Sudan's Islamic Regime Cultivates Ties with Iran New Militia to Replace Army That Has Attempted Four Coups since 1989

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THEIR uniforms give the militia away as young troops ready to fight a jihad, or "holy war." The khaki outfits are ill-fitted and made in Iran - faded leftovers from the muddy Iran-Iraq war that have been washed too often, years ago.

This squad of the Popular Defense Force (PDF), trained to march with a gun and recite the Koran, is part of Sudan's new Islamic forces. They are modeled after Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and reported by some Western observers to be trained by Iranians.

The Islamic militia is beginning to replace the mistrusted Army - whose disgruntled officers have aided four coup attempts so far against the military regime of Lt. Gen. Umar Hassan al-Bashir.

Western diplomats worry that what they call Sudan's increasingly radical brand of "political Islam" will result in a new safe haven for terrorist organizations pushed out of Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

"Sudan has nothing to offer but a home for fundamentalism," says one Western intelligence source here.

The recent influx of militants into Sudan prompted the US State Department to warn Khartoum in a December message regarding "the increased presence of terrorists there and ... that Sudan runs a very serious risk of being branded a terrorist state."

Such accusations are exaggerated, according to Hassan al-Turabi, head of the National Islamic Front (NIF) and widely considered to be the de facto ruler of Sudan. In 1983 Mr. Turabi spearheaded Sudan's implementation of the Sharia, Islamic penal law, that resulted in public amputations and a ban on alcohol, and caused an international outcry.

"The Sudanese have never had a history of terrorism, and they are too weak to export anything by force," Turabi told the Monitor. "The Islamic movement has been strong here for years; there is no new conspiracy."

The rise of Muslim hard-liners in Sudan has been swift since General Bashir ousted the elected government of the Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in June 1989.

Sudanese and Western observers describe how the coup was methodically "hijacked" by leaders of the fundamentalist NIF. Within a year, NIF supporters controlled the security apparatus, and had purged the government, the judiciary, and universities of Muslims wavering in the faith.

In March 1991, the Sharia, Islamic law, was reinstituted by the ruling Revolutionary Command Council of National Salvation, against the will of the Christian- and animist-dominated south.

Though denying Western charges that Sudan is open to terrorist training activities, the Bashir regime has taken advantage of the trend toward fundamentalist Islam now building in the Arab world.

Hoping to end its almost total isolation since backing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war, Sudan has embraced Iran. When Iran's President Hashemi Rafsanjani visited Khartoum in December, Bashir reportedly told him that Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution inspired his own take-over of power. …