Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
May 30, 2013

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 Once a country is designated, it remains a State Sponsor of Terrorism until the designation is rescinded in accordance with statutory criteria.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 designated country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism;

• Prohibitions on economic assistance; and

• 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. Reports in 2012 suggested that the Cuban government was trying to distance itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them. The Government of Cuba continued to provide safe haven to approximately two dozen ETA members.

In past years, some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were allowed safe haven in Cuba and safe passage through Cuba. In November, the Government of Cuba began hosting peace talks between the FARC and Government of Colombia.

There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.

The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government 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 anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism deficiencies. In 2012, Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.


Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran increased its terrorist-related activity, including attacks or attempted attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya. Iran provided financial, material, and logistical support for terrorist and militant groups in the Middle East and Central Asia. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and militant groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and stir up instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.

In 2012, Iran was implicated in planned attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya. On February 13, in New Delhi, India, a magnetic bomb placed under the vehicle of an Israeli diplomat’s wife exploded, seriously injuring her and three Indian nationals. On February 14, a similar device was discovered under a vehicle belonging to the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, and safely defused. Also on February 14, Thai police arrested three Iranian nationals in connection with explosions in a Bangkok private residence that revealed bomb-making materials and makeshift grenades intended for use in attacks against Israeli targets. On June 19, Kenyan authorities arrested two Iranian nationals in connection with explosives stockpiled for a suspected terrorist attack. According to press reports, the individuals were members of the IRGC-QF.

On October 17, Iranian-born U.S. dual-national Mansour Arbabsiar was arrested by U.S. authorities and pled guilty in a New York court to participating in a 2011 plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States. 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. Arbabsiar admitted to working on behalf of the IRGC-QF to carry out the plot. An IRGC-QF officer who remains at large was also indicted. The thwarted plot demonstrated Iran’s interest in using international terrorism – including in the United States – to further its foreign policy goals.

In 2012, the IRGC-QF trained Taliban elements 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, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.

Despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran trained, funded, and provided guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups. 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.

Regarding Syria, Iran provided extensive support, including weapons, funds, and training to assist the Asad regime in its brutal crackdown that has resulted in the death of more than 70,000 civilians. Iran provided 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 UNSCR 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.

Iran actively supported members of the Houthi tribe in northern Yemen, including activities intended to build military capabilities, which could pose a greater threat to security and stability in Yemen and the surrounding region. In July 2012, the Yemeni Interior Ministry arrested members of an alleged Iranian spy ring, headed by a former member of the IRGC.

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 allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and to Syria. Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years. Al-Fadhli began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities. He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.

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 and the global financial system from the risks – in particular the terrorist financing threat – posed by Iran. In October 2012, the FATF strengthened its language and again called for countermeasures against Iran. Iran has had some limited engagement regarding anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism 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. Iran has not engaged with FATF and was not a member of a FATF-style regional body.

Iran remains a state of proliferation concern. Despite multiple UNSCRs requiring Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear proliferation activities, Iran continues to violate its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. For further information, see the Report to Congress on Iran-related Multilateral Sanctions Regime Efforts (February 2013), and the Report on the Status of Bilateral and Multilateral Efforts Aimed at Curtailing the Pursuit of Iran of Nuclear Weapons Technology (September 2012).


Sudan was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993. Sudanese officials regularly discussed counterterrorism issues with U.S. counterparts in 2012 and were generally responsive to international community concerns about counterterrorism efforts. Sudan remained a cooperative counterterrorism partner on certain issues, including al-Qa’ida (AQ)-linked terrorism, and the outlook for continued cooperation on those issues remained somewhat positive. The Government of Sudan continued to pursue counterterrorism operations directly involving threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan. Sudanese officials have indicated that they view continued cooperation with the United States as important and recognize the potential benefits of U.S. training and information-sharing. While the counterterrorism relationship remained solid in many aspects, hard-line Sudanese officials continued to express resentment and distrust over actions by the United States and questioned the benefits of continued cooperation. Their assessment reflected disappointment that Sudan's cooperation on counterterrorism, as well as the Sudanese government’s decision to allow for the successful referendum on Southern independence leading to an independent Republic of South Sudan in July 2011, have not resulted in Sudan’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Nonetheless, there was little indication that the government would curtail its AQ-related counterterrorism cooperation despite tensions in the overall bilateral relationship.

Elements of designated terrorist groups, including AQ-inspired terrorist groups, remained in Sudan. The Government of Sudan took steps to limit the activities of these organizations, and has worked to disrupt foreign fighters' use of Sudan as a logistics base and transit point to Mali and Afghanistan. Gaps remained in the government's knowledge of, and ability to identify and capture these individuals, however. 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. There was also evidence that Sudanese extremists participated in terrorist activities in Somalia and Mali, activities that the Sudanese government has also attempted to disrupt.

In May, the U.S. government alerted U.S. citizens residing in Sudan that it had received credible reports that extremists were planning to carry out kidnapping operations targeting westerners in greater Khartoum. No such kidnapping had occurred by year’s end. The Government of Sudan was responsive to U.S. concerns about the threat. In September, violent extremists attacked the German and U.S. Embassies in Khartoum to protest an American-made film they deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed, as well as a Berlin Administrative Court’s decision not to ban the use of images of the Prophet by a right-wing group when its members protested outside of a Berlin-area mosque. Demonstrators caused extensive damage to both embassies, and the press reported that local police killed three demonstrators outside of the U.S. Embassy. The British Embassy also suffered minor damage during the events, due to its proximity to the German Embassy. In December, the Sudanese government announced that its security services had disrupted a terrorist training camp in Sudan’s Dinder National Park, approximately 186 miles southeast of the capital. Authorities said they killed 13 violent extremists and arrested another 25. Security officials said the terrorists were planning to assassinate Sudanese government officials and were planning to target Western diplomatic missions in the country.

With the exception of Hamas, the government does not appear to support the presence of violent extremist elements. In November, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal visited Khartoum during a meeting of Sudan’s Islamic Movement, and Meshal met with several senior members of the Sudanese government during his visit.

The United States continued to monitor Sudan’s relationship with Iran, itself designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. In October 2012, two Iranian warships docked in Port Sudan, which Sudanese officials characterized as a solid show of political and diplomatic cooperation between the two nations.

The kidnapping of foreigners for ransom in Darfur continued in 2012, though no U.S. citizens were kidnapped during the year. These kidnappings have hindered humanitarian operations in Darfur. Abductees have been released unharmed amid rumors of ransoms having been paid.

In June 2010, four Sudanese men sentenced to death for the January 1, 2008 killing of a U.S. diplomat assigned to the Embassy, as well as a locally employed U.S. Embassy staff member, 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 whereabouts of the other two convicts remained unknown at year’s end.

Two cases that stemmed from the murder of the two U.S. Embassy employees remained active in 2012. In the first, the Sudanese Supreme Court is deliberating on an appeal filed by defense attorneys of the three men remaining alive who were convicted of the two murders, requesting that their death sentences be commuted. In the second, in April, a Sudanese court reduced the sentence of five men involved in facilitating the 2010 prison escape of all four convicted killers, including Abdul Raouf Abu Zaid, the murderer who was recaptured shortly after his escape. In November, an appeals court threw out the conviction of one man accused of being involved in the escape attempt, though it upheld the convictions of the other four, including Abu Zaid. The Government of Sudan has been active in continuing the investigations but the unusual circumstances surrounding the escape raised widespread concerns of involvement by Sudanese authorities.

Sudan is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Since February 2010, Sudan has been publicly identified by the FATF as a jurisdiction with strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) deficiencies, for which it has developed an action plan with the FATF to address these weaknesses. Since that time, the Government of Sudan continued to cooperate with the FATF and has taken steps to meet international standards in AML/CTF, but still has strategic deficiencies to address. Sudan was subject to a mutual evaluation conducted by the MENAFATF; this report was adopted by the MENAFATF in November 2012. Sudan continued to cooperate with the United States in investigating financial crimes related to terrorism.


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 Lebanese Hizballah and continued to allow Iran to re-arm the terrorist organization. The Syrian regime’s relationship with Hizballah and Iran appears to have gotten stronger over the course of the conflict in Syria. President Bashar al-Asad continued to be a staunch defender of Iran's policies while Iran exhibited equally energetic support for Syrian regime efforts to put down the growing protest movement within Syria. Statements supporting terrorist groups, particularly Hizballah, were often in Syrian government speeches and press statements.

President Asad continued to express public support for Palestinian terrorist groups as elements of the resistance against Israel. Damascus provided safe haven in Syria for exiled individuals, although the Palestinian groups were subject to the same level of insecurity as the rest of the Syrian population and fighting has fractured their alliances with the Syrian regime. As part of a broader strategy during the year, the regime has attempted to portray Syria itself as a victim of terrorism, characterizing all its armed opponents as “terrorists.”

Syria 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 money-changers 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 and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Since February 2010, Syria has been publicly identified by the FATF as a jurisdiction with strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) deficiencies for which it has developed an action plan with the FATF to address these weaknesses. Since then, Syria has made limited progress on its AML/CFT regime. In February 2012, Syria was named in the FATF Public Statement for its lack of progress in implementing its action plan, including its need to address the deficiencies by providing sufficient legal basis for implementing its S/RES/1373 obligations and implementing adequate procedures for identifying and freezing terrorist assets, and ensuring that appropriate laws and procedures are in place to provide mutual legal assistance.

In 2012, we continued to closely monitor Syria’s proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities, including Syria’s significant stockpile of chemical weapons, which we assess remains under the Asad regime’s control. There is significant concern, given the instability in Syria, that these materials could find their way to terrorist organizations. We are coordinating closely with a number of like-minded nations and partners to prevent Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and advanced conventional weapons from falling into the hands of violent extremists.