State Department targets West African terror group

Department officials on Wednesday officially tagged Mohamed Lahbous, a senior member of the group known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist." 

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Lahbous now joins top MUJWA commanders Hamad el Khairy and Ahmed el Tilemsi on the State Department terror list. 

The categorization means all three men are banned from receiving any material support from U.S. citizens, and any assets located in U.S. territories have been frozen as a result. 

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton placed Khairy and Tilemsi on the terror list last December. 

Initially created as a subgroup for al Qaeda's African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, MUJWA broke off from the organization to expand their own operations into Western Africa. 

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

The addition of the African-based terror groups to the State Department list reflects the difficulties U.S. intelligence has had in pinning down those organizations. 

The intelligence community lacks the necessary means and manpower to dismantle al Qaeda's rapidly growing presence in Africa on their own, becoming increasingly dependent on local forces to take that fight to the group's terror cells on the continent.

The relatively small number of intelligence assets Washington currently has in place in Africa pales in comparison to the number of similar American assets in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Mideast. 

But the resulting blowback from the Mideast counterterror campaign has manifested itself with the rise of al Qaeda factions gaining control of wide swaths of territory in North and Western Africa.