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U.S. Designates Pakistani Taliban Splinter Group As 'Global Terrorists'

A video grab shows Omar Khalid Khorasani (C), the purported leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (file photo).
A video grab shows Omar Khalid Khorasani (C), the purported leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (file photo).

The United States has designated a Pakistani Taliban splinter group and a suspect in terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris as global terrorists.

The terrorist designation is a "powerful tool" against the Taliban group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini because it puts the public on notice that they are "actively engaged in terrorism" and imposes strict financial sanctions on them, the U.S. State Department said.

Islamabad welcomed the decision, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria saying, "Pakistan has long pleaded to take concrete action against the [Pakistani Taliban] and their like who are hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has been blamed for several attacks in Pakistan, including a suicide bombing in March targeting Christians celebrating Easter in Lahore. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 injured.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was founded in August 2014 by a former leader of a Pakistani Taliban umbrella group and is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the department said.

Its attacks in the region have targeted civilians, religious minorities, military personnel, and law enforcement, and include the March slayings of two Pakistani employees of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar.

Abrini, 31, has been in custody since April 8 and is expected to face trial in France. Police believe Abrini was the so-called "man with the hat" who brought a bomb to the Brussels airport on the day of the attacks and abandoned it there.

He has confessed to being the surviving bomber who fled the airport before the bombs went off on March 22.

In addition to his suspected role in the Brussels attacks, Abrini is believed to have taken part in surveillance prior to the November 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

With reporting by dpa