- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The State Department on Tuesday named an Islamic extremist leader in Mali as a “specially designated” international terrorist, a sign of deepening U.S. involvement in the war against al Qaeda and its allies in Africa.

Iyad Ag Ghali leads the armed Malian extremist group Ansar Dine, “which cooperates closely with” al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist network’s North African affiliate, the State Department said.

The designation bars Ghali access to any of his property in the U.S. and American companies and citizens from doing business with him.

The State Department said Ghali founded Ansar Dine in March, and its membership is mainly drawn from Tuareg nomads.

Last year, the group fought alongside AQIM and other extremists, expelling Malian government forces from the country’s vast desert north. Last month, French and Malian troops ousted the extremists.

U.S. officials and international aid groups have said that Ansar Dine instituted a severe form of islamic law while they controlled the north. Human rights abuses reported include amputations, floggings, executions and the recruitment of child soldiers.

The State Department notes that Ghali also has been “listed” by the U.N. al Qaeda Sanctions Committee. That listing requires all member states to implement an assets freeze, a travel ban and an arms embargo against him.

“The U.N. action demonstrates international resolve in eliminating Ghali’s violent activities in Mali and the surrounding region,” the State Department says.