US puts Mali rebel group on terror blacklist

The United States on Thursday placed Mali's Islamist Ansar Dine on its terror blacklist, accusing the group of close links with Al-Qaeda and of torturing and killing opponents in northern Mali.

The Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith group, was set up in late 2011 by Iyad Ag Ghaly and was backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as it sought last year to seize parts of the west African nation.

The State Department on Thursday designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization as well as a global terrorist entity, meaning that any property it holds in the United States is frozen and Americans are barred from doing business with it.

Ansar Dine "received backing from AQIM in its fight against Malian and French forces, most notably in the capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, between January and April," it said.

Before French forces deployed in Mali earlier this year to flush out the Islamist rebels, people in areas under Ansar Dine's control who did not comply with its laws "faced harassment, torture, or execution," the statement added.

Ghaly, who the United States blacklisted in February, is a long-time fighter against the Malian government, having led a 1990 rebellion by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA).

After the 1992 peace accords, he became the Tuareg community's leading negotiator with the Malian president's office.

But in 2006 he took command of rebel fighters behind attacks on military bases in Kidal, the State Department said.