US officially expands terror list into West Africa

The group known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), and its top two commanders, Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi, are now banned from receiving any material support from the U.S. citizens, and any assets located in U.S. territories have been frozen as a result. 

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the move to put MUJWA and its leaders on the list, alongside groups like the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Pakistan-based Haqqani Network and al Qaeda, earlier this month. 

The official State Department notification of the group's addition to the list was publicly released on Wednesday. 

The group is responsible for numerous kidnappings-for-ransom incidents in Western Africa, as well as various attacks against military and government targets in Algeria and elsewhere, according to the State Department. 

The decision to add the West African terror cell to the list comes as the Pentagon and White House turn their focus to al Qaeda's ongoing efforts to establish a safe haven in Northern Mali. 

Insurgent fighters with ties to al Qaeda's Africa cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have established a stronghold in Mali wake of a successful coup in the country. 

Bands of MUJWA gunmen, known as the "Brigades of Osama Bin Laden" in honor of the slain al Qaeda leader, are fighting alongside AQIM forces in an effort to keep Malian troops out of northern Mali. 

Gen. Carter Ham, head of Africa Command, told reporters in July that AQIM has quietly emerged as the al Qaeda's strongest and best-funded faction.

MUJWA members were originally part of AQIM's West Africa cell until last September, when the group's leaders decided to break away from the al Qaeda faction and operate independently on the continent. 

The United Nations recently authorized Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to help Mali draft a counterterrorism plan to regain control of the north. Recent efforts by the Malian military to flush out the group have been unsuccessful. 

French diplomats agreed to deploy a number of unmanned surveillance drones to the region, in an attempt to support the Malian government's offensive against the terror group in October. 

For their part, Pentagon officials have denied any effort to begin conducting unilateral military operations in Mali to oust AQIM and its affiliates from the country. 

However, Mali has been a long-time American ally in Africa, with U.S. special operations forces attached to Joint Special Operations Command-Trans Sahara conducting a number of military training operations there over the past several years. 

That said, the first in a slew of Army units designed to expand American military presence across the globe is heading Africa Command, tasked with forging and increasing military cooperation with U.S. allies on the continent. 

Members of the Army's 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division will rotate into Africa Command's headquarters in Europe "and other regions to bolster our alliances and partnerships," Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in October. 

Those units "will help building partner capacity through bilateral and multilateral training and theater security cooperation" in Africa and elsewhere, he added at the time. 


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