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US State Department: Iran remains ‘world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism’

Iranian authorities at the Great Conference of Basij, Oct. 4 2018. (Ali Khamenei/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran remains “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” funding international terrorist groups and engaging in “its own terrorist plotting” around the globe, particularly in Europe, a new report by the U.S. State Department says.

The Country Reports on Terrorism 2018, released on November 1, says Iran has spent nearly $1 billion dollars annually to “support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe.”

It cited the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“The Iranian threat is not confined to the Middle East — it’s truly global,” Nathan Sales, the department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told a news briefing in Washington.

The Country Reports on Terrorism has been issued annually since 2004 under a mandate that requires the State Department to provide Congress with regular updates on terrorism throughout the world.

The report comes at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, after U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Terrorist Threats

Washington has long accused Iran of sponsoring international terrorism and destabilizing the region, which Tehran denies.

The State Department’s latest report on terrorism says Europe continued to face a number of terrorist threats and concerns last year, including from foreign terrorist organizations, homegrown terrorists, and Iran-backed terrorists.

“In January, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [Quds] Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks,” the report said.

Meanwhile, an Al-Qaeda (AQ) “facilitation network” was allowed to operate in Iran, sending “fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria,” it said, adding that Tehran also “extended sanctuary to AQ members residing in the country.”

Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates continue to pose “an enduring threat” to the United States, its allies, and its interests around the world, according to the report.

Following the Islamic State extremist group’s setbacks, Al-Qaeda’s global network “aims to reestablish itself as the vanguard of the global jihadist movement,” it said.

Regionally focused terrorist groups also remained a threat in 2018, including the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, while the Pakistani Taliban continued to carry out attacks in the country.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network continued to launch deadly attacks throughout Afghanistan, including against U.S. soldiers, the report noted.

Sales had praise for Kazakhstan, saying it had “really led the world” in taking back its nationals who had left to fight with extremists in Syria and Iraq.

“I think Kazakhstan’s efforts here are a model for the rest of the world because they’re doing things like involving theologians who can point out the errors of ISIS ideology,” he said, referring to Islamic State.

“They’re involving mental health professionals who can intervene with children who have experienced trauma, medical professionals who can treat the physical ailments these folks have suffered,” he added.