Four men sentenced to death for the murder of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official website] official and his driver in Sudan escaped prison on Thursday, according to police officials. John Granville [USAID profile] and his Sudanese driver Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama were shot and killed in Khartoum while returning from a New Year's Eve party in January 2008. The four men were convicted [JURIST report] in June 2009 and sentenced to death by hanging.The police stated that the four men escaped from Kober prison through the drainage system [Reuters report]. The men had continuously denied the conviction, claiming that their confessions had been extracted under torture. Their appeals were turned down earlier this month.
A Sudanese court sentenced the four men to death for a second time [JURIST report] in October after their June 2009 sentences were vacated because Abbas's father forgave them. The sentences were reinstated at the request of both victims' families, as Sudanese law permits victims' families to forgive the murderer, demand compensation, or request execution. Following the shooting, a previously-unknown extremist group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid claimed responsibility for the shootings. Granville was the first US diplomat killed in Sudan since the deaths of US Ambassador Cleo Noel and US Embassy staffer George Curtis Moore [Arlington Cemetery memorials] in 1973. Tense diplomatic ties between the US and Sudan have been strained by the on-going conflict in the country's western Darfur [JURIST news archive] region.