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U.S. designates Palestinian militant group as terror entity

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The group, based in the Palestinian territories, is called the Army of Islam
  • It is accused of deadly attacks and abductions of journalists
  • Palestinian sources have said it was involved in Gilad Shalit's abduction
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(CNN) -- A Palestinian radical group believed to be responsible for a series of abductions and attacks has been labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

Known as the Army of Islam, the group "has been responsible for numerous terrorist acts against the governments of Israel and Egypt, as well as American, British and New Zealander citizens," the State Department said.

"These actions include a number of rocket attacks on Israel, the 2006 kidnapping of two Fox News journalists in Gaza (an American and a New Zealander) and the 2007 kidnapping of a British citizen, journalist Alan Johnston, in Gaza. The group is also responsible for early 2009 attacks on Egyptian civilians in Cairo and Heliopolis, which resulted in casualties and deaths," the State Department said.

While the statement doesn't make reference to the abduction five years ago of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Palestinian security sources have said the group was involved in Shalit's capture, along with Hamas and another entity.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the designation on Thursday. It is the latest of many such moves against militant groups over the years.

The designation would result in a prohibition against Americans "providing material support or resources" to the group.

It also includes the "freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons."

The group is led by Mumtaz Dughmush and "operates primarily in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian territories," the State Department said.

The International Crisis Group said Dughmush is a former member of the Palestinian Authority's "Preventive Security Organization who for years allegedly had been contracted for militant operations by both Hamas and Fatah."

Hamas runs the Palestinian territory of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by the Fatah group, is in charge of the West Bank, the other Palestinian region. Both groups, which have been adversaries for years, are working to reconcile their movements.

Hamas opposes the existence of Israel but Fatah is not as hard-line and has been involved in peace talks with Israel.

The State Department says the Army of Islam "subscribes to a Salafist ideology of global jihad together with the traditional model of armed Palestinian resistance. AOI has previously worked with Hamas and is attempting to develop closer al Qaeda contacts. On May 7 the group released a eulogy for Osama bin Laden via its Al Nur Media Foundation,"

"Salafis are Sunni Muslims who adhere to a literalist reading of scripture," according to an International Crisis Group report in March called "Radical Islam in Gaza."

The Army of Islam's designation comes after President Barack Obama delivered a speech on Thursday detailing his Middle East policy, which includes attempts to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In the speech, Obama said the pre-1967 borders of Israel should serve as the basis for negotiations in the formation of a future Palestinian state.

He said there could be "mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

Obama will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday at the White House in a session that could highlight the tensions between the allies.

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report