The State Department leveled an official "Foreign Terrorist Organization" designation on an Islamist group in the West African nation of Mali on Thursday, asserting that the group has strong ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The designation of the Ansar al-Dine, which the State Department also added to the U.S. list of "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" entities Thursday, comes roughly a month after the organizations leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, was named by the department as an international terrorist.
While the State Department took the actions after similar listings were made by the United Nations — which requires its members states, including the U.S., to follow up with its own designations — the actions appear to signal an ongoing narrowing of Washington's focus on al-Qaeda-linked operations in Africa.
The designations effectively bar Mr. Ghali and anyone else suspected of involvement in Ansar al-Dine from property in the U.S. as well as blocking American companies and citizens from doing business with them.
The State Department said Thursday that Ansar al-Dine has "received support from" al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) "since its inception in late 2011, and continues to maintain close ties to the group."
Specifically, the department said, Ansar al-Dine "has received backing from AQIM in its fight against Malian and French forces," who've been engaged since January in a campaign to drive Islamist militants from northern Mali.
Previously, Ansar al-Dine (AAD) "executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more" during a March 2012 attack on the Malian town of Aguelhok, the State Department said in a statement. "Before the French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns under AAD's control who did not comply with AAD's laws faced harassment, torture, or execution."
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