From time to time governments in this part of world claim to have uncovered a coup plot or a terrorist cell, round-up dozens of harmless opposition supporters, lock ’em up and throw away the key. So in August I initially dismissed reports of a terrorist plot in Khartoum. President Bashir, it seemed, was taking the opportunity to remove a few thorns in his side from public view.
But as time went on it became clear that this was not the usual stunt. The British embassy shut down for a few days and diplomats warned citizens against travel to Khartoum. On my last visit to Khartoum, in September, I spoke to security experts who told me the prospect of an international peacekeeping force on Sudanese soil raises a very real prospect of Islamic terrorism. The bomb plot was very real indeed and was directed at several western targets, including the British embassy. Meanwhile rumours were flying around the city of foreign Jihadists spotted buying supplies at markets in Darfur. And of al Qaeda training camps in the mountains.
So the emergence of a fresh recording, purportedly by Osama bin Laden, urging holy war in Darfur is going to be taken very seriously, not least by those nations offering troops to the proposed hybrid force.
The danger, once again, is that an outside power is turning Darfur’s complex conflict into something that it isn’t. This isn’t about Arabs versus non-Arabs. Farmers against nomads. Or Muslims against infidels. It is about different players using whatever badges of convenience they can find to recruit allies. Bin Laden is a past master at this, and we mustn’t let him dictate the rules of the game.