U.S. designates al Qaeda affiliate in Mali as terrorist organization

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department on Wednesday designated an al Qaeda affiliate in Mali, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, as a foreign terrorist organization, cutting off its funding and blocking U.S. citizens from doing business with it.

The group has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks and kidnappings since it was formed in March 2017, the department said in a statement.

It said Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) was responsible for an attack in June 2017 at a resort popular with Western expatriates outside Mali’s capital, Bamako, as well as attacks on Malian troops, and coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, in March this year.

“Al-Qaeda and its affiliates like JNIM remain deadly threats to the United States and our allies. These designations are part of our continuing efforts to squeeze al-Qaeda’s finances, denying it the resources it needs to carry out attacks,” said Nathan Sales, the department’s coordinator for counterterrorism.

Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which was created from a merger of local groups, was later endorsed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Islamist groups have claimed increasingly frequent attacks on Western targets in Mali and the wider West Africa region, including a raid on a Bamako hotel in late 2015 which killed 20 people.

Editing by James Dalgleish