Sudanese security agents open fire over payoff plan

Restructuring Sudan's long-feared security agency was among the key demands of the uprising that called for Omar al-Bashir's removal from power.

KHARTOUM - Dismissed ex-employees of Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) shot in the air in Khartoum on Tuesday in protest at severance terms, prompting a heavy security force deployment and the temporary closure of the country's airspace.

A teenager was wounded when shots were fired at some bases of the Directorate of General Intelligence Service - the new name of the former NISS, which was the powerful security arm of longtime president Omar al-Basir.

NISS agents were at the forefront of a crackdown against protesters during a nationwide anti-Bashir uprising that erupted in December 2018 and finally led to his ouster by the army last April.

Gunmen dressed in military uniform set up checkpoints in one of Khartoum's main residential streets near buildings used by the NISS, and were seen firing shots into the air.

Witnesses saw members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan's most powerful paramilitary group, and the army deploy in Khartoum's main streets and shut down roads in response.

Security forces blocked the road leading to one of the buildings. The district is close to the capital's airport. Authorities closed Sudan's airspace for five hours as a precautionary measure after the start of the shooting, a civil aviation ministry spokesman said.

In a televised statement, Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Saleh said the gunmen were former employees angry at the terms they had been offered upon their dismissal.

"Troops from operating centres of the intelligence started a rebellion in some parts of the capital," Saleh told state television.

He said some troops had came out on the streets, set up barricades and opened fire in the air.

"This happened because those troops rejected the amount of money they got for their retirement," Saleh said, adding negotiations were being held.

Doctors close to the protest movement that led to Bashir's fall said a 15-year-old boy was wounded by gunfire.

Sudan is undergoing a three-year political transition overseen by civilians and the military following the overthrow of long-time ruler Bashir in April.

Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council and head of the RSF, said that former Sudan intelligence chief Salah Gosh was behind the shootings.

"This is a coordinated plan by Salah Gosh and another member of the National Congress party including some generals from intelligence service," he told a press conference during a visit to Juba in South Sudan later on Tuesday.

"The person behind this shooting today is Salah Gosh. He has many generals active within the security sector with an aim to create confusion and fighting."

Dagalo said while he would not consider Tuesday's incident a coup attempt, any such action would not be tolerated. "We will not accept any coup, we will not accept any illegal change. The only change will come from the Sudanese people," he said.

Ghosh, a key figure of Bashir's regime, stepped down days after the veteran leader was toppled. His whereabouts are unknown.

NIIS, in a statement, said it was "assessing the situation".

"In the process of restructuring NISS, there are some members who have rejected the financial compensation offered for retirement," it said.

A security source told AFP news agency that the first shooting broke out in the city of Al-Obeid after which gunfire erupted at NISS bases in Khartoum.

Restructuring NISS was among the key demands of the uprising that called for Bashir's removal from power. The dismissals were part of the plan to restructure the intelligence agency.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the country's main protest group, called on state agencies to intervene immediately to stop "these irresponsible operations that are causing terror amongst citizens."

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the situation was under control.

"We want to tell our people that the situation is under control and this will not stop us from achieving the goals of our revolution," he tweeted.

"I assure that Sudanese armed forces and other regular forces have the capacity to handle the situation," he wrote.