June 20 (UPI) -- The European Union on Monday blacklisted one group and three people linked to al-Qaida on accusations of being behind terrorist attacks in West Africa.
Two senior commanders with Jama'at Nursrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin as well as its Burkinabe branch, Ansarul Islam, and its leader were identified by the European Council for sanctions Monday that include asset freezes and travel bans.
The sanctions come on the accusations that they are responsible for several terrorist attacks that have targeted civilians and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as well as defense and security forces in Burkina Faso.
The council said their activities in West Africa expand the threat of terrorism in the region and pose "a serious and continued threat to the EU and to regional and international stability."
"Today's decision confirms the EU's unwavering resolve to combat the enduring terrorist threat posed by Al-Qaida, [ISIS] and all their regional affiliates," it said in a statement.
The sanctions come as terrorism experts have said sub-Sahara Africa generally and the Sahel region specifically have been centers of terrorism.
According to the Global Terrorism Index 2022, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, 48% of the 3,461 terrorism-related deaths last year occurred in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mail and Niger, with three of these countries in the Sahel.
"The Sahel has become the new epicenter of terrorism," it said, adding that the situation there was "rapidly deteriorating" with eight attempted coups having occurred in less than two years.
The report added that Jama'at Nursrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin was also the "fastest growing group globally, recording the largest increase in the number of attacks and deaths in 2021."
Among the attacks it has taken credit for includes one in January 2019 that killed 10 U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.
The militant group, which was created March 2017, was listed for U.N. sanctions in October the following year for being connected with al-Qaida.
The European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank, states Jama'at Nursrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin's goal is to expel foreign forces from Mali in order to impose its own interpretation of Islamic law.
The EU sanctions come less than a month after it blacklisted a Syria-based al-Qaida affiliate and its leader.