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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US Sanctions Top Syrian Official

18 January 2006

The United States is taking action against Syria's military spy chief. The Bush administration has slapped financial sanctions on Assef Shawkat under terms of a presidential order.

It is the latest sign of American displeasure with the government of Syria.

In 2004, President Bush authorized the U.S. Treasury Department to slap financial sanctions on Syrian officials who foster terrorism or meddle in Lebanon.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says Assef Shawkat has been added to the sanctions list.

"Mr. Shawkat as Syria's chief of military intelligence has directly contributed to Syria's support for terrorism, including the insurgency in Iraq," he said. "Mr. Shawkat has also been involved in Syria's ongoing interference and the destabilization of Lebanon."

Shawkat is the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is said to be one of his closest advisers. And while the military spy chief is not believed to have significant financial interests in the United States, McClellan stresses the fact that he has been added to the sanctions list sends a clear message to Damascus.

"Syria continues to be out of step with the direction the rest of the Middle East is headed," he explained. "Today's action is a significant signal that those like Mr. Shawkat who support Syrian terrorism will be held to account."

Last June, Syria's interior minister and the Syrian spy chief for Lebanon were added to the sanctions list. The Syrian government condemned the action, calling it a ploy to divert attention from Israeli activities in Southern Lebanon.

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