Strip.
Both the Sudanese government and media have claimed Israeli responsibility for attacks and infiltrations on several occasions. In Dec. 2011 a local report in the Sudanese Al-Rakoba newspaper claimed that in late Nov. Israel Defense Force soldiers onboard two Israeli Apache helicopters disembarked on an island off the coast of Sudan, wandered around the island, and then left on the helicopters without Sudanese security forces being unable to intercept them.
The same report also noted that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir remarked that his country could not protect its own soldiers and he asked Egypt to help monitor any Israeli incursions into Sudanese territory
The Sudanese newspapers said the targeted vehicles were travelling on a path known to be a Hamas smuggling route: from Port Sudan, where ships carrying weapons from Iran are unloaded, continuing along a western route heading to Egypt and into the Sinai Peninsula, and finally entering the Gaza Strip.
Despite the detailed report, Sudanese government officials were quick to deny penetration of Sudanese airspace by foreign elements. The Sudanese army spokesman also claimed that he had no information regarding such an attack, calling the reports "rumors."
The weapons shipments apparently embark from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, strategically located on the Strait of Hormuz, and continue with infrequent stops along the way until they are met by smaller boats, which take them to the Sudanese coast. At the coast, the weapons are loaded onto trucks and freight vehicles that transport them to the Egyptian border. The Sudanese convoy then crosses the border into Egypt, from where the weapons are reloaded into vehicles that travel by land or sea to the Sinai Peninsula. From the Sinai, the weapons travel a short distance to the Gaza Strip by means of the smuggling tunnels located along the Philadelphi Route.
In 2009, the U.S. television network CBS reported for the first time that in January of that year, Israel attacked a convoy of trucks near Port Sudan that was carrying weapons sent by Iran to Hamas. According to the report, two Israeli fighter jets or two UAVs bombed the convoy which was travelling in a desert area, northward toward Egypt. The strike reportedly killed 40 people.
Additionally, there were reports in 2009 that Israel's elite naval commando unit, Shayetet 13, attacked an Iranian arms ship which was docked in Port Sudan.
In Israel, meanwhile, officials have remained mum on the latest Sudanese reports, although it is clear that the sources behind the attack wanted to prevent the Sudanese vehicles from reaching their destination.