The United States Thursday imposed sanctions against four Syrians accused of helping facilitate the flow of money, weapons and foreign fighters to the "al-Qaida in Iraq" group. The State Department said Syria remains the primary transfer point for aid to Iraqi extremists. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The action by the Treasury Department, the second of its kind in a week, freezes any assets the four Syrians may have in U.S. banks and outlaws all U.S. business dealings with them.
The targets of the action are an Iraqi-born Syrian - Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiyah, and his brother and two cousins.
The Treasury Department said Abu Ghadiyah is the principal figure in a network that has provided money, fake passports, safe houses and other services for foreign fighters transiting Syria to join al-Qaida in Iraq.
It said the other three men helped coordinate the group's activity inside Iraq including attacks on members of the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces, suicide bombings, and the killing of al-Qaida in Iraq opponents.
Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said in a written statement that Syria has been a "transit station" for foreign terrorists going to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
At a news briefing here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey credited the Syrian government with some improved efforts in curbing the cross-border traffic, but said there is a lot more the Damascus authorities could do:
"The fact that we are sanctioning individuals who currently reside in Syria, because of their participation in, and support for al-Qaida in Iraq, is a clear indication that there is a long way to do on the part of the Syrian government to take the necessary actions to really be a valid partner in fighting terrorism, rather than being a facilitator and an enabler," he said.
Last week, the Treasury Department sanctioned a prominent Syrian businessman and relative of President Bashar al-Assad, Rami Makhluf, for alleged efforts to undermine the governments of Iraq and Lebanon.
Spokesman Casey called Syria's overall record on terrorism "pretty abysmal," and said the Bush administration is constantly considering what more can be done to convince the Syrian government to change its behavior.
A 2003 Act of Congress called on the President to invoke a long list of sanctions against Syria, unless he deemed it in the U.S. national security interests not do to so.
President Bush has enacted some of the measures under the Syria Accountability Act, notably a partial trade ban, but has withheld others including severing diplomatic contact with Syria.
Casey said closing the U.S. embassy in Damascus is an option the administration has chosen not to exercise, in order to keep an open channel of communication with Syria, even though a full ambassador has not been posted there since 2005.