LONDON (AP) — The British government said Monday it plans to ban Hezbollah as a terrorist group, accusing the Iran-backed organization of destabilizing the Middle East.
A draft order laid in the U.K. Parliament will ban Hezbollah and two other groups. Subject to Parliament's approval, the order will go into effect Friday and being a member of, or inviting support for, Hezbollah will be a criminal offense, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Until now the military wing of the Lebanon-based group has been outlawed in Britain, but not its political arm.
Hezbollah — Party of God — is a Shiite Muslim movement that emerged during the early 1980s with financial backing from Iran. It made electoral gains in Lebanon last year and now has three ministers in the government. The U.S. and others accuse the group of destabilizing the region through its military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad's government.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would take action against groups that threaten safety and security, and he accused Hezbollah of destabilizing the Middle East.
"We are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party," Javid said. "Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety."
There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah officials in Beirut.
The European Union put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist in 2013, due to Hezbollah's alleged role in blowing up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria. But unlike the United States, European countries had until now differentiated between the group's military and political wings.
The group does not specifically divide itself into armed and political wings and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has said the group does not operate as two wings.
Commenting on the U.K. decision, EU Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini called it a "domestic decision" that does not affect the European Union's position to list the military wing of Hezbollah but not the political wing.
"This decision will continue to be in place for the European Union, so the U.K. announcement doesn't have any impact on the European decision which is a clear one," she said.
Mogherini spoke in Beirut at a joint news conference with the Lebanese foreign minister.
The British ban comes as the United States is increasing its pressure on Hezbollah, placing several sets of sanctions on the group and its regional backer, Iran.
Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon described what she labeled as Hezbollah's "growing" role in the new Lebanese cabinet as a threat to the country's stability. U.S. officials have also expressed concern that Hezbollah would exploit the ministries it runs to funnel money to fund the group's operations.
Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, welcomed Britain's decision, calling the separation between the political and armed wings of the group "false and artificial."
"We will continue to lead the struggle for the Security Council to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and mobilize the international community against it as it serves as an arm of Iran to spread Tehran's aggression," Danon said.
Ansaroul Islam, which seeks to impose its strict view of Salafist Sharia law in Burkina Faso, and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, which has similar aspirations in Africa's Sahel region, were also banned Monday.
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka reported in London and AP writer Zeina Karam reported from Beirut.