Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview

Bureau of Counterterrorism
Report

CHAPTER 3

STATE SPONSORS OF TERRORISM

To designate a country as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Once a country is designated, it remains a State Sponsor of Terrorism until the designation is rescinded in accordance with statutory criteria. A wide range of sanctions are imposed as a result of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including:

  • A ban on arms-related exports and sales;
  • Controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism;
  • Prohibitions on economic assistance; and
  • Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

State Sponsor of Terrorism designations can be rescinded pursuant to two alternative paths.

One path requires that the President submit a report to Congress before the proposed rescission would take effect certifying that:

--There has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned,

--The government is not supporting acts of international terrorism, and

--The government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

The other path requires that the President submit a report to Congress, at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, justifying the rescission and certifying that:

--The government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period, and

--The government concerned has provided assurances that that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

This report provides a snapshot of events during 2014 relevant to countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism; it does not constitute a new announcement regarding such designations. More information on State Sponsor of Terrorism designations may be found online at http://www.state.gov/j/ct/c14151.htm.


CUBA

Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982. Though not within the timeframe covered by this report, on April 14, 2015, President Obama submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The required 45-day Congressional pre-notification period expired, and the Secretary of State made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective on May 29, 2015.

In recent years, Cuba has taken a number of steps to fully distance itself from international terrorism and has taken steps to strengthen its counterterrorism laws. In 2013, Cuba made a commitment to work with the Financial Action Task Force to address its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance (AML/CFT) deficiencies. Since that time, Cuba has made significant progress in establishing the framework necessary to meet international AML/CFT standards by, for example, adequately criminalizing money laundering and terrorist finance and establishing procedures to identify and freeze terrorist assets, among other legal and regulatory actions.

Throughout 2014, Cuba supported and hosted internationally recognized negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Government of Colombia aimed at garnering a peace agreement. Safe passage of FARC members provided in the context of these talks has been coordinated with representative of the governments of Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Norway, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross. There is no credible evidence that the Government of Cuba has provided specific material support, services, or resources, to members of the FARC, or the National Liberation Army (ELN), outside of facilitating the internationally recognized peace process between those organizations and the Government of Colombia.

The Government of Cuba does continue to allow approximately two dozen members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty Organization (ETA) to remain in the country. The Cuban government provided assurances that it would never permit the ETA members living in Cuba to use Cuban territory for that organization’s activities against Spain or any other country. There is no available information that the Government of Cuba allowed any of these ETA members to plan, finance, lead, or commit acts of international terrorism while residing in Cuba.

The Government of Cuba does continue to harbor fugitives wanted to stand trial or to serve sentences in the United States for committing serious violations of U.S. criminal laws, and provides some of these individuals limited support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care. Although Cuba continues to refuse to return certain individuals that fled to Cuba in the past, it has been more cooperative with the United States in recent years. In 2014, the Government of Cuba engaged in talks with U.S. officials in reference to some of these fugitives still residing in Cuba.


IRAN

Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2014, including support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanese Hizballah, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. This year, Iran increased its assistance to Iraqi Shia militias, one of which is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), in response to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) incursion into Iraq, and has continued to support other militia groups in the region. Iran also attempted to smuggle weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. While its main effort focused on supporting goals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iran and its proxies also continued subtle efforts at growing influence elsewhere including in Africa, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Lebanese Hizballah, its primary beneficiary, and as a key pillar in its “resistance” front. In 2014, Iran continued to provide arms, financing, training, and the facilitation of primarily Iraqi Shia and Afghan fighters to support the Asad regime’s brutal crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of at least 191,000 people in Syria, according to August UN estimates. Iran publicly admits to sending members of the IRGC to Syria in an advisory role. There is consistent media reporting that some of these troops are IRGC-QF members and that they have taken part in direct combat operations. While Tehran has denied that IRGC-QF personnel participate in combat operations, in 2014 it acknowledged the deaths in Syria of two senior officers (Brigadier Generals Abdullah Eskandari and Jamar Dariswali). Tehran claimed they were volunteers who lost their lives while protecting holy shrines near Damascus.

Likewise in Iraq, despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran increased training and funding to Iraqi Shia militia groups in response to ISIL’s advance into Iraq. Many of these groups, such as Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians. The IRGC-QF, in concert with Lebanese Hizballah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device (IED) technology and other advanced weaponry. Similar to Hizballah fighters, many of these trained Shia militants have used these skills to fight for the Asad regime in Syria or against ISIL in Iraq.

Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). These Palestinian terrorist groups have been behind a number of deaths from attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank. Although Hamas’s ties to Tehran have been strained due to the Syrian civil war, in a November 25 speech, Supreme Leader Khamenei highlighted Iran’s military support to “Palestinian brothers” in Gaza and called for the West Bank to be similarly armed. In December, Hamas Deputy Leader Moussa Abu Marzouk announced bilateral relations with Iran and Hamas were “back on track.”

In March, Israeli naval forces boarded the Klos C cargo ship in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan. On board, they found 40 M-302 rockets, 180 mortars, and approximately 400,000 rounds of ammunition hidden within crates of cement labeled “Made in Iran” and believed to be destined to militants in the region.

Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has also assisted in rearming Lebanese Hizballah, in direct violation of UNSCR 1701. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC Aerospace Force stated in November that "The IRGC and Hezbollah are a single apparatus jointed together," and Lebanese Hizballah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem boasted that Iran had provided his organization with missiles that had “pinpoint accuracy” in separate November public remarks. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Lebanese Hizballah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. These trained fighters have used these skills in direct support of the Asad regime in Syria and, to a lesser extent, in support of operations against ISIL in Iraq. They have also continued to carry out attacks along the Lebanese border with Israel.

Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.

Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, coordinated by the EU), and Iran began on January 20, 2014. Iran has fulfilled the commitments that it made under the JPOA. The parties negotiated during 2014 to pursue a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution to restore confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.


SUDAN

Sudan was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993 due to concerns about support to international terrorist groups. Sudan remained a generally cooperative partner of the United States on counterterrorism. During the past year, the Government of Sudan continued to support counterterrorism operations to counter threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan.

Elements of al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorist groups remained in Sudan. The Government of Sudan has taken steps to limit the activities of these elements and has worked to disrupt foreign fighters’ use of Sudan as a logistics base and transit point for terrorists going to Syria and Iraq. However, groups continued to operate in Sudan in 2014 and there continued to be reports of Sudanese nationals participating in terrorist organizations.

In 2014, Sudan continued to allow members of Hamas to travel, fundraise, and live in Sudan.

In June 2010, four Sudanese men sentenced to death for the January 1, 2008 killing of two U.S. Embassy staff members escaped from Khartoum’s maximum security Kober prison. That same month Sudanese authorities confirmed that they recaptured one of the four convicts and a second escapee was reported killed in Somalia in May 2011. The recaptured murderer is being held in Kober Prison, and as of December 2014, appeals of his pending death sentence were still ongoing. The whereabouts of the other two convicts are unknown.

In February 2013, one of five men convicted of aiding the 2010 escape attempt by the four convicted killers received a presidential commutation of his remaining sentence. Sudanese authorities explained his release was part of a broad administrative parole affecting 200 other prisoners who had served some portion of their sentences with good behavior. U.S. government officials protested the commutation and urged Sudanese authorities to imprison the convicted accomplice for the full 12 years of his sentence. The individual remained free on parole at year’s end.

Sudanese authorities this year released most of the 25 individuals detained in a December 2012 raid on what the Government of Sudan described as a terrorist training camp operating in Dinder National Park. Members of the so-called “Dinder cell” were charged with terrorism and murder stemming from the deaths of several police involved in the December 2012 raid. One trial judge from the country’s terrorism court remanded several cases back to the attorney general for additional interrogations and those accused continued to be held in prison. The remaining Dinder detainees have had sessions with Dr. Essam Ahmed al-Basher, who helps lead the Government of Sudan’s “extremist rehabilitation program.”

In general, the Government of Sudan appeared to oppose the financing of extremist elements. Sudanese officials have welcomed Hamas members to Khartoum, however, and its members are permitted to conduct fundraising in Sudan. The Central Bank of Sudan and its financial intelligence unit, renamed the Financial Information Unit in late 2014, circulated to financial institutions a list of individuals and entities that have been included on the UN 1267 sanctions committee’s consolidated list, as well as the U.S. government’s lists of terrorist organizations/financiers. The financing of terrorism per UN Resolution 1373 was criminalized in Sudan pursuant to Sudan’s Money Laundering Act of 2003.

The Government of Sudan continued to cooperate with the Financial Action Task Force and took steps to meet international standards in combating money laundering and terrorist financing. In 2014, Sudan adopted a new Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Finance Act and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption. Sudan’s Central Bank officials did not freeze, seize and/or forfeit assets in 2014. Sudan continued to cooperate with the United States in investigating financial crimes related to terrorism. The Sudanese government’s ability to monitor illicit finance flows is increasingly hampered by the Sudanese banking sector’s difficulty finding correspondent banks to process international transactions, leading most Sudanese to instead move money in cash.

Additionally, Sudan has yet to take concrete steps to resolve the crisis in the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, to include ending aerial bombardments, allowing sufficient and sustained humanitarian access, and resuming political dialogue to resolve the conflicts.


SYRIA

Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Asad regime continued its political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region and beyond, even amid significant internal unrest. The regime continued to provide political and weapons support to Lebanese Hizballah and continued to allow Iran to rearm the terrorist organization. The Asad regime’s relationship with Hizballah and Iran continued to grow stronger in 2014 as the conflict in Syria continued. President Bashar al-Asad remained a staunch defender of Iran’s policies, while Iran has exhibited equally energetic support for Syrian regime efforts to defeat the Syrian opposition. Statements supporting terrorist groups, particularly Hizballah, were often in Syrian government speeches and press statements.

The Syrian government had an important role in the growth of terrorist networks in Syria through the permissive attitude the Asad regime took towards al-Qa’ida’s foreign fighter facilitation efforts during the Iraq conflict. Syrian government awareness and encouragement for many years of violent extremists’ transit through Syria to enter Iraq, for the purpose of fighting Coalition Troops, is well documented. Syria was a key hub for foreign fighters en route to Iraq. Those very networks were the seedbed for the violent extremist elements, including ISIL, which terrorized the Syrian and Iraqi population in 2014 and – in addition to other terrorist organizations within Syria – continued to attract thousands of foreign terrorist fighters to Syria in 2014.

As part of a broader strategy during the year, the regime still attempted to portray Syria itself as a victim of terrorism, characterizing all of its armed opponents as “terrorists.”

Asad’s government has continued to generate significant concern regarding the role it plays in terrorist financing. Industry experts reported that 60 percent of all business transactions were conducted in cash and that nearly 80 percent of all Syrians did not use formal banking services. Despite Syrian legislation that required money changers to be licensed by the end of 2007, many continued to operate illegally in Syria’s vast black market, estimated to be as large as Syria’s formal economy. Regional hawala networks (an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honor of a large network of money brokers operating outside traditional western financial systems) remained intertwined with smuggling and trade-based money laundering, and were facilitated by notoriously corrupt customs and immigration officials. This raised significant concerns that some members of the Syrian government and the business elite were complicit in terrorist finance schemes conducted through these institutions.

Despite the progress made through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon’s Executive Council and UNSCR 2118 (2013) to dismantle and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program, there continued to be significant concern, given ongoing instability in Syria, that these materials could find their way to terrorist organizations. Additionally, Syria continued to use toxic chemicals, including chlorine, as a weapon against its citizens. Syria’s behavior raises serious questions about the regime’s willingness to comply with its Chemical Weapons Convention and UNSCR 2118 obligations.