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05 January 2004

Foreign Terrorist List Vital in Global War on Terrorism
Current FTO list includes 36 terrorist groups

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- One of the key weapons in the U.S. arsenal's fight against global terrorism is the designation of groups as "foreign terrorist organizations," which authorizes actions such as freezing their assets, blocking travel by members and supporters, and criminalizing support for them.

The Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, created by Congress in a 1996 amendment to federal law, is designed to cut off funding to terrorist groups, block their immigration into the United States and authorize deportation once members of the group are located in the country. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the FTO list has taken on an even more critical role in the war on terrorism.

The secretary of state, by federal law, is authorized to designate any group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization if it meets certain very specific criteria. And while the Department of State is the lead agency on counterterrorism, designating an FTO actually involves the joint work of the State, Justice, Homeland Security, and Treasury departments. The designation is effective for two years and must be renewed thereafter for the group to remain on the list. The first FTO list was published October 8, 1997, and later included in the 1997 Patterns of Global Terrorism report, which the State Department prepares annually for Congress.

Any group can be removed from the list by the secretary of state, an act of Congress or a federal court order.

"As we carry on the global campaign against terrorism, we hope this list will help to isolate these terrorist organizations, to choke off their sources of financial support, and to prevent their members' movement across international borders," State Department spokesman Ambassador Richard Boucher said recently.

Currently the list includes 36 Foreign Terrorist Organizations designated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, says Ambassador J. Cofer Black, the State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

"Both directly and through our embassies, we are working with governments around the world to attack the mechanisms by which terrorists raise, move, and use money. Each U.S. Embassy has appointed a Terrorism Finance Coordination Officer to lead the effort -- in conjunction with the host government -- to detect, disrupt, and deter terrorist financing," Black said during a recent speech.

The list, however, serves another broad purpose as a key symbol of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Black has said that diplomacy in the war on terrorism "is the instrument of power that builds political will and strengthens international cooperation. Through diplomatic exchanges, we promote counterterrorism cooperation with friendly nations that serve our mutual interests. We enhance the capabilities of our allies. Diplomacy helps us take the war to the terrorists and to cut off the resources they depend upon to survive."

A group can be designated an FTO if it meets three requirements -- it is foreign, it
engages in terrorist activity, and its activity threatens the security of U.S. citizens or the national security of the United States.

At the heart of identifying a terrorist organization is the definition of terrorism. The Department of State, in its Terrorism Report, has developed several key definitions:

-- The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term "terrorist group" means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

-- And, the term "international terrorism" means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.

There are three consequences for a group that is designated an FTO:

-- Any member who knowingly provides "material support or resources," which includes financial assistance, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documents or fake identification, communications equipment, weapons, or transportation, can be prosecuted in U.S. courts.

-- Any representatives or members of a designated FTO can be denied admission to the United States, or, if already in the country can face deportation.

-- And, any financial institution that becomes aware of the fact that it is holding funds from a designated FTO or its agents must freeze the funds and report the action immediately to the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

However, the FTO list is not the only "terrorist list" published by the U.S. government. and as terrorism became an increasing threat to U.S. national security, so has the government's response.

A second well known list is the "state-sponsors of terrorism," which is required by the Export Administration Act of 1979. The law requires the secretary of state to provide Congress with a list of countries that have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism." Currently seven states are included in the list -- Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. While Iraq is still technically on the list, President Bush has suspended the applicable sanctions against Iraq, according to the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Iraq's name can be legally removed from the list once it has a government in place that pledges not to support acts of terrorism in the future.

The law imposes a list of export controls on any designated state sponsor, and U.S. foreign aid is also prohibited.

Other terrorist lists employed by the United States include:

-- The Specially Designated Terrorists (SDT) list, required by the 1995 International Emergency Economic Powers (IEEP) Act and initiated under Presidential Executive Order 12947, is specifically oriented toward any person -- individuals or groups -- who threaten to disrupt the Middle East Peace Process. This list is maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department.

-- The Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) list, implemented under the IEEP Act, blocks "all property and interests in property" of designated terrorists and individuals who materially support terrorists. Like the previous SDT list, this list is also maintained by the Treasury Department.

-- Finally, there is the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL), which was created by the 2001 USA Patriot Act, that authorizes the secretary of state in consultation with the U.S. Attorney General to designate terrorist organizations strictly for immigration purposes. Any person associated with groups on the TEL list are prevented from entering the United States or may be deported if they are already in the country.

The United Nations and the European Union also maintain international lists aimed at combating global terrorism.