WASHINGTON (Oct. 8)
In a long-awaited move expected to aid the fight against terrorism, the United States this week designated 30 groups as foreign terrorist organizations.
The action was taken under a 1996 anti-terrorism law that makes it illegal to provide funds for designated terrorist groups, bars U.S. visas for their members or representatives and requires U.S. financial institutions to block funds belonging to the groups.
Jewish organizations, which were instrumental in pushing the legislation through Congress, have been urging the administration to make the designations for nearly a year and half.
Officials welcomed Wednesday’s move, which effectively triggers the restrictions outlined in the law.
The Anti-Defamation League called the designations “an essential first step in an ongoing process to prevent illegal fund-raising activities in this country for terrorist groups abroad.”
“We urge federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce the law against these foreign terrorist organizations and their domestic conduits,” the ADL said in a statement.
The groups include Hamas, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Two Jewish organizations — Kach and Kahane Chai — are also on the list.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in brief remarks, called terrorism one of the nation’s most important security problems and said the administration hopes to turn the country into a “no-support-for-terrorism zone.”
The law mandating the identification of terrorist groups took effect 17 months ago. The process of actually naming the organizations was delayed, however, as preparations were being made for possible legal challenges to the designations, observers said.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives, impatient over the slow pace of compiling the list, voted 396-6 to cut State Department salaries and expenses by 2 percent until the list was completed.
Following the designations, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the State Department’s “belated” action sends a signal that the administration “is finally waking up to the serious threat of foreign terrorist organizations.”
The anti-terrorism law supplements an executive order President Clinton signed in 1995 blocking assets of 12 Middle Eastern terrorist organizations that threaten to use violence to disrupt the peace process.
“Rather than using an executive order authority, one can now use this full legal authority to restrict the travel of officials of these organizations or anyone who would like to come to this country to fund raise on their behalf,” said State Department spokesman James Rubin.