(subhead: "Tight Web of Savvy Leaders Withstands International Criticism")
The men who control Africa's largest country -- the key architects of the conflict in Darfur -- hail from two tiny, interwoven Arab tribes. Many of them grew up together and graduated from Khartoum University. They often sit together in cafés beside the Nile, bickering about politics and religion over endless cups of sweet tea.
For instance, Hassan Turabi, a college professor and radical Islamic cleric, led a military coup in 1989 against his brother-in-law Sadiq Madhi, the country's popularly elected leader. The main backers of the coup were Turabi's protégés, Omar Hassan Bashir and Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, now Sudan's president and vice president. Yet not long before that, Madhi had presided over the wedding ceremony of Taha and his bride, Turabi's cousin.
A New Power Rises
After the coup, Turabi was widely considered the force behind the throne, while the popular Bashir ruled as president and Taha, an astute intellectual and former judge, acted as chief aide to Turabi, his spiritual mentor.
Under Turabi's leadership, Sudan offered residency to any Arab or Muslim. This policy allowed bin Laden to take up residence in Khartoum, along with Imad Mughniyah, the man believed to be responsible for the 1983 suicide bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines, and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the Venezuelan drug lord known as "Carlos the Jackal," who converted to Islam and pledged allegiance to bin Laden.
Crisis in Darfur
Without warning, rebels attacked the El Fasher airport and several military posts with a fury that shocked Khartoum. At the time, Taha was in Kenya, engrossed in the final weeks of peace negotiations with the southern rebels. But with Bashir's army weakened and Taha in charge of national security, the vice president quickly assumed a key role, according to a State Department report.
"I launched my vision of how the situation could be best handled," he said in his office in the National Palace, its entrance arched by a pair of giant elephant tusks and guarded by two five-barreled machine guns.