U.S. targets Egypt militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis

 U.S. targets Egypt militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has designated Egypt's most active militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a foreign terrorist organization, officials said on Wednesday, making it a crime to support the group.

The Sinai-based group, formed in the wake of the 2011 uprisings in Egypt, has claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks, including an assassination attempt on Egypt's interior minister last year.

The formal designation signals the United States' willingness to pursue groups responsible for some of the ongoing violence in Egypt, which has seen a string of attacks on security forces by various factions since the military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last summer.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is primarily a local group that is not formally linked to al Qaeda, but shares some of its ideology, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

By naming the group, U.S. officials can freeze its assets, although it was not immediately clear what holdings Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis may have in the United States. The U.S. may also target anyone who engages with the group or knowingly provides material support.

In January, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis killed five soldiers in a missile attack on a military helicopter, the department said. It also took responsibility for four other attacks in Cairo that utilized car bombs and hand grenades.

The group has launched rockets at Israel's southern city of Eilat and attacked Israeli border guards. It has also targeted Egyptian and foreign tourists and Israel, the department said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Updated Date: Apr 09, 2014 23:45:17 IST