U.S.: Iran still top spon­sor of ter­ror­ism

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MATTHEW LEE

WASH­ING­TON — Iran con­tin­ues to be the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said Wednes­day in a new re­port that also noted a de­cline in the num­ber of ter­ror­ist at­tacks glob­ally be­tween 2015 and 2016.

In its an­nual “Coun­try Re­ports on Ter­ror­ism” re­leased Wednes­day, the State De­part­ment said Iran was the globe’s “fore­most” state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism in 2016, a dis­tinc­tion the coun­try has held for many years. It said Iran was firm in its back­ing of anti-Is­rael groups as well as prox­ies that have desta­bi­lized al­ready dev­as­tat­ing con­flicts in Iraq, Syria and Ye­men. It also said Iran con­tin­ued to re­cruit in Afghanistan and Pak­istan for Shi­ite mili­tia mem­bers to fight in Syria and Iraq. And it said Ira­nian sup­port for Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah move­ment was un­changed.

In terms of non­state ac­tors, the re­port said the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group was re­spon­si­ble for more at­tacks and deaths than any other group in 2016 and was seek­ing to widen its op­er­a­tions par­tic­u­larly as it lost ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria. The group car­ried out 20 per­cent more at­tacks in Iraq in 2016 com­pared with 2015, and its af­fil­i­ates struck in more than 20 coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Iran has been des­ig­nated a “state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism” by the State De­part­ment and sub­jected to a va­ri­ety of U.S. sanc­tions since 1984, and many of the ac­tiv­i­ties out­lined in the re­port are iden­ti­cal to those de­tailed in pre­vi­ous re­ports. But, this year’s find­ing comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to toughen its stance against Iran. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to com­plete a full re­view of its pol­icy on Iran next month.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of the Iran nu­clear deal ne­go­ti­ated by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and only re­luc­tantly cer­ti­fied this week that Iran re­mained en­ti­tled to some sanc­tions re­lief un­der its pro­vi­sions.

“Iran re­mained the fore­most state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism in 2016 as groups sup­ported by Iran main­tained their ca­pa­bil­ity to threaten U.S. in­ter­ests and al­lies,” said the re­port, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first, which was re­leased just a day af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion slapped new sanc­tions on Iran for bal­lis­tic mis­sile ac­tiv­ity. Some of those sanc­tions were im­posed on peo­ple and com­pa­nies af­fil­i­ated with Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, which the re­port said con­tin­ues to play “a desta­bi­liz­ing role in mil­i­tary con­flicts in Iraq, Syria and Ye­men.”

Iran used a unit of the Guard Corps, the Quds Force, “to im­ple­ment for­eign pol­icy goals, pro­vide cover for in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions and cre­ate in­sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East,” the re­port said. It added that Iran has pub­licly ac­knowl­edged its in­volve­ment in Syria and Iraq.

Hezbol­lah worked closely with Iran to sup­port the at­tempt by Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment to main­tain and con­trol ter­ri­tory, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. And with Ira­nian sup­port, Hezbol­lah con­tin­ued to de­velop “long-term at­tack ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture around the world,” it said.

The re­port also ac­cused Iran of sup­ply­ing weapons, money and train­ing to mil­i­tant Shia groups in Bahrain, main­tain­ing a “robust” cy­bert­er­ror­ism pro­gram and re­fus­ing to iden­tify or pros­e­cute se­nior mem­bers of the al-Qaida net­work that it has de­tained.

As in pre­vi­ous re­ports, Su­dan and Syria were also iden­ti­fied as “state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism.”

In its fi­nal days, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sus­pended some sanc­tions against Su­dan in recog­ni­tion of that coun­try’s im­proved coun­tert­er­ror­ism record. In early July, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­tended those sus­pen­sions by three months. Coun­tries can be re­moved from the list at any time af­ter a for­mal re­view process, but the re­port of­fered no ex­pla­na­tion for why Su­dan re­mains on it.

In fact, it said coun­tert­er­ror­ism is now a na­tional pri­or­ity for the Khar­toum gov­ern­ment and that Su­dan “is a co­op­er­a­tive part­ner of the United States on coun­tert­er­ror­ism, de­spite its con­tin­ued pres­ence on the state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism list.”

De­spite the ac­tiv­i­ties of Iran and groups such as the Is­lamic State in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pak­istan and Syria, and Boko Haram and al-Shabab in Africa, the to­tal num­ber of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in 2016 de­creased from 11,774 in 2015 to 11,072, ac­cord­ing to statis­tics com­piled for the re­port by the Na­tional Con­sor­tium for the Study of Ter­ror­ism and Re­sponses to Ter­ror­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land.

That re­duc­tion was ac­com­pa­nied by a de­crease in deaths — from 28,328 to 25,621 — from such at­tacks over the same pe­riod. Of those killed in 2016, 16 were U.S. ci­ti­zens, in­clud­ing seven in high-pro­file at­tacks in Brus­sels in March and Nice, France, in July.

Seven­teen Amer­i­cans were in­jured in the Brus­sels at­tack and three in Nice, the re­port said.

The re­port at­trib­uted the drops to fewer ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Afghanistan, Syria, Nige­ria, Pak­istan and Ye­men. At the same time, the re­port said at­tacks in the Congo, Iraq, So­ma­lia, South Su­dan and Tur­key in­creased be­tween 2015 and 2016.

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