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On August 20 1998, the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, was destroyed in cruise missile strikes launched by the United States in retaliation for the August 7 truck bomb attacks on its embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in which 225 people were killed and a further 4,000 wounded (see: 1998 U.S. embassy bombings).
The administration of President Bill Clinton justified the attacks on the grounds that the al-Shifa plant was involved in producing chemical weapons and had ties with the violent Islamist al Qaeda group of Osama bin Laden, which was believed to be behind the embassy bombings. The August 20 US action also hit al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, to where bin Laden had moved following his May 1996 expulsion from Sudan.
The Khartoum attack was noted for its outstanding precision, as successive missiles all but levelled the al-Shifa works with minimal damage to surrounding areas. But the factory is today widely thought to have had no connections with weapons-related activity or with bin Laden. It was, however, Sudan's principal source of anti-malaria and veterinary drugs, and its destruction is alleged to have caused thousands of otherwise preventible deaths during the malaria epidemic that hit the country in 1999.
The strikes were criticised by many as being motivated at least in part by a desire to deflect attention from President Clinton's ongoing domestic (in both senses of the word) troubles in the Lewinsky scandal.