WASHINGTON (AFP) — FBI and other US investigators on Wednesday prepared to travel to the Sudanese capital Khartoum to help probe the New Year's day murders of an American diplomat and his driver, officials said.
A State Department spokesman said agents stationed in the region were in "the process of getting visas" to visit Khartoum where diplomat John Granville, 33, and 40-year-old driver Abdel Rahman Abbas died in a hail of bullets before dawn Tuesday.
"Diplomatic Security and the FBI are going to be sending a joint team to Sudan to investigate the murder," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, without saying exactly when or how they would reach Khartoum.
The announcement came as Sudanese police said they have now questioned several witnesses in connection with the case.
The police cited a coroner's report as saying that Granville, who worked for the US Agency for International Development, died in hospital from internal bleeding after he was hit by five bullets in the head, neck and chest.
Relations between Sudan and the United States have long been strained, most recently over the near five-year conflict in the western region of Darfur where Washington has accused Khartoum of genocide.
It is not clear if the gunmen specifically targeted the official or were involved in a random crime, although Sudan's foreign ministry has called the attack "an isolated incident which has no political connotations."
The interior ministry said the diplomatic car had been caught in a fight which broke out as some Sudanese nationals were on the street celebrating the New Year.
McCormack said it was with "great sadness" that he was opening his first briefing of 2008 with the case of the two murdered embassy employees, while White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "certainly it's a tragic situation."
Neither of them said had any idea about the motive behind the attack, while McCormack was unaware of any specific threats to US government officials or other nationals in Sudan.
In September, the US embassy issued a travel warning alerting its citizens that the government had received indications of terrorist threats aimed at US and other Western interests in Sudan.
McCormack said the team would be "collecting the evidence they possibly can to work closely with the Sudanese government to determine who's responsible for these murders and bring them to justice."
He said the agents would amount to an advance team sent from posts in the region, which he did not specify, but added more people would travel to Khartoum from Washington.
The attack occurred just a day after President George W. Bush signed a law aimed at piling economic pressure on the government in Khartoum.
It also came a day after a new joint African Union-United Nations force took over peacekeeping in Darfur from an AU mission which failed to stem the conflict.
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