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US Imposes Sanctions against Iraqi Kurdish Group Ansar al-Islam - 2003-02-20

The United States has imposed financial sanctions against an Iraqi Kurdish rebel group, Ansar al-Islam, said to have close ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network. U.S. officials are also welcoming a decision by Norway to expel the group's leader, who faces criminal charges in Jordan.

The decision, announced jointly by the State and Treasury Departments, obligates financial institutions to freeze any assets Ansar al-Islam may have in the United States and also, among other things, makes it unlawful for U.S. citizens to contribute money to the group.

Ansar al-Islam is a Kurdish guerrilla faction operating in the mountains of northern Iraq near the border with Iran, and is believed to be behind a series of attacks against mainstream Kurdish leaders. Some of its members are believed to have fought with Taleban forces in Afghanistan and to have connections with al-Qaida.

In his February 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the group has worked with Iraqi intelligence and cited Ansar al-Islam as an example of the Baghdad government's ties to terrorism.

The action making the group subject to U.S. sanctions came a day after the Norwegian government announced it would expel its leader, Mullah Krekar, who has had political refugee status in Norway for more than a decade.

The United States had pressed Norway to move against the mullah, who has publicly praised al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and at a briefing here State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the decision from Oslo:

"The government of Norway has decided to expel Krekar for national security reasons. We support that decision," he said. "We have a strong interest in making sure that people associated with terrorism are not able to facilitate terrorist acts."

It was not immediately clear where Mullah Krekar would go from Norway, though spokesman Richard Boucher noted that he was wanted on drug trafficking charges in Jordan and suggested that he be, as he put it, "transferred accordingly."

The sanctions against Ansar al-Islam are being imposed under terms of an executive order from President Bush issued soon after the Sptember 1l terrorist attacks.

The Bush administration is also asking the United Nations to put the group on its list of organizations and persons associated with al-Qaida and the Taleban, which would obligate all U.N. member states to also impose sanctions including asset freezes.

The move comes only one day after the United States imposed similar penalties against Afghan warlord and former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, because of his reported links to the Taleban and bin Laden.