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US Designates Lebanese Militant Group as Terrorist Organization


The United States Monday formally designated the Lebanon-based militant group Fatah al-Islam as a terrorist organization. The group has been battling Lebanese government troops in and around a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon since last May. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the designation under an anti-terrorism executive order issued by President Bush shortly after the September 11 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

The decision effectively cuts off Fatah al-Islam from the U.S. financial system, freezing any property or assets the group may have in the United States, and making it illegal for U.S. citizens or residents to give any assistance to it.

Fatah al-Islam, a group described as al-Qaida-inspired, is an offshoot of a Syrian-backed radical Palestinian faction and its leader - Shakir al-Absi - was sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for the 2002 murder American diplomat, Lawrence Foley, who was killed in Amman.

An attempted bank robbery allegedly by members of the group last May touched off fighting with Lebanese security forces in and around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp and clashes have continued sporadically since then.

The fighting has killed more than 130 civilians and Lebanese troops, and displaced some 40-thousand residents of the Palestinian camp, located near the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Fatah al-Islam may have little or no financial holdings that would be affected by the U.S. designation, but he said move will help subject the group to tougher international scrutiny:

"This is one of those issues where in the case that they might have some assets within the reach of the United States, then you take these actions. It's also, beyond that practical step, an important statement that it is a terrorist organization. The practical effect is that it labels this group a terrorist organization," he said.

A written statement issued here called on governments around the world to take similar action to isolate Fatah al-Islam, including preventing its members from crossing international borders.

The fighting involving the group is said to be the worst internal violence in Lebanon since the country's long civil war that began in 1975.

It prompted the Bush administration in late May to join Arab allies in an airlift of ammunition and other supplies to the Lebanese military, which has besieged the camp but failed thus far to completely dislodge the militants.