Iran Crisis: U.S. Sanctions Target Intelligence Ministry

WASHINGTON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday announced sanctions on Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), which it accused of supporting terrorism, abusing the human rights of Iranian citizens and supporting the Syrian government's crackdown.

"Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime's abhorrent crackdown on its own population," David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

MOIS also provides support for al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq, Hizbollah and Hamas, "exposing the extent of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy," Cohen said.

The move is the latest in a series of steps the United States has taken to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.

It bars MOIS officials from travelling to the United States, blocks any property MOIS owns in the United States and prevents U.S. citizens or companies from dealings with MOIS.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)