The *FREE ARAB VOICE*
September 2, 1998
In this issue of the Free Arab Voice (FAV):
1) An Exclusive FAV Interview with Ahmad Salem, the Builder and
Manager of the Shifa Sudanese Pharmaceutical Factory.
2) Rythms of the Storm: A New FAV Section Dedicated to Palestinian
and Arab Poems in English/ An Invitation.
1) An Exclusive FAV Interview with Ahmad Salem, the Builder of the
Shifa Sudanese Pharmaceutical Factory
This issue of the Free Arab Voice is dedicated to revealing the truth
about the Shifa pharmaceutical factory that was destroyed by U.S.
warplanes in Khartoum, Sudan. Below you'll find the full text of an
interview with Ahmad Salem who was the production manager of the Shifa
factory from the day the factory was conceived on paper until the day it
perished . Objective and specific, Ahmad Salem was open but not
emotional in his responses and descriptions, yet between the lines you
will find the gigantic melancholy of a nation in this man, and third
worlds of savage truth.
[This interview was conducted for the Free Arab Voice (FAV) by Ibrahim
WHO FINANCED THE SHIFA FACTORY? BIN LADEN?
FAV: Ahmed Salem, can you at first introduce us to yourself,
specifically to your exact relationship with the Shifa pharmaceutical
factory that was hit recently by U.S. warplanes in Sudan?
Salem: My relationship to the factory is one that began at the onset
with the first designs, and one which continued until the very end with
the destruction of the factory. My role was to superintend all factory
requirements, for example, the buildings, the procurement of the
machines, their assembly, the preparation of pharmaceutical formulas,
the production lines, and so forth. I was a consultant for the owners.
And so they hired me as the general superintendent.
FAV: You mean on financial as well as technical matters?
Salem: Yes on both financial and technical matters. Of course I hired
engineers, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical experts, but final
supervision was my personal responsibility.
FAV: You made decisions then that related to the factory as an overall
Salem: Before production began, I was officially the Project Manager.
FAV: So as project manager, your relationship to the factory began with
the initial construction in 1992?
Salem: Rather when the idea was conceived in 1989...the execution began in
1992, like the drawings for the buildings and factory floors.
FAV: Very good brother Ahmad, you say that the idea was conceived in
1989, but that the execution began later in 1992, what were the
obstacles that delayed the execution for three years?
Salem: Because these were just ideas that we exchanged until feasibility
studies were conducted and all concerned were convinced in going ahead,
it took a while...
FAV: So the delay wasn't caused by the lack of financing for the project
Salem: No, financial problems emerged later after the construction of
factory buildings was well under way...
FAV: What kind of financial problems ?
Salem: It turned out we had set a budget for the project that was much
less than necessary for a factory this large. When the execution began,
financing problems emerged thus, which forced us to wait sometimes for a
short and other times for a long while to obtain more funding before we
FAV: The crucial question to be posed here is whether these financial
problems forced you at any point in time at all to go to Bin Laden to
Salem: Look, I know where every penny came from. Bin Laden, I never saw
him in my life! I only learned about him from the media. Bashir Hassan
Bashir, the major partner, also never knew or met Bin Laden either.
Furthermore, Bin Laden never saw or been to the factory in his whole
FAV: Who is Bashir Hassan Bashir? Can you please tell us about him?
Salem: Bashir Hassan Bashir is a big Sudanese businessman who has many
companies in Sudan. He owns several pharmaceuticals and other
companies, and is the largest importer of pharmaceuticals into Sudan.
He is the sole agent of many British, Italian, Indian, and Jordanian
firms that manufacture human and veterinarian medications.
FAV: And you sir? Can you tell us a little about you and how you met
Bashir Hassan Bashir?
Salem: I'm Jordanian. I used to work for a pharmaceutical in Jordan as
an employee in the public relations office then kept getting promoted
until I became the General Manager of that company. This allowed me to
develop good expertise in this area and to meet Bashir Hassan Bashir who
was the agent of our company in Sudan.
FAV: Can I ask what the name of that Jordanian pharmaceutical is?
Salem: I'll tell you but off the record because the owners prefer
anonymity. [ He does].
FAV: Okay you say that you never saw Bin Laden in your life and that the
major financier of the project was Bashir Hassan Bashir, the Sudanese
businessman, were there any other financiers?
Salem: Yes there were. When he ran low on liquidity, Bashir became
partners with Ba3boud Maritime Agency.
FAV: Who or what is Ba3boud?
Salem: This is a company headquartered in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. They
have large ships and maritime agencies.
FAV: Are they Saudi?
Salem: No, some of them are Saudi and some are Sudanese. They became
partners with Bashir. They owned forty percent and he kept sixty.
FAV: Were there any other parties besides Ba3boud and Bashir Hassan
Bashir connected in any shape or form to the financing process?
Salem: After the factory was finished we were stripped for cash, so we
took a loan from an African bank located in Nairobi, Kenya, which
operates as an investment bank for the ten East African states that have
a preferential trade agreement between them. Thus that bank is called
the PTA Bank (for Preferential Trade Agreement). We took from that bank
FAV: What year was this? The factory began production in December 1996?
Salem: The official opening was on July 12, 1997.
FAV: So you must have taken the loan only a few months before you began
Salem: Yes, to finance the purchase of raw materials and materials for
filling and encapsulating. Of course, to obtain the loan, the manager
and the investment crew of PTA visited the factory several
FAV: What we have so far is that the financiers were Bashir Hassan
Bashir 60%, Ba3boud 40%, plus a loan for $5.750 million from PTA Bank in
Nairobi, Kenya in 1996. Is there any body else?
Salem: That is all...
FAV: But there are newspaper reports saying that the factory is owned in
fact by Salah Idris.
Salem: Of course as recently as March 1998, the factory was sold
completely to a big Sudanese businessman called Salah-Eddin Ahmad Idris.
FAV: And since then he's been the sole owner of the factory?
Salem: The sole owner, yes.
FAV: So the main loss was his, in addition to the Sudanese, Arab,
African, and Islamic peoples!!
Salem: Yes, in fact., that's right.
FAV: Would you like to add anything on the issue of how the factory was
Salem: No, that's it. The financing of the factory is clear and
transparent, and hence I challenge anyone to provide evidence of
financing from outside the aforementioned three sources above.
DID THE SHIFA FACTORY PRODUCE CHEMICAL WEAPONS?
FAV: The other issue that is of concern, the other alleged basis for
striking the Shifa factory was the accusation that it produced chemical
weapons. Can you give us a specific idea of what the factory's product
Salem: Look, the machines in the factory are not good for producing
anything besides medication for human and animal consumption. Let me
tell you about the product lines, the factory, and what it's composed
of: The Shifa factory is actually made up of three different plants.
The first is the general plant, because it produces general medicinal
products according to GMP requirements (for Good Manufacture Practice).
Some of this plant's products for example are Paracetamol, and
treatments for blood pressure, diabetes, and ulcers. The general plant
is made up of two lines: 1) the tablets line, and 2) the syrups line.
The second plant is for penicillins. It has two lines also: 1)
capsules, and 2) dry suspensions (powders).
The third plant is for veterinarian products. It is made up of four
lines, one syrups line, two dry suspension lines, and one poulas line.
These were the three separate plants of al-Shifa factory and they had
different workers, machines, and ventilation systems.
FAV: Are the sources from which you bought your machines a secret?
Salem: No, not at all. We're willing to tell you where we bought every
single machine from. And I mean not just the country we bought it from,
but the company we bought it from as well. We got machines from the
U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, India, and Thailand...
FAV: Can you show documentation for all that?
Salem: Yes, we got sales receipts, bills, and the shipping companies
that carried these machines to us in broad daylight. The machines that
make tablets or fill capsules, can't do anything else besides pressing
tablets and filling capsules, not to mention chemical weapons!!
FAV: How do you respond then to the statement made by a senior American
official, a few hours after the strike, claiming that al-Shifa wasn't a
normal pharmaceutical factory, but was manufacturing Empta, which is
supposedly used to produce the nerve gas VX, Iraqi-style. This claim
spawns from the story that the CIA allegedly took a soil sample a few
yards away from the factory and that lab tests revealed the presence of
Empta therein. Of course some experts outside the U.S. government
point out that this lone sample if not preserved carefully and tested
promptly could mislead since Empta has a similar chemical structure to
several commercially available pesticides and herbicides like Round-Up.
Still the U.S. government having launched the strike on the basis of
this lone sample, insists that the sample at hand indicates the presence
of Empta when re-tested. How do you respond to that?
Salem: I do not know what the heck Empta is!! I never heard about it
before. However, The rubble of the factory and the soil around it are
still right there. Hence, the Sudanese government, to the best of my
knowledge, welcomed all those whom this may concern to COME AND TAKE
ANOTHER SAMPLE to test and analyze. The Sudanese have requested of the
United Nations to send a neutral commission to collect any amount of
samples they wish from anywhere in and around the factory they like.
Moreover, there's no proof that the U.S. took any samples in the first
place, unless they took them in secret, in which case we don't know
where they took that sample from, and from which geographical spot in
the world. This time I invite them, instead of taking a sample a few
yards away from the factory, to come take it from right inside the
factory itself. How about it?
FAV: Suppose I tell you I don't believe a word you are saying. What
documentation or proof can you provide to show that this was a civilian
not a military facility?
Salem: The proof you can get from a neutral source if a European
commission for example was established to come over and test the soil,
and the machines. The factory is still right there, and I understood
that the Sudanese government will leave it as is for a long period to
come. Nothing will be moved. So come over and experiment for yourself.
FAV: Are there floor plans and factory designs that we can look at?
Salem: The building designs are available and so are the work schemes.
FAV: Can we obtain some of these, or do we have to go to the Sudanese
government to get them?
Salem: The Sudanese government doesn't have these designs, and they have
never seen them either. The designs are the property of the company
that owns the factory. Some of them are still available which were kept
outside the factory, and the rest was destroyed in the strike. We can
make them available to any neutral commission when necessary. All they
have to do is ask.
FAV: I understand that you were in charge of the factory throughout all
the stages of its lengthy construction and its short operation, and thus
your testimony itself stands as evidence that the Shifa factory was a
civilian pharmaceutical facility, not connected to Bin Laden, until
somebody can prove otherwise. Thus, THE BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON THE U.S
GOVERNMENT. What were your personal feelings regarding this crime?
Salem: Yes, I supervised the factory and its output, and I bought the
formulas. I helped bring the Shifa factory into being, and I tended it
until it became what it became. It was like a child to me. I helped
bring it into this world. I helped raise it through its infancy. I
helped make something out of it. Then the strike happened like somebody
came from the West to shot it dead in cold blood. When I saw the rubble
of the factory a few days ago, I could barely fight the tears. I lived
the story of where, when, and how every brick and machine was laid in
this factory. Many times we had to travel to several sources to get a
piece of equipment that was needed. Now all that effort is gone...The
Shifa WAS my personal project for many years...
THE PURPOSE OF THE STRIKE:
FAV: Given all that you said about the factory, indicating that it was
neither financed by Bin Laden, nor producing chemical weapons, the
puzzle becomes why the Shifa factory was chosen for this strike by the
U.S. government... Why would the U.S. government target a civilian factory
like that? What did they want with this factory in particular?
Salem: This question I think should be forwarded to the U.S.
government: why did you hit a civilian pharmaceutical factory? Worse
still, if they really thought that this was a chemical and biological
weapons factory, then their crime would be worse. BECAUSE IF IT HAD
BEEN WHAT THEY SAY IT WAS, THE STRIKE WOULD HAVE KILLED HALF OF
KHARTOUM...Either way it's a crime. At any rate, the factory is not a
military target. It is not even owned by the government, not a single
share. It is owned by the private sector. Therefore we can safely say
the decision to hit it was political not military.
FAV: In fact brother Ahmad, when I asked you about the real purpose
behind hitting the factory, I was wondering about the role that the
factory played. I read that the Shifa factory provided 50% of the human
pharmaceutical needs of Sudan and 100% of the veterinarian
pharmaceutical needs of Africa. Could the purpose be to destroy the
infrastructure of the Sudanese economy? Especially that Sudan is in a
state of war, wouldn't creating such a shortage of medicine constitute
an act of attempted murder for many Sudanese who won't find it
otherwise, or who might not have the means to pay the higher cost of
imported medicines (given that there's a U.S. embargo anyway)?
Salem: I believe that if the factory was able to operate at full
capacity, it would have self-satisfied the needs of Sudan and a large
part of Africa in human as well as veterinarian medicines. There are
two factories like that in Egypt, but for the rest of Africa, the Shifa
would have been unique. Its products were also exported to Chad, Yemen,
and it was under contract with Iraq, with U.N., approval. In short, the
factory served Sudanese, African, and Arab needs...However, the
destruction of the factory will reflect very negatively on the Sudanese
people, especially with respect to reversing the drastic decreases in
local pharmaceutical prices after production began. For example,
Rephampicin, which is used to fight tumors and TB, which usually hit the
poor, and which usually has to be used for an average of six months per
patient, was being sold for only 20% the market price before production
in the Shifa factory began.
FAV: Would you like to add anything we didn't ask you about?
Salem: I want to add that the rumor that the factory was inaccessible
and under strict police protection is not true. In fact, there weren't
many physicians and pharmacists left in Sudan who didn't pay us a visit
to view our different production lines. Many other medical envoys
visiting Sudan were also taken on a tour inside the factory. For
example, delegates from the Jordanian Medical and the Jordanian
Veterinarians Associations visited the factory. Important official
guests were also taken to the factory to showcase this grand economic
Sudanese landmark. Among those international visitors were the British
Ambassador, who visited the factory twice once before and once after the
inauguration, the German Ambassador, etc...
FAV: What could our readers do to help in this crisis inflicted on the
Salem: I think it's the moral obligation of all readers who believe in
what I was trying to convey to SPREAD THE WORD as widely as possible to
let the truth be known, to alert public opinion to the injustices being
inflicted , and to stand for what is right.
FAV: Thank you for your time. We'll definitely deliver the message.
We hereby suggest to our readers to DISTRIBUTE THIS INTERVIEW AS
WIDELY AS POSSIBLE.
2)Rythms of the Storm: A New FAV Section Dedicated to NEW Palestinian
and Arab Poems in English
Go ahead and view this exquisite section recently created by FAV
webmaster Tawfic Abdul-Fattah at:
An Invitation: FAV is looking for new voices to carry forth the message
of hope and victory. In this section, we would like to extend an
invitation to all poets and writers who hold the dream of Palestine and
Arab unity close to their hearts, who believe in steadfastness and
endurance in the face of apparent defeat, and who refuse to accept
compromise as a word in the dictionary of liberation and freedom.
As another poet aptly said: 'Each land is born in due time. With every
dawn, a freedom fighter rises!'
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