The State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism on Tuesday. Once again, the U.S. government has deemed Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The Iranian regime’s sponsorship of terrorism includes troubling relationships with al Qaeda (“AQ”) and the Taliban.
“In 2011,” the State Department’s report reads, “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.” Similar language was included in previous State Department reports. But that is not all there is to the Iran-AQ relationship.
Iran “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.”
During a briefing with the press, Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, was asked what the U.S. government is doing to counteract Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. Benjamin said that the Obama administration is “deeply concerned about Iran’s activities on its own through the” Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which is the Iranian regime’s principal terrorist-supporting arm. Benjamin also highlighted the work Iran does “together with Hezbollah” to “pursue destabilizing activities around the globe.” Iran does not only work with Hezbollah terrorists, however.
“I think that it’s important to note that we’ve seen quite a number of different designations in the last year,” Benjamin explained. “We have seen a number of al Qaeda activists in Iran who have been designated.”
Benjamin was referring to the Treasury Department’s July 2011 designation of a terrorist network headed by an al Qaeda operative known as Yassin al Suri. That network operates “under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government," according to Treasury. In December 2011, the Treasury and State Departments announced a $10 million bounty for information leading to al Suri’s capture. That reward is one of the highest offered for any terrorist. Obama administration officials noted at the time that al Suri is “working in support of al Qaeda with the support of the Government of Iran.”
Al Suri’s Iran-based network has been in operation since at least 2005. Seven years later, according to the State Department’s latest report, it is still operational. Al Suri’s network has facilitated the movement of terrorists around the globe, including an al Qaeda cell slated to take part in a foiled 2010 plot to launch Mumbai-style attacks in Europe.
In February of this year, the Treasury Department highlighted the support Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) provides to al Qaeda and its Iraqi affiliate in a separate designation. The “MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports,” according to Treasury. In addition, the MOIS has “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)...and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”
The Taliban was once Iran’s foe, but that hasn’t stopped the two from colluding against U.S. forces. As in its reports in previous years, the State Department notes that the IRGC-QF “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,” State’s latest report continues, “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.”
The Defense and Treasury Departments have also previously recognized the assistance Iran provides to the Taliban.
Iran’s relationships with al Qaeda and the Taliban supplement the regime’s longstanding sponsorship of Shiite terrorist groups and militias. U.S. combat forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, but Iran made sure to extract some American blood on the way out.
“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,” State’s report reads.
Iran does not limit its sponsorship of terrorism to the Middle East. Iran has “sought to expand its activities in the Western Hemisphere,” the State Department warns. “The most disturbing manifestation of this was the Iranian plot against the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.” In that plot, the IRGC-QF sought to use Mexican drug cartels to do its bidding.
None of this is surprising. Iran will work with virtually anyone who is opposed to the U.S., whether they are al Qaeda terrorists, Taliban insurgents, or suspected members of Mexican drug cartels.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.