Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism

Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism
Report

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 Once a country is designated, it remains a State Sponsor of Terrorism until the designation is rescinded in accordance with statutory criteria.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State Sponsor of Terrorism designations can be rescinded pursuant to two alternative paths.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 it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

This report provides a snapshot of events during 2016 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 at http://www.state.gov/j/ct/c14151.htm.

IRAN

Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2016, including support for Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Syria, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East. 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. Iran has acknowledged the involvement of the IRGC-QF in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the IRGC-QF is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

In 2016, Iran supported various Iraqi Shia terrorist groups, including Kata’ib Hizballah, as part of an effort to fight ISIS in Iraq and bolster the Assad regime in Syria. Iran views the Assad regime in Syria as a crucial ally and Syria and Iraq as crucial routes to supply weapons to Hizballah, Iran’s primary terrorist partner. Iran has facilitated and coerced, through financial or residency enticements, primarily Shia fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria. Iranian-supported Shia militias in Iraq have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians and Iranian forces have directly backed militia operations in Syria with armored vehicles, artillery, and drones.

Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has supplied Hizballah with thousands of rockets, missiles, and small arms, in direct violation of UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1701. Iran provides the majority of financial support for Hizballah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. Hizballah fighters have been used extensively in Syria to support the Assad regime and in support of operations against ISIS in Iraq. Hizballah also carried out several attacks against Israeli Defense Forces in 2016 along the Lebanese border with Israel.

Iran has historically provided weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. These Palestinian terrorist groups have been behind a number of deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank, including attacks against Israeli civilians and Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

Iran has provided weapons, funding, and training to Bahraini militant Shia groups that have conducted attacks on the Bahraini security forces. On January 6, 2016, Bahraini security officials dismantled a terrorist cell, linked to IRGC-QF, planning to carry out a series of bombings throughout the country.

The Iranian government maintains a robust cyberterrorism program and has sponsored cyberattacks against foreign government and private sector entities.

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

SUDAN

Sudan was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993 due to concerns about support to international terrorist groups, including the Abu Nidal Organization, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hizballah. Notwithstanding this history, countering terrorism is today a national security priority for Sudan, and Sudan is a cooperative partner of the United States on counterterrorism, despite its continued presence on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List. During the past year, the Government of Sudan continued to pursue counterterrorism operations alongside regional partners, including operations to directly counter threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan. Sudan takes seriously the threat posed by ISIS, and in September 2016, the U.S. government acknowledged the Government of Sudan’s significant efforts to counter ISIS and other terrorist groups and to prevent their movement into and through Sudan. Earlier, in June 2016, a senior U.S. official praised Sudan for its counterterrorism efforts as well.

There were no reported terrorist attacks in Sudan in 2016. There also were no indications that the Sudanese government tolerated or assisted terrorist organizations within its borders in 2016. Reports indicate that the Government of Sudan ceased providing Hamas any direct support as they did in years past.

As a result of a U.S. engagement plan with the Government of Sudan in 2016 that offered potential economic sanctions relief if Sudan took positive actions in a number of areas – including enhanced counterterrorism cooperation – the Sudanese government has taken steps to improve its counterterrorism efforts through enhanced interagency and international cooperation to address the ISIS threat.

SYRIA

Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Assad regime continued its political and military support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region as the Syrian conflict entered its sixth year. The regime continued to provide political and weapons support to Hizballah and continued to allow Iran to rearm the terrorist organization. The Assad regime’s relationship with Hizballah and Iran grew stronger in 2016 as the regime became more reliant on external actors to militarily fight the Syrian opposition. These groups played a critical role in the regime’s seizure of eastern Aleppo in December. President Bashar al-Assad remained a staunch defender of Iran’s policies, while Iran exhibited equally energetic support for the Syrian regime. Statements supporting terrorist groups, particularly Hizballah, were often in Syrian government speeches and press statements.

Over the past decade, the Syrian government has played an important role in the growth of terrorist networks in Syria through the Asad regime’s permissive attitude towards al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups’ foreign terrorist fighter facilitation efforts during the Iraq conflict. Syria served for years as a hub for foreign terrorist fighters, and the Syrian government’s 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. Those very networks were among the violent extremist elements which terrorized the Syrian and Iraqi populations in 2016. While there was a general decline in the flow of Sunni extremist linked foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Syria in 2016, ISIS and other terrorist groups continued to attract some new recruits to Syria. Additionally, foreign terrorist fighters aligned with Iran continued to travel to Syria to fight for or with the regime.

As part of a broader strategy during the year, the regime portrayed Syria itself as a victim of terrorism, characterizing all of the internal armed opposition as “terrorists.” From Syria, ISIS plotted or inspired external terrorist operations. Additionally, the Syrian regime has purchased oil from ISIS through various middlemen, adding to the terrorist group’s revenue.

Syria is not in compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The United States assesses that Syria has used chemical weapons repeatedly against the Syrian people every year since acceding to the Convention, and is therefore in violation of its obligations under Article I of the CWC. There have been numerous reports of chemical weapons use by the regime during the current conflict. In 2015 the UN Security Council established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to identify individuals, entities, groups or governments involved in the confirmed uses of chemical weapons in Syria. In 2016, the JIM issued two reports which concluded that the Syrian Arab Armed Forces used toxic chemicals as weapons, likely chlorine, three times in Syria in opposition held areas.