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Sudan Says It Is Settling Lawsuit From Families And Victims Of USS Cole Attack

Sudan says it has signed a deal to settle claims related to the bombing of the USS Cole 20 years ago — a move that could end lawsuits filed by victims and their families and also improve Sudan's chances of getting off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Sudan's transitional government has made it a priority to get off that punitive list since it took charge last spring.

"In a statement, Sudan's justice minister said Sudan is not taking responsibility but it is doing this to meet U.S. demands," NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi. "Sudan has also said it will pay the victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania."

The transitional government says it wants to normalize relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world — part of its plan to give a new spark to the country's economy and ease its staggering debt. It also says any possible ties to the USS Cole attack occurred under the old regime led by former dictator and accused war criminal Omar al-Bashir.

The guided missile destroyer was attacked on Oct. 12, 2000, after it entered the port of Aden, in Yemen, to refuel. Two al-Qaida militants approached the warship on a small boat packed with explosives. A blast blew a gaping hole in the ship's side, killing 17 Americans and wounding dozens more.

Sudan's government, widely seen as a haven for terrorists, was accused of providing material support for the USS Cole attack.

Americans who lost loved ones in the bombing have fought for years to get a measure of justice and enforce rulings against Sudan, including roughly $315 million in damages that were awarded by a U.S. judge. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out that judgment last year, agreeing with attorneys from both Sudan and the U.S. government who said the lawsuit should have been mailed to Sudan's foreign ministry in Khartoum rather than to its embassy in Washington.

Weeks after the U.S. high court's ruling, al-Bashir was ousted from power by Sudan's military, following months of protests. Since then, it's been led by a mixed council of civilian and leaders.

In another sign of Sudan's attempts to improve its global standing, the transitional government said Wednesday that it would agree to a longstanding request from the International Criminal Court to hand over al-Bashir and others who are accused of committing crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.