U.S. imposes financial sanctions on Islamist fighters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States designated two dozen individuals and groups as foreign terrorists or terrorist facilitators on Wednesday, enabling it to freeze assets and block financial transactions as it stepped up its offensive against Islamist militants in Syria.

The U.S. State Department labeled as foreign terrorist fighters two groups and 10 people, including Amru al-Absi, the Islamic State provincial leader for Homs, Syria, who has been in charge of kidnappings, and Salim Benghalem, a French Islamic State member based in Syria.

The Treasury Department named 11 individuals and one entity as specially designated global terrorists, including Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Georgia national based in Syria who has held senior military positions in Islamic State.

“Today’s ... designations will disrupt efforts by ISIL, al Nusrah Front, al-Qaeda and Jamaa Islamiya to raise, transport and access funds that facilitate foreign terrorist fighters,” said David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The sanctions enable the government to freeze any assets the individuals or groups have under U.S. jurisdiction and to prevent U.S. citizens and companies from engaging in any financial transactions with them.

The United States’ actions coincided with a United Nations Security Council summit, chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama, focusing on the surge in foreigners joining militant groups as fighters. Attendees approved a resolution demanding all countries make it a serious criminal offense for citizens to travel abroad to fight with militant groups, or to recruit and fund others to do so.

The State Department designated as global terrorist organizations Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, a Chechen-led group of mostly foreign fighters based in Syria, and Harakat Sham al-Islam, a Moroccan-led group in Syria.

The Treasury Department designated one group, Hilal Ahmar Society Indonesia, which it said is the humanitarian wing of Jemaah Islamiya, a U.N.-designated terrorist group with al Qaeda links based in Southeast Asia. It said the group has engaged in activities since 2013 that support the recruitment and travel of foreign fighters for Jemaah Islamiya to Syria for military training.

The State Department also designated as foreign terrorist fighters:

- Mohammed Abdel-Halim Hemaida Saleh, an al Qaeda member suspected of recruiting suicide bombers;

- Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a Kosovar Albanian foreign fighter for Islamic State;

- Murad Margoshvili, a Chechen leader in Syria who built a training base for foreign fighters;

- Nusret Imamovic, a Bosnian militant leader now based in Syria;

- Muhannad al-Najdi, a Saudi al Qaeda facilitator based in Syria;

- Abdessamad Fateh, member of a Scandanavian-based extremist group with suspected al Qaeda links;

- Abd al-Baset Azzouz, an al Qaeda operative and trainer skilled in bomb-making;

- Maalim Salman, head of African foreign fighters for al-Shabaab.

The Treasury Department designated the following individuals as foreign terrorist fighter facilitators:

- Tariq al-Harzi, an Islamic State official operating in Syria;

- ‘Abd al-Aziz Aday Zimin al-Fadhil, a Kuwait-based facilitator who provides financial services for Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked group;

- Ashraf ‘Abd al-Salam, a fighter in Syria who has provided support for al Qaeda-linked groups;

- Umar al-Qatari, a Jordanian who provides financial and technological support for Nusra Front and al Qaeda;

- Fathi Hasar, a Turkey-based facilitator for al Qaeda;

- Hamad Awad Dahi Sarhan al-Shammari, a Kuwait-based facilitator who helps transfer al Qaeda money to militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

- Ibrahim al-Bakr, who provides financial and technical support for al Qaeda;

- Angga Dimas Pershada, a Jemaah Islamiya operative and a leader of the Hilal Ahmar Society;

- Bambang Sukirno, a senior Jemaah Islamiya leader;

- Wiji Joko Santoso, head of Jemaah Islamiya’s foreign affairs division.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Toni Reinhold