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US Sanctions Mali Islamist Group, Leaders

A picture taken on July 16, 2012 shows fighters of the Islamist group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) sitting in the courtyard of the Islamist police station in Gao.
The United States has imposed sanctions against one of the Islamist groups that controls northern Mali and two of the group's leaders.

The State Department said Friday that the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and founding leaders Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi have been placed on the U.S. list of designated global terrorists.

The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets in which MUJAO, el Khairy or el Tilemsi have an interest, and prohibit Americans from engaging in any transactions with them.

MUJAO is also under United Nations sanctions. The group seized control of northern Mali earlier this year along with Islamist groups Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and has helped to impose a harsh form of Islamic law.

The State Department says el Khairy has been involved in MUJAO's kidnapping for ransom operations, including the April 2012 abduction of Algerian diplomats.

It says el Tilemsi is MUJAO's military chief, and took part in an October 2011 kidnapping of three aid workers in Algeria.

Both men were allegedly active in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb before taking on leadership roles in MUJAO.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.