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US Sanctions IS Backers, Targets Finances

  • Mike Richman

FILE - Islamic State fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province.

FILE - Islamic State fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province.

The United States on Tuesday announced financial sanctions against major Islamic State leaders and financial figures and designated additional individuals and groups as foreign terrorist fighters.

The Treasury and State Departments imposed the penalties on a total of 30 individuals and groups, in what a senior Obama administration official described as a "real ramp up" by the U.S. to prevent the so-called Islamic State group from exploiting the global financial system.

This is believed to be the most ambitious U.S. attempt to undercut the Islamic State group's financial support.

Diverse nationalities

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions against 15 Islamic State figures, including supporters and facilitators. The designations focus on "attacking" the group's finances by stopping its leaders and facilitators from using the international financial system. The designations also support President Barack Obama's strategy to "disrupt and ultimately destroy ISIL," according to a Treasury Department statement.

"Treasury remains relentless about depleting ISIL's financial strength and denying this violent terrorist group access to the international financial system," said Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Islamic State officials who operate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. Among the individuals it sanctioned in Syria is British national Aqsa Mahmood, who is accused of helping recruit three British schoolgirls earlier this year to flee to Britain to become wives of Islamic State fighters.

Treasury Department officials previously sanctioned only four Islamic State figures, one of whom was killed in a U.S. drone strike a few months ago.

Oil revenue

Concurrently, the State Department issued IS-related designations for 10 individuals and five groups, singling out Islamic State regional groups in Algeria, Indonesia, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Russia's Caucasus region. Sally Jones, a British native and the widow of an IS operative killed recently in an American drone strike, is among the people designated as terrorists.

"The Department of State's designations today, and those carried out by the Treasury Department, highlight the scope of the foreign terrorist fighter challenge facing the international community," according to the State Department. "The United States will continue to work closely with its partners and multilateral bodies to apply sanctions against ISIL's tyranny of violence and oppression."

In a conference call, senior Obama administration officials told reporters the diverse nationalities of the newly designated individuals highlight the global nature of the Islamic State threat.

The officials spoke at length about cutting off the group's access to the international financial system, saying IS is now taking in as much as $500 million per year from oil revenue, or nearly $1.4 million per day. Almost a year ago, the Treasury Department said it had succeeded in reducing IS oil revenues from a previous high of $1 million a day.

The announcement of the designations came as President Obama and other world leaders meet on the threat of the Islamic State group on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The summit is part of Obama's initiative on "countering violent extremism."

VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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