Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
July 31, 2012

In order 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 Once a country has been designated, it continues to be a State Sponsor of Terrorism until the designation is rescinded in accordance with statutory criteria.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.
  • Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

More information on State Sponsor of Terrorism designations may be found online at //


Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982. Current and former members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba. Three suspected ETA members were arrested in Venezuela and deported back to Cuba in September 2011 after sailing from Cuba. One of them, Jose Ignacio Echarte, is a fugitive from Spanish law and was also believed to have ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Reports suggested that the Cuban government was trying to distance itself from ETA members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them. Press reporting indicated that the Cuban government provided medical care and political assistance to the FARC. There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC.

The Cuban government continued to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has identified Cuba as having strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.  Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF.  It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body, although in 2011 it did attend a Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering in South America meeting as a guest and prepared an informal document describing its anti-money laundering/counterterrorist financing system.


Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran remained an active state sponsor of terrorism in 2011 and increased its terrorist-related activity, likely in an effort to exploit the uncertain political conditions resulting from the Arab Spring, as well as in response to perceived increasing external pressure on Tehran. Iran also continued to provide financial, material, and logistical support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Iran was known to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and terrorist insurgent groups to implement its foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and support terrorist and militant groups. The IRGC-QF is the regime's primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

In 2011, the United States discovered that elements of the Iranian regime had conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-born U.S. dual-national working on behalf of the IRGC-QF, was arrested in September 2011 for his role in the plot; also indicted in the case was an IRGC-QF officer who remains at large. Arbabsiar held several meetings with an associate whom Iranian officials believed was a narcotics cartel member. This associate, in fact, was a confidential source for U.S. law enforcement. The thwarted plot underscored anew Iran's interest in using international terrorism – including in the United States – to further its foreign policy goals.

Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iran continued to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance, to Iraqi Shia militant groups targeting U.S. and Iraqi forces, as well as civilians. Iran was responsible for the increase of lethal attacks on U.S. forces and provided militants with the capability to assemble explosives designed to defeat armored vehicles. 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 technology and other advanced weaponry.

Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets. Since 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. Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in particular, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.

During the wave of pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria, Iran provided weapons and training to assist the Asad regime in its brutal crackdown that has resulted in the death of more than 5,000 civilians. Iran also continued to provide weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including the Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has assisted in rearming Hizballah, in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hizballah in Lebanon and has trained thousands of Hizballah fighters at camps in Iran.

In 2011, Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior AQ members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. It also allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.

Since 2009, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has called for its members and the international community to institute countermeasures to protect their respective financial sectors as well as the global financial system from the risks – in particular the terrorist financing threat – posed by Iran. In October 2011, the FATF strengthened its language and again called for countermeasures against Iran. Iran has had some limited engagement regarding anti-money laundering/counterterrorist finance and has responded to overtures by multilateral entities such as the UN's Global Programme against Money Laundering, but it has failed to criminalize terrorist financing and require that financial institutions and other obliged entities file suspicious transaction reports. It has not engaged with FATF and is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.


Sudan was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993. In 2011, Sudan was a cooperative counterterrorism partner of the United States. 

Elements of several designated terrorist groups including al-Qa'ida (AQ)-inspired terrorist groups remained in Sudan.  The Government of Sudan has reportedly taken steps to limit the activities of these organizations and worked to disrupt foreign fighters' use of Sudan as a logistics base and transit point for violent extremists going to Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, gaps remained in the Government of Sudan's knowledge of and ability to identify and capture these individuals.  There was some evidence to suggest that former 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.  There was also evidence that Sudanese extremists participated in terrorist activities in Somalia, activities that the Government of Sudan has also reportedly attempted to disrupt.

In addition, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas maintained a presence in Sudan and Hamas has increased its presence there since late 2011. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visited Khartoum in November 2011, and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh led a delegation of Hamas officials to Khartoum in late December during a regional tour. In addition, Haniyeh was President Bashir's guest of honor at the Sudanese independence celebrations on December 31.  With the exception of Hamas, whose members the Government of Sudan does not consider to be terrorists, the government does not openly support the presence of terrorist elements within its borders. 

Khartoum also has maintained a relationship with Iran. In 2011, President Bashir and the Sudanese Ambassador to Iran both met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss bolstering political and economic ties between Khartoum and Tehran.

In June of 2010, four Sudanese men sentenced to death for the January 1, 2008 killing of U.S. diplomat John Granville and his Sudanese driver, escaped from Khartoum's maximum security Khobar Prison.  That same month Sudanese authorities confirmed that they recaptured one of the four convicts and a second escapee was reportedly killed in Somalia in May 2011.  The whereabouts of the other two convicts remained unknown.

Two cases stemmed from the murder of the two U.S. Embassy employees: in the first, the Sudanese Supreme Court was deliberating on an appeal filed by defense attorneys for the three surviving men convicted of the two murders requesting that their death sentences be commuted.  The second case was the trial against five people allegedly involved in the escape of the four convicts from Khobar prison.  The last court session on this case was held on November 22.

Sudan is a member of the Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Through the FATF's International Cooperation Review Group process, Sudan has made significant progress in the establishment and development of its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorist Finance (AML/CTF) regime. Toward the end of 2011, Sudan introduced an inspection program for banks. Sudan has not yet implemented adequate procedures for identifying and freezing terrorist assets, or ensured an effective supervisory program for AML/CTF compliance. Sudan's Financial Intelligence Unit is not fully functional.


Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Syria continued its political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region and beyond, even amid significant internal unrest. Syria provided political and weapons support to Hizballah in Lebanon and continued to allow Iran to resupply the terrorist organization with weapons. The external leadership of Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), among others, were based in Damascus and operated within Syria's borders though Hamas began leaving the country in late 2011 over disagreements regarding Syria's use of violence against protestors. Statements supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah consistently permeated government speeches and press statements.

There was a decline in the number of foreign fighters entering northern Iraq from Syria in 2011.

President Bashar al-Asad continued to express public support for Palestinian terrorist groups as elements of the resistance against Israel. Damascus provided exiled individuals safe haven in Syria.

Added to the terrorist operatives calling Damascus home, Iraqi Baathists continued to congregate in the Syrian capital with some of them calling for violence against the Iraqi government, Iraqi civilian targets, and American and coalition forces within Iraq. Al-Rai Television, a television station owned by wanted international fugitive and U.S. Specially Designated National (SDN) Iraqi Baathist Mishaan al-Jaburi, broadcast from a suburban Damascus location, and transmitted violent messages in support of terrorism in Iraq throughout the year.

Syria was mired in significant civil unrest for most of 2011.   Terrorist attacks have gradually increased on Syrian soil during this period, culminating in twin suicide attacks in Damascus on December 23. On April 29, armed assailants fired upon three police officers in the city of Homs, killing one and wounding two.  On August 2, an attack in Idlib Province killed a political figure. 

In none of these instances did any group claim responsibility. These and other attacks during the period of unrest have elicited responses from the government pointing toward al-Qa'ida involvement in Syria.  As part of a broader strategy during the year, the regime has attempted to portray Syria as a victim of terrorism rather than a purveyor of it.

Syria has laws on the books pertaining to counterterrorism and terrorist financing, but it largely used these legal instruments against opponents of the regime, including political protesters and other members of the growing oppositionist movement. Furthermore, these laws were not enforced against Hamas, Hizballah, or the various Palestinian rejectionist groups based in Damascus.

Syria continued its strong partnership with fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran . Asad continued to be a staunch defender of Iran's policies.  Iran also exhibited equally energetic support for Syrian regime efforts to put down the growing protest movement within Syria.

Syria remained a source of concern regarding 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 money-changers in 2011 continued to operate illegally in Syria's vast black market, estimated to be as large as Syria's formal economy. Regional hawala networks 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.

Syria is a member of the Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. It has been in the FATF International Cooperation Review Group process, under which it has made progress on its Anti-Money Laundering/Counterterrorist Finance (AML/CTF) regime. In 2011, Syria was named in the FATF Public Statement for its lack of progress on implementing adequate procedures for identifying and freezing terrorist assets, ensuring that financial institutions are aware of and comply with their obligations to file suspicious transaction reports in relation to AML and CTF and ensuring that appropriate laws and procedures are in place to provide mutual legal assistance.