WASHINGTON – The group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), which claimed responsibility for dozens of deadly attacks in Iraq, was designated by the U.S. government Friday as a terrorist organization.
The State Department (search) has considered Zarqawi himself a threat for some time. The reward for information leading to his killing or capture was raised to $25 million this summer, putting him on a par with Al Qaeda (search) leader Usama bin Laden (search) and his top deputy.
The listing imposes several restrictions on Zarqawi's group, known as Tawhid and Jihad (search), including a ban on travel to the United States and a freeze on any assets it may have in U.S. banks, but in practice has limited implications.
The listing appeared in the Federal Register. It said Secretary of State Colin Powell had taken the step after consulting with the Treasury Department and the attorney general's office.
The group was implicated in the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 in which more than 20 people were killed and prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to sharply reduce the U.N. presence in Iraq.
On Thursday, the Tawhid and Jihad group claimed responsibility for bombings within the Iraqi capital's heavily guarded Green Zone (search) — home to U.S. officials and the Iraqi leadership — which killed six people, including three American civilians. A fourth American was missing and presumed dead.
The State Department said it had no evidence to support the claim, but was investigating.
Al-Zarqawi is considered the most dangerous terror plotter and foreign fighter in Iraq, coordinating a loose coalition of militant Sunni Muslims, former loyalists of the Saddam Hussein regime and other extremists numbering at least in the hundreds and blamed for much of the instability there. While not a member of Al Qaeda, al-Zarqawi is considered an ally of bin Laden.
U.S. authorities focused their search for al-Zarqawi on Iraq, but as late as last winter he was considered a shadowy figure whose followers were known simply as "the Zarqawi network," a name still used today. He's been operating more recently in Iraq as Tawhid and Jihad, Arabic for "Monotheism and Holy War."
The group has taken responsibility for the slayings of at least seven hostages and numerous mortar, suicide bombings and other attacks against U.S. and Iraqi government targets. Scores have died.