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Reporters on the Job

Touched by a Missile: While reporting today's story about a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan bombed by the US in 1998, staff writer Abraham McLaughlin got his first up-close look at US cruise missiles - or at least at parts of them. Amid the rubble were several metal fragments of the missiles that destroyed the plant, which the US said was producing chemicals used in VX nerve gas. "Some of the missile fragments were as big as a head of lettuce. Others were the size of a large watermelon," says Abe.

"I was reminded of the US power and reach. These metal chunks were fired from a warship hundreds of miles away, and they hit a factory no bigger than a suburban grocery store in one of the more remote places on Earth.

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"Of course, when I mentioned this to my host, the chairman of the Al-Shifa company, he politely retorted: 'Yes, I wish the information about the plant's activities had been as accurate as the missiles,' " says Abe. The factory owner maintains his facility had no connection to Osama bin Laden or to making nerve gas, a charge US officials stand by even today.

"After talking to lots of people about it, my theory is that the US probably had some evidence that Mr. bin Laden was, at some point, tangentially connected to the plant. But maybe the Americans mostly wanted to send a signal to the Sudanese: Don't do anything that smacks of supporting terror. If that's true, it worked, as the story explains (page 1).

Abe hastens to add that he resisted "the major temptation" to pocket one of the missile parts as a souvenir.

David Clark Scott
World editor


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