Washington - The United States imposed sanctions on two Eritrean government officials on Thursday, saying they had assisted Islamist militants including the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab in the lawless neighboring state of Somalia.
The U.S. Treasury included the two Eritreans on a list of six people newly placed under sanctions for their role in the Somalian conflict, which U.S. officials see as a growing threat to regional stability across East Africa.
"The United States is determined to target those who are responsible for the ongoing bloodshed and instability in Somalia," Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
The United Nations Security Council has sanctioned Eritrea for providing support to Somalia's Islamist militants, a charge the Eritrean government has strongly denies.
Eritrea, which declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of fighting, has blamed Addis Ababa for the sanctions drive and the rivals have frequently clashed as they seek to influence events in Somalia, which has been without a central government for two decades.
The new U.S. designations block financial transactions with the specified individuals and freeze any property they have that may come under U.S. jurisdiction.
The Treasury named Col. Twolde Habte Negash, an Eritrean intelligence officer, as his government's principal coordinator for assisting armed groups including al Shabaab in Somalia since 2004.
"He reportedly provided explosives training to another armed group in Mogadishu in 2006 and he appears to have been indirectly involved in the training of al-Shabaab fighters between 2007 and 2009 at an Eritrean training camp for instruction in suicide bombing and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices," the Treasury statement said.
It also named Col. Taeme Abraham Goitom as helping to shape the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an armed group which joined al Shabaab in 2010 and has mounted attacks against Somali government soldiers and an African Union force seeking to stabilize the country.
The U.S. sanctions list was also expanded to include Sudanese militant Abu Fahris, accused of helping foreign fighters travel to al Shabaab training camps, and Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a Kenya-based Islamic cleric who advocates radicalization and recruitment of non-Somali Africans.
Kenya-based Abubaker Sharif Ahmed, accused of recruiting young Kenyan Muslims for "action" in Somalia, was added to the list, as was Kenyan national Omar Awadh Omar, awaiting trial in Uganda on charges of helping to plan the deadly July 11, 2010 attack on fans watching a World Cup match in Kampala.
The United States and other Western powers have been backing efforts to crush al Shabaab, which remains in control of large swathes of central and southern Somalia despite the presence of African Union troops and separate military action by both Kenya and Ethiopia.