Former al Qaeda in Africa cell targeted on US terror list

The al Qaeda splinter faction responsible for the January terrorist attack on a BP oil facility in Algeria has been named to the State Department's top terror watch list. 

On Wednesday, department officials tagged al-Mulathamun Battalion as a "foreign terrorist organization," effectively banning the group from receiving any material support from U.S. citizens, and freezing any assets located in U.S. territories tied to the organization. 

The group, also known as "Signers in Blood," led the assault on the BP oil field in western Algeria, holding several U.S. citizens along with 40 foreign nationals hostage during the standoff. 

A botched attempt by Algerian special operations forces to storm the BP facility ended with the deaths of three Americans and 34 other hostages.

In late January, the State Department identified Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan and Frederick Buttaccio as the three U.S. citizens killed during the rescue attempt. 

In June, department officials put a $5 million bounty on Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the group's leader and accused mastermind of the BP attack. 

Initially a faction of al Qaeda's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Belmokhtar's group broke off from the organization, vowing to carry out attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Africa. 

Belmokhtar's group helped another former AQIM faction, known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), carry out dual bombings in Niger in May, according to the State Department. 

Aside from the Niger bombings, which ended with 20 civilians killed, MUJWA fighters are also responsible for numerous kidnappings and terror attacks across western Africa. 

Months after the Niger attacks, Belmokhtar's group and MUJWA formed a joint organization dubbed “al-Murabitoun," which Washington claims  constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests" in western Africa and the  the Sahel region. 

MUJWA leader Mohamed Lahbous, along with top commanders Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi were placed on the department's terror list in August, shortly after the group's merger with Belmokhtar's terror faction.