US removes ‘foreign terrorist’ designation from Israeli, Basque and Egyptian groups

The US State Department on Friday removed its old official “foreign terrorist organization” label from Israeli, Basque, Egyptian, Palestinian and Japanese extremist groups, but all will remain under a separate and broader terrorist designation.

Removed from the FTO blacklist were Kahane Chai, a Jewish extremist group linked to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane; the Palestinian group Mujahidin Shura Council around Jerusalem; and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA, a Basque separatist group that operated in Spain and France.

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The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, which launched a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, and al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, the militant group led by blind cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who died in a US prison in 2017, they were also removed from the department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The FTO designation had allowed the United States to take strong unilateral action against members and associates of a group, seize assets, block travel to the United States, deport and, significantly, imprison for up to 20 years anyone who provided “support material” to them.

None of the five is considered a currently active organization and the Department of State must review FTO designations every five years to see if they are still warranted.

“Our review of these five FTO designations determined that, as defined by the INA, the five organizations are no longer engaged in terrorism or terrorist activities and do not retain the ability or intent to do so,” the department said in a statement.

The revocations “recognize the success that Egypt, Israel, Japan and Spain have had in defusing the threat of terrorism from these groups,” he said.

Kahane Chai, who grew out of Kahane’s Kach movement, was appointed FTO in 1997, three years after his supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

The group’s founder, an advocate for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, was assassinated in New York in 1990.

ETA was blamed for killing hundreds in attacks as the group searched for an independent Basque homeland for four decades. Eight years after declaring a ceasefire in 2010, it was dissolved.

The Mujahideen Shura Council was blacklisted for its role in rocket attacks on Israel between 2010 and 2013.

The group Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya was built around Abdel Rahman, a US-based extremist who allegedly inspired the deadly 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

He was convicted in 1995 of various bomb plots and sentenced to life in prison.

Removing the FTO tag does not remove the five groups from the US Treasury blacklist.

They continue to be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entities (SDGTs), allowing the government to continue to hold seized assets and take control of others linked to the groups.

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