The group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 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 has considered al-Zarqawi himself a threat for some time. Spokesman Richard Boucher said he was responsible for several horrible crimes, including the beheading of hostages in Iraq, and vowed that he would be caught.
The reward for information leading to his killing or capture was raised to up to $25 million this summer, putting him on a par with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy.
The listing imposes several restrictions on al-Zarqawi’s group, known as Tawhid and Jihad, 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 it 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.
Blamed for scores of attacks
The group was implicated in the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003, which killed more than 20 people and prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to sharply reduce the U.N. presence in Iraq.
Thursday, Tawhid and Jihad claimed responsibility for bombings within the Iraqi capital’s heavily guarded Green Zone — the home to U.S. officials and the Iraqi leadership — which killed six people, including three U.S. civilians. A fourth American was missing and presumed dead.
The State Department said it had no evidence to support the claim but that it was investigating.
Al-Zarqawi is considered the most dangerous terrorist plotter and foreign fighter in Iraq, coordinating a loose coalition of militant Sunni Muslims, loyalists of former President Saddam Hussein and other extremists numbering at least in the hundreds and blamed for much of the instability there. While not a member of al-Qaida, 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 has been operating more recently in Iraq as Tawhid and Jihad, which is 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.