The US has designated Kashmiri militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen as a "foreign terrorist organisation", nearly two months after declaring the group's Pakistan-based chief Syed Salahuddin a global terrorist.
According to a US State Department notification, the Hizbul Mujahideen is now a 'Foreign Terrorist Organisation under section of the Immigration and Nationality Act', and a 'Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SGDT) under Secion 1(b) of the Executive Order 13224'.
The designation, which slaps a series of US sanctions on the outfit, comes against the backdrop of upsurge in the terror activities of the militant group in Kashmir in recent months.
"These designations seek to deny Hizbul Mujahideen the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks," the State Department said in a statement.
Among other consequences, all of Hizbul Mujahideen's property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the group.
The US decision comes as a severe blow to Pakistan, which has been projecting the militant group as a voice of the Kashmiri people.
Pakistan's powerful Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif have repeatedly praised the militant group's slain former commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in July last year in an encounter in Kashmir.
Formed in 1989, Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest and oldest militant groups operating in Kashmir. It has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
The State Department said terrorism designations expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments, it said.
What is Hizbul?
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest terrorist organisations currently operating in Kashmir. It has a cadre base drawn from local and foreign sources. It is one of the 32 organisations banned under India's Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002.
Hizbul Mujahideen was founded in September 1989 with Master Ahsan Dar as its head. Dar was arrested in mid-December 1993. Reports say Hizbul Mujahideen was formed as the militant wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist organisation, at the behest of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to counter the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which advocated total independence of Jammu and Kashmir. This was against Pakistan's desire to take control of the state.
SATP says many of the initial Hizbul cadres were JKLF members. Mohammed Yusuf Shah, who is popularly known as Syed Salahuddin, approved the 'Constitution' of Hizbul in 1990. Reportedly, differences between Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and non JeI factions of Hizbul led to its divisions into groups led by Salahuddin and one Hilal Ahmed Mir, who was killed in 1993.
Hizbul Mujahideen is fighting for the integration of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan. It has also worked for Islamisation of Kashmir since its inception, says SATP.
At present, Hizbul Mujahideen has its headquarters at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Valley. It is closely linked to ISIS, United Jehad Council and other terror groups operating from Pakistan.