WASHINGTON – The United States and Britain ordered financial sanctions Thursday against a Kurdish Islamic group suspected of harboring Al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan.
The action was taken against Ansar al-Islam, which controls territory in the largely autonomous Kurdish area of Northern Iraq.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Ansar al-Islam was being placed on the U.S. financial sanctions list. The U.S. government is authorized to block the financial assets of any such group.
He said the administration is asking the U.N. Sanctions Committee to add Ansar al-Islam's name to consolidated list of entities and individuals that are subject to international sanctions.
In London, the Bank of England ordered all financial institutions to freeze any funds held by the group.
Secretary of State Colin Powell made reference to Ansar al-Islam in his presentation on Iraq before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5.
Powell said Iraq has an agent in the "most senior levels" of Ansar al-Islam. "In 2000, this agent offered Al Qaeda safe haven in the region," he said.
"After we swept Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, some of those members accepted this safe haven. They remain there today."
Powell's reference to Ansar al-Islam was part of a broader effort to demonstrate what he called the "sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network."
Kurdish leaders blame Ansar al-Islam for the Feb. 8 killing of Gen. Shawkat Haji Mushir, a prominent Kurdish politician.
Also on Thursday, Boucher welcomed Norway's decision to order the expulsion of Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar.
"We support that decision," Boucher said. "We have a strong interest in making sure that people who are associated with terrorism are not able to facilitate terrorist acts."
On Wednesday, the Norwegian government, calling Krekar a national security threat, ordered him to leave the country in two weeks.
Last month, Krekar denied he or his group had any links to terrorism or ever had any contact with Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.
Krekar has been living in Norway as a refugee and was seeking political asylum.
Norwegian officials said Krekar's activities as a military, political and religious leader during repeated visits to Northern Iraq were not consistent with those of an asylum seeker.