Satellite images of the aftermath of an explosion at a Sudanese weapons factory this past week suggest the site was hit in an airstrike, a U.S. monitoring group said Saturday.
The Sudanese government has accused Israel of bombing its Yarmouk military complex in Khartoum, killing two people and leaving the factory in ruins.
The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project to The Associated Press on Saturday showed six 16-meter (52-foot) wide craters near the epicenter of Wednesday's explosion at the compound.
Military experts consulted by SSP found the craters to be "consistent with large impact craters created by air-delivered munitions, group spokesman Jonathan Hutson told the AP.
The target may have been around 40 shipping containers seen at the site in earlier images. The group said the craters center on the area where the containers had been stacked. It did not comment on the allegations of Israeli involvement or who might be behind the strikes.
Jonah Leff, who monitors Sudan for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and was not connected to the project, reviewed the images on Saturday and agreed with the group's assessment.
Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied striking the site. Instead, they accused Sudan of playing a role in an Iranian-backed network of arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel believes Sudan is a key transit point in the circuitous route that weapons take to the Islamic militant groups in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
Sudan was a major hub for al-Qaida militants and remains a transit for weapon smugglers and African migrant traffickers. Israeli officials believe arms that originate in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas go through Sudan before crossing Egypt's lawless Sinai desert and into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman continue to place the blame for the attack on Israel and say that their government has the right to respond to what Belal said was a "flagrant attack" by Israel on Sudan's sovereignty and right to strengthen its military capabilities.
In a speech marking Eid al-Adha, Islam's biggest holiday, on Friday, Bashir called Israel "short-sighted," according to comments published by the Egyptian state-owned paper Al-Ahram. The president likened the incident to the 1998 bombing by American cruise missiles of a Khartoum pharmaceutical factory suspected of links to al-Qaida.
"We will not sit idly by while Israel continues to attack us," Bashir also said over the weekend. "Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel. Israel is fearful of the political changes in our area and, in order to cover up its weaknesses, it attacks. Our stance has been and continues to be that Israel is an enemy state and we are at war with it."
In an interview with the BBC over the weekend, Belal said that experts examining the site found remnants of explosives that only Israel had, and that only the Israel Air Force had the radar-evading aircraft technology to attack the facility undetected.
He also said, "We are not ruling out the possibility that the Zionist enemy bombed the Khartoum factory to communicate a message to Iran. At the moment, we are acting against strategic Israeli destinations, which we have all the legitimacy to attack."
Immediately following the attack last Wednesday, the Sudanese government said it would submit a complaint against Israel to the U.N. Security Council saying it could prove the attack was connected to Israel. As of Saturday, Belal said that his country had not yet submitted anything.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk claimed that the plant was 120 meters (394 feet) below ground. The report claimed that the plant contained a cache of rockets and other weapons smuggled from Libya, intended for future use by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.
Some Israeli commentators suggested that if Israel did indeed carry out an airstrike causing Wednesday's blast, it might have been a trial run of sorts for an operation in Iran. Both countries are roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away from Israel, and an air operation would require careful planning and in-flight refueling.
The Satellite Sentinel Project is a partnership between the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide advocacy group, and DigitalGlobe, which operates three commercial satellites and provides geospatial analysis. The project was founded last year with support from actor George Clooney, and in the past has used satellite images to monitor the destruction of villages by Sudanese troops in the country's multiple war zones.
Opened in 1996, Yarmouk is one of two known state-owned weapons manufacturing plants in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Sudan prided itself in having a way to produce its own ammunition and weapons despite U.N. and U.S. sanctions.
The satellite images indicate that the Yarmouk facility includes an oil storage facility, a military depot and an ammunition plant.
The monitoring group said the images indicated that the blast "destroyed two buildings and heavily damaged at least 21 others," adding that there was no indication of fire damage at the fuel depot inside the military complex.
The group said it could not be certain the containers, seen in images taken Oct. 12, were still there when explosion took place. But the effects of the blast suggested a "highly volatile cargo" was at the epicenter of the explosion.
"If the explosions resulted from a rocket or missile attack against material stored in the shipping containers, then it was an effective surgical strike that totally destroyed any container," the group said.
Yarmouk is located in a densely populated residential area of the city some 11 kilometers (seven miles) southwest of the Khartoum International Airport.
Wednesday's explosion sent exploding ammunition flying into homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the factory, causing panic among residents. Sudanese officials said some people suffered from smoke inhalation.
A man who lives near the factory said that from inside their house, he and his brother heard a loud roar of what they believed was a plane just before the boom of the explosion sounded from the factory.