US sanctions militant leaders over hostages in West Africa

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. on Tuesday imposed sanctions on leaders of militant groups over the taking of hostages, including Americans, in West Africa, the Treasury and State departments said.


The sanctions on leaders of the West African branch of al Qaeda, called Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), and Islamist militant group Al-Mourabitoun come as Washington has sought to deter and punish detentions of U.S. citizens abroad.

West African countries have been destabilized in recent years by Islamist insurgencies that took root in Mali in 2012 and spread across the Sahel region despite costly, internationally backed military efforts.


"We will not hesitate to employ the tools at our disposal to bring home U.S. citizens held hostage abroad, and to deter future hostage-takings of our citizens," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

"JNIM relies on hostage-taking and wrongful detention of civilians in order to gain leverage and instill fear, creating anguish and misery for the victims and their families," Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the Treasury statement.


The U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on seven leaders of JNIM and Al-Mourabitoun for their involvement in the hostage-taking of U.S. nationals in West Africa, Blinken said.

The U.S. Treasury Department meanwhile also issued sanctions against two leaders of JNIM based in Mali and Burkina Faso, including one it accused of supervising the detention of a U.S. national.

Tuesday's action freezes any of their U.S. assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)