The United States expanded sanctions Thursday against affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group operating across the Middle East and North Africa, reflecting the spreading threat of extremism far beyond the groups’ traditional strongholds in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The State Department designated the IS branch in Libya as a foreign terrorist organization, freezing its assets and restricting its members from entering the U.S. The U.S. also named IS branches in Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia as global terrorists, joining other IS branches in Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula already on the list.
The action prohibits Americans from doing business with the groups and targets any property they may have within U.S. jurisdiction. The State Department says they became branches in 2014 when their oath of allegiance was accepted by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader.
In a related move, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on six individuals for supporting or fundraising for IS or al-Qaida, including al-Qaida’s branch operating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Those sanctions also target the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria that – like the U.S. – opposes Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Nusra Front’s presence in areas where U.S.-backed rebels are also fighting has complicated efforts to enforce a cease-fire between Assad’s forces and rebels. Nusra and IS are excluded from the truce.
The sanctions come amid increasing U.S. concern that success in the U.S.-led campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria have led the group to metastasize elsewhere in the region – especially in Libya, where a cascade of rival militias, tribes and governments have been fighting for control since 2011. The U.S. is counting on a new U.N.-backed unity government to create stability and fight IS there, and this week said it would arm that government with weapons under an exception to the U.N. arms embargo.