Biden Removing 5 Organizations from Terror Blacklist, Despite Thousands of Deaths

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The United States is poised to remove five extremist groups, all believed to be defunct, from its list of foreign terrorist organizations — including several that once posed significant threats, killing hundreds if not thousands of people across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Although the groups are inactive, the decision is politically sensitive for the Biden administration and the countries in which the organizations operated and could draw criticism from victims and their families still dealing with the losses of loved ones.

The organizations include the Basque separatist group ETA, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, the radical Jewish group Kahane Kach and two Islamic groups that have been active in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt.

The U.S. State Department notified Congress on Friday of the decision, which comes at the same time as an increasingly divisive but unrelated debate in Washington and elsewhere about whether Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard should or can be legally removed from the U.S. list as part of efforts to salvage the languishing Iran nuclear deal.

That designation, which was imposed by the Trump administration, was not mentioned in Friday’s notifications.

In separate notices to lawmakers, the State Department said the terrorism designations for the five groups will be formally removed when the determinations are published in the Federal Register, which is expected this coming week.

Copies of the notifications, all of which were signed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, were obtained by The Associated Press.

The general reason for the removals is identical in each of the cases: Blinken asserted that they were based on an administrative review of the designations, which by law is required every five years.

The reviews take into account whether designated groups are still active, whether they have committed terrorist acts within the previous five years and whether removal from or retention of the list would be in U.S. national security interests. Under the law that created the list, the secretary of state can remove groups that he or she deems no longer to fit the criteria.

“Based on a review of the Administrative Record assembled in this matter and in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, I determine that the circumstances that were the basis for the designation … have changed in such a manner to warrant revocation of the designation,” Blinken wrote in each notice.

Removing the groups from the list has the immediate effect of rescinding a range of sanctions that the designations had entailed. Those include asset freezes and travel bans, as well as a prohibition on any Americans providing the groups or their members with any material support. In the past the material support provision has been broadly defined to encompass money or in-kind assistance, in some cases even medical care.

All but one of the five groups was first designated a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 and have remained on the list for the past 25 years.

U.S. officials familiar with the matter said the decisions were made only after consulting lawmakers several months ago about whether the latest five-year reviews should proceed. Before now, only 15 groups have been removed from the list.

The specific reasons for each the removals are included only in classified sections that accompanied the notifications, which are not classified on their own. These sections are labeled “SECRET/NOFORN,” which means their contents can only be shared among U.S. officials with proper clearances and not with foreign gov…

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