US moves against Iranian influence, imposes Hezbollah sanctions

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The Trump administration attacked Hezbollah's financial network on Friday by imposing sanctions on six people and seven entities in an effort to turn back Iran's influence in the Middle East and beyond.

"The administration is determined to expose and disrupt Hezbollah's networks, including those across the Middle East and West Africa, used to fund their illicit operations," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the penalties under financial regulations targeting the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group.

The six sanctioned individuals included five Lebanese and one Iraqi, most of them linked to Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting, the Treasury Department said. The seven entities were firms based in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lebanon and Ghana, the statement said.

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BEIRUT, LEBANON - DECEMBER 11: Supporters of Iran backed Hezbollah and Palestinians stage a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in front of U.S. Embassy on December 11, 2017 in Beirut, Lebanon. US President Trump signed a proclamation recognising Jerusalem (Kudus) as the Israel's capital and will relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Photo by Muhammed Ali Akman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen on a video screen as he addresses his supporters in Beirut, Lebanon January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a screen during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Female supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah appears on a screen during a live broadcast as he speaks to his supporters during the ceremony of Ashura in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah party parade to mark the last day of Ashura ceremony in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah appears on a screen during a live broadcast as he speaks to his supporters during the ceremony of Ashura in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
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Hezbollah fighters stand near buses in Jroud Arsal, near Syria-Lebanon border, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen speaking on television in Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
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Lebanese supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement burn a US flag during a rally against the US president's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on January 28, 2018, in the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab, on the border with Israel. / AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIRUT, LEBANON - DECEMBER 11: Supporters of Iran backed Hezbollah and Palestinians stage a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in front of U.S. Embassy on December 11, 2017 in Beirut, Lebanon. US President Trump signed a proclamation recognising Jerusalem (Kudus) as the Israel's capital and will relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Photo by Muhammed Ali Akman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BEIRUT, LEBANON - DECEMBER 11: Supporters of Iran backed Hezbollah and Palestinians stage a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in front of U.S. Embassy on December 11, 2017 in Beirut, Lebanon. US President Trump signed a proclamation recognising Jerusalem (Kudus) as the Israel's capital and will relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Photo by Muhammed Ali Akman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BEIRUT, LEBANON - DECEMBER 11: Supporters of Iran backed Hezbollah and Palestinians stage a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in front of U.S. Embassy on December 11, 2017 in Beirut, Lebanon. US President Trump signed a proclamation recognising Jerusalem (Kudus) as the Israel's capital and will relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Photo by Muhammed Ali Akman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Senior Trump administration officials said the sanctions were part of an aggressive move against Hezbollah to try to limit the influence of Iran, which gives the group about $700 million a year to help finance its activities.

The officials, briefing reporters at the White House on condition of anonymity, said the Trump administration was working to reverse what it considers a more lackadaisical approach toward Hezbollah by Democratic President Barack Obama after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal went into effect.

More such targeted sanctions are expected in the months ahead, they said.

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The officials said Hezbollah was already under financial strain as it continued to pay for costly operations in Syria and Yemen. The goal was to get European allies to join the United States in increasing pressure on the group, they said.

As a result of the Treasury designations, all their assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

The six individuals were targeted because they are linked to financier Adham Tabaja and his company, Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting. The officials described Tabaja as among the top five Hezbollah financiers at the moment.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Susan Heavey and Andrew Hay)

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