US hits Hezbollah agents in W.Africa with sanctions

The United States announced sanctions against four Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah on Tuesday, alleging they were working to extend the group's influence in West Africa.

The US Treasury Department named the four as responsible for Hezbollah's activities in Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Gambia: Ali Ibrahim al-Watfa, Abbas Loutfe Fawaz, Ali Ahmad Chehade, and Hicham Nmer Khanafer, respectively.

The operatives "have organized fund-raising efforts, recruited members, and in some cases styled themselves as ambassadors of Hezbollah's Foreign Relations Department," the Treasury said in a statement.

The sanctions freeze any assets they have on US soil and ban Americans and US businesses from any transactions with them.

The United States has designated Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shiite militia, as a terrorist group.

"Today's designations... further expose the alarming reach of Hezbollah's activities and its determination to create a worldwide funding and recruitment network to support its violence and criminal enterprises around the world," the department said.

"Even as Hezbollah claims to be a resistance organization, its expansive global network is sending money and operatives to carry out terrorist attacks around the world and fighters to the front lines of the Syrian civil war."

David Cohen, the Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, vowed to use "all tools at our disposal" to disrupt Hezbollah's efforts to extend its influence beyond the borders of Lebanon.

"These actions are increasingly important as the funding from Hezbollah's traditional patron, Iran, is squeezed by international sanctions," Cohen said.