Sudan: The Killing of a USAID Officer
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
During the early hours of Jan. 1, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer John Granville was shot and killed as he returned home from a New Year's Eve party in Khartoum, Sudan. Granville suffered multiple gunshot wounds when the vehicle in which he was traveling reportedly was peppered with at least 17 gunshots fired from another vehicle. Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, a locally hired USAID driver, was killed immediately, while the seriously wounded Granville died several hours later at a local hospital. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, and no suspects have been identified.
The shooting came on the heels of renewed efforts by the U.S. government and the United Nations to resolve the ongoing crisis in the country's Darfur region -- actions that have resulted in increased anti-American sentiment in the country. However, although some press reports have compared the Granville shooting to the October 2002 assassination of USAID Supervisory Executive Officer Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan, a review of the details of the latest case indicates that, unlike the Foley killing, this was not a premeditated operation.
According to information from Granville's family and the Sudanese government, Granville was shot at 3:57 a.m. local time while returning home from a party at the home of a British diplomat. It is not clear at this point whether more than one gunman was involved in the attack or what type of weapon was utilized, although it does appear to have been small arms. The bullets reportedly entered the driver's side of the vehicle, killing Rahama on the spot and striking Granville in the stomach, hand and shoulder. Media reports say he was hit by as many as five bullets. A Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said many people were on the streets returning from New Year's Eve parties at the time of the shooting and suggested that the gunfire erupted after some sort of confrontation between the occupants of the two cars.
Given the circumstances of the shooting, it is highly unlikely that it was Granville's habit to be in that particular spot at that particular time, although the U.S. government team sent to investigate the incident undoubtedly will review the USAID vehicle logs to determine whether any such pattern existed. This is significant because kidnappings and most planned assassinations take place when the target is at a predictable place at a predictable time. In addition to these timing factors, attackers often prefer an attack site that includes a way to identify and control the target -- one that provides concealment for the assailants before they launch their attack and an avenue for them to escape unharmed and unnoticed. It is extremely difficult to plan an assassination, or even to select an attack site, without establishing the target's pattern of behavior. To do so would require the attackers to stalk the target and wait for a window of opportunity to strike. This leaves the attack team vulnerable to detection.
The need for predictability on the part of the target means that such attacks frequently occur at or near a predictable site, such as the target's home or office. Examples of this include the assassinations of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Athens, Greece, in December 1975; of U.S. Navy Cpt. and Military Attaché William Nordeen in Athens in June 1988; and of Foley in Amman. This is not to say that all assassinations happen near the target's residence, but if Granville's movements that morning were not part of an established pattern, the shooting probably was not planned in advance.
The U.S. government vehicle Granville was traveling in most likely stuck out in Khartoum traffic -- if for no other reason than its diplomatic license tags. However, as we have seen from other crimes in the region, such as the robberies of several diplomats in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2006 -- which included the shooting of an American diplomat and the stabbing of a Russian ambassador -- diplomatic status means little to criminals. On the contrary, it is an attraction for militants contemplating a terrorist attack. In this case, if the attackers were angry about U.S. policy and thus politically motivated, spotting an American vehicle with diplomatic tags could have spurred them to act impulsively.
If that were the case however, one would have expected the gunfire to have been directed at the car's passenger, who obviously was American. Instead, after cutting off the vehicle in traffic, the assailants fired through the driver's window and directed their fire primarily at the driver. While shooting the driver is an effective way to incapacitate a vehicle so that the passenger can then be killed or kidnapped, the reports of the incident do not suggest that the shooters approached the vehicle to fire any additional shots at Granville once the driver was killed. In past politically motivated attacks, such as the April 1989 assassination of the commander of the Joint U.S Military Advisory Group, U.S. Army Col. Nick Rowe, in Manila, Philippines, the assailants directed their fire at the American and not the local driver, though the driver was wounded. In other words, if this attack had been a planned strike against Granville, the gunmen most likely would have focused on him. Also, they would have at least attempted to approach the vehicle to deliver a coup de grace shot instead of leaving him alive at the scene.
Conflict continues in Sudan's Darfur region, with rebel groups Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity faction carrying out isolated attacks against African Union peacekeepers there and against oil infrastructure in the neighboring Kordofan region. Tensions between northern and southern Sudan over the South's struggle for autonomy and control of its oil resources have not been entirely resolved either. The conflicts in those two parts of Sudan, however, have not thus far spread to Khartoum. On the crime front, Khartoum is safer than some other cities in the region, including Nairobi and Cape Town, South Africa, but there is still a significant criminal threat in the country -- especially in the conflict zones, where carjackings and armed robberies are common.
Because of the threat of armed conflict and banditry in the areas outside the capital, especially in the conflict zones, countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia warn against travel to Sudan. The governments of the United States and others also have expressed concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks against Western targets in the country. On Aug. 17, 2007, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum released a Warden Message advising all U.S. citizens in Sudan that it had received credible information that an extremist group based in the country might target U.S. government interests or facilities for suicide operations, bombings, hijackings, kidnappings and assassinations. The warning says, "Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets," and that U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets in public places, including tourist sites and locations where Westerners are known to congregate, as well as against commercial operations associated with U.S. or Western interests. This notice also states that since physical security remains high at official facilities, terrorists might turn toward softer targets. However, for the reasons already outlined, the Granville killing does not appear to be terrorism-related.
A Sept. 9 travel warning from the U.S. Embassy also discouraged land travel at night, not only because of the threat of armed conflict and banditry but also because of Sudan's dangerous roads. Huge potholes, sandstorms and occasional landmines are only part of the problem. One of the most dangerous threats is other drivers, who often ignore basic rules of driving etiquette. Because of the road conditions and the terrorist threat, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service often provides advanced training to drivers. We do not know whether Rahama received such training, though his failure to avoid being blocked in and to get the vehicle away from the attack site suggests he did not.
One other point to consider is that the assailants who shot Granville were in a vehicle. This is not a trivial point in a country such as Sudan, where the vast majority of the population will never be able to afford a vehicle. Those who do own cars usually are part of the ruling elite and, in many instances, have close social and familial ties to the military and intelligence leadership. Such people frequently carry weapons to protect themselves and their possessions from kidnappers and other criminals, though some also carry guns as a sign of status and power. The scions of these influential families can prove to be dangerous thugs -- party boys who, for all intents and purposes, are above the law -- and they have been known to react violently even to the hint of an insult. In one Third World capital, an American man had every bone in his face broken by one such thug and his friends after the American danced with a local girl who had rebuffed the other's advances.
Furthermore, it is more common to encounter a group of local party boys driving around at 4 a.m. than it is to run into a group of militant Islamists -- and the former can be almost as dangerous. Cutting off this type of person in traffic, even accidentally, could get one shot. This might have been the case in the Granville shooting. Another possible scenario is that people such as these -- again, considering their military and government connections -- were motivated by anti-American sentiment and decided on the spur of the moment to conduct the attack.
The August Warden Message reminded U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to ensure their personal safety. Although Granville, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer before joining USAID, knew about the dangers of living and working in Sudan, his presence on the streets of Khartoum at 4 o'clock in the morning was not a prudent security move.
We also must address the real problem of substandard medical care in Sudan. We are not medical experts, but we have worked a lot of shooting cases and have seen people bleed to death in Third World hospitals from wounds that would have been survivable in a U.S. hospital. At first glance, and without having the full details of Granville's injuries, it seems he might have been able to survive had he had access to more modern medical care.
Although the joint Diplomatic Security Service and FBI investigative team is just getting to work in Sudan, and it will be awhile before its report is issued, the details of the attack and the environment in which it occurred suggest that the Sudanese government's theory that this was the result of a street confrontation is at least plausible -- and more likely than a planned terrorist attack.
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