Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism
State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to many non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, these groups would have greater difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.
State Sponsor: Implications
The designation of countries that repeatedly provide support for acts of international terrorism as state sponsors of terrorism carries with it four main sets of U.S. Government sanctions:
1. A ban on arms-related exports and sales.
2. 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.
3. Prohibitions on economic assistance.
4. Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions, including:
- Requiring the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions;
- Exception from the jurisdictional immunity in U.S. courts of state sponsor countries, and all former state sponsor countries (with the exception of Iraq), with respect to claims for money damages for personal injury or death caused by certain acts of terrorism, torture, or extrajudicial killing, or the provision of material support or resources for such acts;
- Denial to companies and individuals tax credits for income earned in terrorist-list countries;
- Denial of duty-free treatment of goods exported to the United States;
- Authority to prohibit any U.S. citizen from engaging in a financial transaction with a terrorist-list government without a Treasury Department license; and
- Prohibition of Defense Department contracts above US$ 100,000 with companies in which a state sponsor government owns or controls a significant interest.
Designated State Sponsors of Terrorism
The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa’ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.
The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain’s Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.
Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.
Cuba’s Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.
Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s financial, material, and logistic support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf and undermined the growth of democracy.
Iran remained the principal supporter of groups that are implacably opposed to the Middle East Peace Process. The Qods Force, the external operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad. Iran 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). Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Lebanese Hizballah and has trained thousands of Hizballah fighters at camps in Iran. Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has assisted Hizballah in rearming, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Iran’s Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives.
Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iranian authorities continued to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance, to Iraqi Shia militant groups that targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces. The Qods Force continued to supply Iraqi militants with Iranian-produced advanced rockets, sniper rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars that have killed Iraqi and Coalition Forces, as well as civilians. Iran was responsible for the increased lethality of some attacks on U.S. forces by providing militants with the capability to assemble explosively formed penetrators that were designed to defeat armored vehicles. The Qods Force, in concert with Lebanese Hizballah, provided training outside of Iraq and advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device technology and other advanced weaponry.
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 has repeatedly resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its AQ detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for trial; it is reportedly holding Usama bin Ladin’s family members under house arrest.
Senior IRGC, IRGC Qods Force, and Iranian government officials were indicted by the Government of Argentina for their alleged roles in the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA); according to the Argentine State Prosecutor’s report, the attack was initially proposed by the Qods Force. In 2007, INTERPOL issued a “red notice” for six individuals wanted in connection to the bombing. One of the individuals, Ahmad Vahidi, was named as Iran’s Defense Minister in August 2009.
The Sudanese government continued to pursue counterterrorism operations directly involving threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan. Sudanese officials have indicated that they view their continued cooperation with the U.S. government as important and recognize the potential benefits of U.S. training and information-sharing. While the bilateral counterterrorism relationship remains solid, hard-line Sudanese officials continued to express resentment and distrust over actions by the United States and questioned the benefits of continued counterterrorism cooperation. Their assessment reflected disappointment that Sudan’s cooperation has not resulted in its removal from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Despite this, there was no indication that the Sudanese government will curtail its current level of counterterrorism cooperation despite bumps in the overall bilateral relationship.
Al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorist elements as well as elements of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and HAMAS, remained in Sudan in 2009. In the early hours of January 1, 2008, attackers in Khartoum sympathetic to al-Qa’ida, calling themselves al-Qa’ida in the Land Between the Two Niles, shot and fatally wounded two U.S. Embassy staff members -- one American and one Sudanese employee, both of whom worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Sudanese authorities cooperated closely with agencies of the U.S. government in the investigation. The five alleged conspirators were arrested in February 2008 and put on trial for murder on August 31, 2008. On June 24, 2009 four men were sentenced to death by hanging for the killings. A fifth man received a two-year prison term for providing the weapons used in the attack. At least three other men allegedly involved in planning the attack were detained but have not been charged.
With the exception of HAMAS, whose members the Sudanese government considers “freedom fighters,” the government does not openly support the presence of extremist elements in this country. For example, Sudanese officials have welcomed HAMAS members as representatives of the Palestinian Authority, but have limited their activities to fundraising. The Sudanese government has also worked hard to disrupt foreign fighters from using Sudan as a logistics base and transit point for terrorists going to Iraq. However, gaps remain in the Sudanese government’s knowledge of these individuals and its ability to identify and capture them. There was some evidence to suggest that individuals who were active participants in the Iraqi insurgency have returned to Sudan and are in a position to use their expertise to conduct attacks within Sudan or to pass on their knowledge to local Sudanese extremists. There was also evidence that Sudanese extremists participated in terrorist activities in Somalia.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony continued to operate in southern Sudan. Following Kony’s repeated failure to sign a draft of the Final Peace Agreement, on December 14, 2008, the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF), with cooperation from the Government of Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), launched Operation Lighting Thunder, attacking LRA bases along the border of Southern Sudan and the DRC. This operation destroyed the main LRA base camp and forcing LRA members to relocate elsewhere in the DRC, Southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The UPDF started withdrawing from the operation in mid-March, handing control over operations in DRC to the Armed Forces of the DRC. The operation was declared a success and was said to have significantly weakened the LRA’s command structure. However, the official objectives -- to make Kony sign the Final Peace Agreement, or to destroy the LRA -- were only partially achieved, and it is unclear how much the LRA’s central command has been hurt. Few senior LRA figures were captured and Kony’s whereabouts were unknown at year’s end. The UPDF continued to pursue the LRA in Central African Republic, and in southern Sudan, it received assistance from the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. There was no reliable information to corroborate long-standing allegations that the Government of Sudan was supporting the LRA in 2009.
Syria is a signatory to nine of the 13 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism. While Syrian officials have publicly condemned international terrorism, they continue to insist there is a distinction between terrorist attacks and attacks undertaken by “national liberation movements” engaged in legitimate armed resistance, including Palestinian groups, Lebanese Hizballah, and members of the Iraqi opposition. The United States does not agree with this characterization and has designated a number of these groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. During the reporting period, the United States raised concerns about Syria’s support of these groups directly with the Syrian government.
Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Syria continued to provide safe-haven as well as political and other support to a number of designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Several of these terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for terrorist acts in the past, but none over the past year. The operational leadership of many of these groups is headquartered or sheltered in Damascus, including Khaled Meshaal of HAMAS, Ramadan Shallah of PIJ, and Ahmed Jibril of PFLP-GC. The Syrian government provided Meshaal with security escorts for his motorcades and allowed him to travel freely around Damascus, attending numerous public events such as national day celebrations for Arab states. Though the Syrian government claimed periodically that it used its influence to restrain the activities of Palestinian groups, it allowed conferences organized by HAMAS to take place over the course of the year. In addition, the Syrian government has made no attempt to restrict the operation, travel, or movement of these groups’ leaders or members. Syria allows terrorist groups resident in its territory to receive and ship goods, including weapons, in and out of the country.
Additionally, the Syrian government provided diplomatic, political and material support to Hizballah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to supply this organization with weapons. Weapons flow from Iran through Syria, and directly from Syria, to Hizballah despite UN Security Council resolution 1701 of 2006, which imposes an arms embargo on Lebanon except with the consent of the Lebanese government. Indeed, Hizballah claims to have a larger arsenal today than it did in 2006. Underscoring links between the Syrian government and Hizballah, Israeli naval commandos intercepted a large cache of arms on November 3 on its way from Iran to Hizballah by way of the Syrian port of Latakia. The arms shipment, which was found amidst civilian cargo on the Antiguan-flagged ship MV Francop, weighed over 500 tons. While the Syrian government denied involvement in the shipment, Israeli officials stressed that the incident illustrates Syria’s continued efforts to fight a proxy war with Israel through terrorist groups like Hizballah The last attack across the internationally-recognized Israeli line of withdrawal (a.k.a. the Blue Line) occurred in 2006. In the same year, a terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was defeated by Syrian security forces.
Syria has maintained its ties with its strategic ally, and fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran. In August, President al-Asad visited Tehran. On December 3, the Syrian president met the Iranian National Security Advisor Said Jalili in Damascus. On December 8, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmed Vahidi began a three-day visit to Syria, where he met with political and military leaders. Vahidi and his Syrian counterpart announced a Syrian-Iranian defense cooperation agreement on December 11. Frequent working-level visits between Iranian and Syrian officials took place regularly throughout 2009. Syria also allowed leaders of HAMAS and other Palestinian groups to visit Tehran. Al-Asad continued to be a staunch defender of Iran’s policies, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The number of foreign fighters from extremist groups, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), transiting through Syrian territory into Iraq has decreased significantly from its peak flows in 2005-2007. The existence of foreign fighter facilitation networks in Syria, however, remains troubling. Bombings in Iraq in 2009 underscore the threat these networks continue to pose, but the United States recognizes Syrian efforts to decrease foreign fighter travel into Iraqi during the reporting period. In 2009, Syria increased border monitoring activities, instituted tighter screening practices on military-age Arab males entering its borders, and agreed to participate with the U.S. and Iraqi governments in a trilateral border security assessment of the Syrian side of the Syrian-Iraqi border. Although preparatory meetings were held, the actual border assessment did not occur after the Iraqi government withdrew its support in August 2009. The Syrians have indicated a willingness to establish a border security mechanism if future Iraqi governments are supportive.
While Syria has long provided sanctuary and political support for certain former Iraqi regime elements (FRE), Damascus denied supporting terrorist attacks and urged Baghdad to include the FRE in the Iraqi political process. In 2008, the United States designated several Iraqis and Iraqi-owned entities residing in Syria under Executive Order 13438 for providing financial, material, and technical support for acts of violence that threatened the peace and stability of Iraq, including Mish’an Al-Jaburi and his satellite television channel al-Rai. Iraqi government officials criticized al-Rai for serving as a “platform for terrorists.” Additionally, the United States designated one Syria-based individual in 2007 under E.O. 13224 for providing financial and material support to AQI and six others under E.O. 13315 as FRE or family members of FRE, some of whom had provided financial assistance to the Iraqi insurgency.
Syria’s financial sector remains vulnerable to terrorist financing. An estimated 70 percent of all business transactions are conducted in cash and as many as 80 percent of all Syrians do not use formal banking services. Despite Syrian legislation requiring money-changers to be licensed by the end of 2007, many continued to operate illegally in Syria’s vast black market, which is believed to be as large as Syria’s formal economy. Regional “hawala” networks remained intertwined with smuggling and trade-based money laundering – facilitated by corrupt customs and immigration officials – raising significant concerns that the Syrian government and business elites could be complicit in terrorist financing schemes.