ISLAMABAD – The United States has added four top Islamic militants operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan to its list of “global terrorists,” amid a resurgence of violence and border tensions in the area. The militant leaders hail from the Pakistani Taliban and an al-Qaida branch in South Asia.
Both militant groups operate from Afghanistan, but they have hideouts in Pakistan's mountainous northwest and elsewhere as well.
The State Department's announcement on Thursday comes days after Pakistan's Taliban movement, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, ended a monthslong ceasefire with Pakistan and resumed attacks across the country.
Amid threats from the militants, Pakistan's Interior Ministry tightened security in public places and mosques on Friday. The TTP has asked its fighters to target security forces across the country. The militant group was behind the 2014 attack on a Peshawar school that killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The State Department said the terrorist designation of the militants would trigger sanctions against the four militant commanders who are from the TTP and al-Qaida's South Asian branch.
The statement read that the U.S. was targeting the “threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)." The U.S. would move to prevent militants from using Afghanistan as “a platform for international terrorism," it added.
“As a result of these actions,” the statement said, “all property and interests in property of those designated (Thursday) that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and all U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.”
The United States said the sanctioned individuals included Osama Mehmood, the head of al-Qaida's South Asia branch, Yahya Ghouri, the deputy chief of the al-Qaida branch, and Muhammad Maruf, who is responsible for recruitment for the group.
It also designated the TTP's leader, Qari Amjad, who oversees militant attacks in northwest Pakistan.
In a statement, the TTP denounced the U.S. measures and demanded Washington not interfere in the affairs of other countries. The group said it did not need the use of Afghan soil for attacks in Pakistan, where the TTP claimed it enjoyed the backing of tribal people.
The latest measures by the State Department come days after Gen. Asim Munir was appointed Pakistan's new army chief, amid a spike in militant attacks on security forces in the country.
One of the key challenges faced by Gen. Munir is how to respond to the threat from Pakistan's Taliban.
U.S. CENTCOM chief Gen. Erik Kurilla spoke via video teleconference with Gen. Munir to congratulate him on his new position, the spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The two leaders discussed U.S.-Pakistan security cooperation, it added.
The TTP emerged after Pakistan’s government became a key ally of the United States in its war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Al-Qaida founder Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs operation in May 2011 in his hiding place in the garrison city of Abbottabad, not far from Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.
Pakistani officials did not immediately comment on the new U.S. terrorism designations, but Islamabad has demanded Afghanistan's Taliban rulers do more to prevent militants from operating within their country. The demand from Pakistan came after a deadly suicide bombing earlier this week that the TTP claimed. The attack targeted police protecting health workers distributing polio vaccines in Pakistan's southwest.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban, who have ruled their country since the U.S. and NATO troops withdrew last year. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened their Pakistani allies, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in the next door country.
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this story from Washington.