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War crimes suspect free from prison in chaos of Sudan conflict

Ahmed Haroun said he and other former officials under Omar al-Bashir had left Kober prison. The news fueled uncertainty over the whereabouts of the country’s deposed dictator.
Sudanese Bashir-era official wanted for war crimes says he has left prison
Ahmed Haroun said he and former officials of former ruler Omar al-Bashir's government had left Kober prison.Nasser Nasser / AP file

A former high-ranking Sudanese official wanted on war crimes charges says he has been freed from prison as the conflict between warring generals fuels chaos and uncertainty over the whereabouts of the country's deposed dictator.

Ahmed Haroun and other members of ex-strongman Omar al-Bashir's government were being held at Kober prison in the country's capital, Khartoum. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Haroun, who was head of the ruling National Congress Party, said that he and other former officials under al-Bashir had left the facility and would take responsibility for their own protection, in a statement aired on Sudan’s Tayba TV on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Haroun said they would be willing to appear in front of the judiciary whenever it is functioning.

A cease-fire between the two armed groups battling for control of Africa's third-largest country appeared to be largely holding Wednesday. The fighting has seen millions of people caught in the crossfire and sent many, including Americans, racing to flee as it threatens to spiral into a civil war.

The Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces together removed al-Bashir from power during mass protests in 2019, only to later stage a coup that derailed the country's transition to democracy.

As speculation swirled that the country's former leader may have been among those free from the prison, the armed forces said they had him in custody.

The military said in a statement Wednesday morning that al-Bashir and other former officials had been detained at a military-run medical facility due to their health conditions "before the rebellion broke out" at Kober prison.

Haroun was not among those named as being in custody.

The army said it was sharing the whereabouts of al-Bashir and other former officials "as a deterrent to the massive disinformation that some rebel media microphones have been promoting to distract people."

Citing two sources at the hospital, Reuters reported that al-Bashir had been moved from Kober prison to a military hospital before heavy fighting broke out there on April 15.

The army, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, had accused the RSF of donning military uniforms and attacking the prison, according to The Associated Press, saying they released inmates and looted the facility. The RSF, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, denied the allegations and claimed that the military “forcibly evacuated” the facility as part of a plan to restore al-Bashir to power, the news agency reported.

NBC News has not verified the claims of either side.

Haroun was one of dozens of Sudanese officials arrested in 2019 after al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades, was ousted in a military coup amid a popular uprising.

The resource-rich yet impoverished nation then saw Burhan, the country’s top commander and de facto ruler, and his former deputy, Dagalo, team up to orchestrate the coup that overthrew the government in October 2021.

Their alliance has since fallen apart over how to make the transition to civilian rule, with the tensions erupting into armed conflict earlier this month.

More than 450 people have been killed in the fighting since, according to the World Health Organization, including at least two Americans.

The United States military evacuated embassy personnel over the weekend, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the U.S. was weighing whether to resume diplomatic presence in Sudan to assist American nationals racing to escape the fighting. He said the State Department was in touch with private U.S. citizens to provide assistance.

The U.S. and a stream of foreign powers have launched dramatic rescue efforts involving military special forces, airlifts and convoys driving past fighters from both sides of the clash — which many fear will escalate into a civil war once the partial lull in combat is over.