Iran and state-sponsored terrorism

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the government of Iran has been accused by members of the international community of funding, providing equipment, weapons, training and giving sanctuary to terrorists.[1]

The United States State Department describes Iran as an “active state sponsor of terrorism.”[2] Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice elaborated stating, "Iran has been the country that has been in many ways a kind of central banker for terrorism in important regions like Lebanon through Hezbollah in the Middle East, in the Palestinian Territories, and we have deep concerns about what Iran is doing in the south of Iraq."[1]

Iranian government

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

Ayatollah Khomeini arrives in Iran

After the fall of the Shah, the Islamic Republic of Iran established the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC - Pasdaran-e Inqilab) to domestically promote the government's social policy. The organization is accused of spreading its ideology in neighboring regions by training and funding "terrorist organizations". By 1986, the group had 350,000 members and had acquired a small naval and air force. By 1996, the ground forces numbered 100,000 and the naval forces numbered 20,000. They are believed to use the proxy Al Quds Force to train the Islamic militants. Currently Al Quds conducts training units in Iran and Sudan.[3]

In 1995, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard held a conference with worldwide organizations accused of engaging in terrorism including the Japanese Red Army, the Armenian Secret Army, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Iraqi Da'wah Party, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and Hezbollah in Beirut for the sole purpose of providing training to these organizations supposedly to help in the destabilization of Gulf States and aid assistance to militants in these countries to replace the existing governments with Iran-like regimes.[3]

The United States State Department states that this organization provides support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad in Israel. They also say that Pasdaran has given much support and training to terrorists supporting the Palestinian resistance. They are also accused of aiding the Iraqi insurgency in southern Iraq.[3] On September 26, 2007, the United States Senate passed legislation by a vote of 76-22 designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.[4] U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress labeled the group under the guidelines established by Executive Order 13224 issued after the September 11, 2001 attacks.[5]

In August 2012, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed the Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force to increase their terror attacks due to what the Iranian government perceived as their interests being threatened by United Nations sanctions and the West's support of Syrian opposition.[6]

Ministry of Intelligence and Security

Iran is believed to use the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to gather intelligence to plan terrorist attacks. The ministry is believed to use liaison activities with supported terrorist groups and Islamic fundamentalist movements. The ministry itself is believed to carry out some terrorism mostly directed at political dissidents.[7]

Capture of American hostages

Main article: Iran Hostage Crisis

On November 4, 1979, 500 Iranians stormed the American Embassy and took 90 employees and visitors captive. They later released non-Americans, women and African-Americans, and held the 52 remaining Americans hostage for 444 days. The Americans held an embargo against Iran and demanded that the hostages be freed. Iran demanded unblocking of Iran's frozen assets in the United States ($24 billion) to release the hostages. Iran also demanded U.S. based Shah of Iran to be arrested and given back to Iran. They would later agree to accept $8 billion in frozen assets in exchange for the release of the hostages. They released the hostages after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan.

In 2000, the former hostages sued the Iranian government for state sponsored terrorism under the 1996 Antiterrorism Act. They would win the suit but would not be awarded damages because of a 2002 judgment that the terms of their release barred awarding any damages.[8]

State Department Report

In July 2012, the United States State Department released a report on terrorism around the world in 2011. The report states that "Iran remained an active state sponsor of terrorism in 2011 and increased its terrorist-related activity" and that "Iran also continued to provide financial, material, and logistical support for terrorist and militant groups throughout the Middle East and Central Asia." The report states that Iran has 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," despite pledging to support the stabilization of Iraq, and that the 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." The report further states that Iran has provided weapons and training to the Assad regime in Syria which has launched a brutal crackdown on Syrian rebels, as well as providing weapons, training, and funding to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, among others, and has assisted in rearming Hizballah. The report states as well that Iran has remained unwilling to bring to justice senior members of Al Qaeda that it continued to detain, and also refused to publicly identify these senior members, as well as that Iran has allowed Al Qaeda members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, which has enabled Al Qaeda to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.[9][10][11]

Specific countries


On the evening of September 30, 2015, Bahraini security forces discovered a large bomb-making factory in Nuwaidrat and arrested a number of suspects linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The next day, October 1, Bahrain recalls its ambassador to Iran and asked the Iranian acting charge d’affaires to leave the kingdom within 72 hours after he was declared persona non-grata. Bahrain's decision to recall its ambassador comes "in light of continued Iranian meddling in the affairs of the kingdom of Bahrain in order to create sectarian strife and to impose hegemony and control.[12][13]

On January 6, 2016, Bahrain said it had dismantled a terrorist cell allegedly linked to Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah. Bahraini interior ministry said the cell was planning to carry out a “series of dangerous bombings” on the kingdom, and that many members were arrested including the group's leaders, 33-year-old twins Ali and Mohammed Fakhrawi.[14]


In July 2012, The Times of India reported that New Delhi police have concluded that terrorists belonging to a branch of Iran’s military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, were responsible for an attack on 13 February 2012, during which a bomb explosion targeted an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, India, wounding one embassy staff member, a local employee, and two passers-by. According to the report, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards may have planned other attacks on Israeli targets around the world as well.[15][16]


Iran does not recognize Israel as a state,[17] and provides support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.[18][19][20]


Iran supplies political support and weapons to Hamas,[21] an organization classified by Israel, the United States, Canada, the European Union, Egypt, Australia and Japan as a terrorist organization. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, has said "Hamas is funded by Iran. It claims it is financed by donations, but the donations are nothing like what it receives from Iran".[22] From 2000 to 2004, Hamas was responsible for killing nearly 400 Israelis and wounding more than 2,000 in 425 attacks, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2001 through May 2008, Hamas launched more than 3,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortar attacks into Israel.[23]


President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy show respect to the victims of 1983 barracks bombing.
A mural in Tehran, Iran. The circled portrait on the top right is that of Muhammad Munif Ashmar, a suicide bomber of the group Hezbollah. Sitting next to his rifle, is Ali Munif Ashmar, brother of Muhammad Munif Ashmar, also a suicide bomber of Hezbollah. He leans on a portrait of Ali Khamenei. Under Khamenei's portrait is the date of Ali Munif Ashmar's suicide bombing: "martyred on March 21st 1996 in Adaisseh, Lebanon". The large yellow text on the bottom of the mural reads, اسرائیل باید از بین برود "Israel must be destroyed".
Main article: Hezbollah

During the 1980s and 1990s, a wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations of Western targets, particularly American and Israeli, occurred in Lebanon and other countries. The attacks, attributed to Hezbollah, have included:

Islamic Jihad is widely believed to be a nom de guerre of the Lebanese Islamist political movement and social service agency Hezbollah, which was founded in 1982 with many millions of dollars of aid and considerable training and logistical support from the Islamic Republic. Many believe the group promotes the Iranian agenda and that its goal is to overthrow the moderate governments in the area and create Islamic Republics based on that of Iran as well as the destruction of Israel.[1] Iran has supplied the militant organization Hezbollah with substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons (including long range rockets), explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid while persuading Hezbollah to take an action against Israel.[36][37][38] Hezbollah's 1985 manifesto listed its four main goals as "Israel's final departure from Lebanon as a prelude to its final obliteration"[39] According to reports released in February 2010, Hezbollah received $400 million from Iran.[37]

Its methods include assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombings, and guerilla warfare. It is believed to be one of the Islamic resistance groups that made suicide bombings common use. Other attacks credited to Hezbollah include:

Iraq insurgency

Iranian proxies killed an estimated 1,100 US troops in Iraq.[42] In addition, insurgents supported by Iran reportedly committed acts of terrorism.[41][43][44] The United States State Department states that weapons are smuggled into Iraq and used to arm Iran's allies among the Shiite militias, including those of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army.[45]

During his address to the United States Congress on September 11, 2007, Commanding officer for the United States forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus noted that the multinational forces in Iraq have found that Iran's Quds force has provided training, equipment, funding, and direction to terrorists. “When we captured the leaders of these so-called special groups … and the deputy commander of a Lebanese Hezbollah department that was created to support their efforts in Iraq, we’ve learned a great deal about how Iran has, in fact, supported these elements and how those elements have carried out violent acts against our forces, Iraqi forces and innocent civilians.”[43]

Dexter Filkins has described the extensive involvement of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani in arming and training both Sunni and Shi'ite militias in Iraq. According to a Western diplomat quoted by Filkins: "Suleimani wanted to bleed the Americans, so he invited in the jihadis, and things got out of control."[41]


Aggrey Adoli, Kenya's police chief in Kenya's coastal region, said on 22 June 2012 that two Iranians, Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi, believed to members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force,[46] were arrested and suspected of being involved in terrorism. One of the Iranians led counter-terrorism officers to recover 15 kilograms of a powdery substance believed to be explosive.[47] The two Iranians allegedly admitted to plotting to attack United States, Israeli, Saudi, or British targets in Kenya.[46] In court, Police Sgt. Erick Opagal, an investigator with Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, said that the two Iranians had shipped over 100 kilograms of powerful explosives into Kenya.[48]

It was later revealed that the targets included Gil Haskel, Israel's ambassador to Kenya. During a visit to Kenya in August, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon praised Kenya for its efforts in stopping Iranian terror threats against Israeli and Jewish targets. Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya all expressed concern with Ayalon regarding Iran's attempts to increase terror activity in Africa.[49]

Alleged Al-Qaeda ties

Allegedly Al Qaeda and Iran formed an alliance during the 1990s in which Hezbollah trained al Qaeda operatives.[50] After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Iran evacuated hundreds of al Qaeda personnel from Afghanistan, allowing the formation of an al Qaeda "management council" on Iranian soil. While some al Qaeda operatives were allowed to act freely, others were placed under house arrest.[51][52] Even though Iran has assisted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in fighting Sunni insurgents during the sectarian Syrian civil war,[53] al Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents are reportedly "under orders not to attack inside Iran in order to preserve their supply network there".[54][55] In 2014, there was speculation that Iran might sever its ties with al Qaeda in return for a deal with the West regarding its nuclear program.[54]

1998 United States embassy bombings

On November 8, 2011, Judge John D. Bates ruled in federal court that Iran was liable for the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. In his 45-page decision, Judge Bates wrote that "Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents Bin Laden and al Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam."[56]

September 11

The U.S. indictment of bin Laden filed in 1998 stated that al-Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies."[50] On May 31, 2001, Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "Officials of the Iranian government helped arrange advanced weapons and explosives training for Al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings."[57]

The 9/11 Commission Report stated that 8 to 10 of the hijackers on 9/11 previously passed through Iran and their travel was facilitated by Iranian border guards.[50][58] The report also found "circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000."[58] After the commission called for "further investigation" into a possible Iranian role in the attacks, President George W. Bush demanded that Iran sever its ties with al-Qaeda, while saying that in his view, "There was no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of September 11."[59]

Judge George B. Daniels ruled in a federal district court in Manhattan that Iran bears legal responsibility for providing "material support" to the 9/11 plotters and hijackers in Havlish, et al. v. Osama bin Laden, Iran, et al.[60][61] Included in Judge Daniels' findings was that Iran "used front companies to obtain a Boeing 757-767-777 flight simulator for training the terrorists", Ramzi bin al-Shibh traveled to Iran in January 2001, and an Iranian government memorandum from May 14, 2001 demonstrates Iranian culpability in planning the attacks.[60] Two defectors from Iran’s intelligence service testified that Iranian officials had "foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks."[62] By contrast, the 9/11 Commission "found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for later became the 9/11 attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation." In addition, both bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed denied "any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah" and "any other reason for the hijackers' travel to Iran" besides "taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports."[58]

Riyadh compound bombings

According to Seth G. Jones and Peter Bergen, the 2003 Riyadh compound bombings were planned by al Qaeda operatives in Iran, with apparent Iranian complicity.[51][63] In May 2003, then-State Department official Ryan Crocker provided information on the upcoming attack to Iranian officials, who apparently took no action.[41]

January 2009 sanctions

In January 2009, the United States Treasury Department placed sanctions on four al-Qaeda operatives based in Iran. These include Mustafa Hamid, Muhammad Rab'a al-Sayid al-Bahtiyti, Ali Saleh Husain, and Sa'ad bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's sons. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said that:

It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al Qaida... Designations have a far reaching impact, deterring would-be donors from providing financial support to terrorism and leaving al Qaida leadership struggling to identify much-needed funding resources.[64]

July 2011 sanctions

In July 2011, the United States Treasury Department reported that Iran has been allowing al-Qaeda to channel money and operatives throughout the country. In response, the Treasury Department placed sanctions on six alleged cooperatives, including Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, who was described as an important al-Qaeda facilitator based in Iran. The department said that Khalil was allowed to operate in Iran since 2005, and has been transporting money and terrorist recruits into Iran from the Middle East, and then to Pakistan. David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, noted that by revealing these connections, "We are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism."[65]

October 2012 sanctions

In October 2012, the United States Treasury Department designated Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, a deputy to the al Qaeda facilitator Muhsin al-Fadhli, who is based in Iran, and placed him under sanctions. Al-Harbi was accused of helping the travel of terrorists from Iran to Afghanistan or Iraq for al-Qaeda, as well as seeking money to support terrorism. The Treasury Department said that the al-Qaeda network used by al-Harbi operates according to an agreement with the Iranian government, under which al-Qaeda can operate and travel freely throughout Iran and to use Iran as a key transit point.[66]

al Qaeda in Syria

In February 2014, the US Treasury Department stated that Iran was helping al Qaeda transfer fighters into Syria, with key smuggler Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov providing "visas and passports to numerous foreign fighters".[53]

al Qaeda in Yemen

In March 2015, a US federal judge found Iran, along with Sudan, complicit in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole by AQ, stating, "Iran was directly involved in establishing Al-Qaeda’s Yemen network and supported training and logistics for Al-Qaeda in the Gulf region", and that “Iran used Lebanese Hizballah . . . as its primary ‘facilitator’ for providing training and communications support".[67]

2015 exchange of prisoners

In early March 2015 news broke that the Iranian diplomat Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht, who was kidnapped in Sanaa, Yemen, in July 2013, was released and had returned home to Tehran.[68] Nikbakht was kidnapped while leaving his home to go the Iranian Embassy by gunmen who had blocked the road.[69][70] He was held in a remote area between the southern provinces Shabwa and Baida.[68][71]

The official Iranian narrative is that a special team from the Ministry of Intelligence was able to rescue Nikbakht from clutches of terrorists in a series of complex and difficult operations in a very particular part of Yemen. The Iranian minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi said that the operation was executed with the fewest possible casualties.[68]

According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran had set up a special taskforce led by the Ministry of Intelligence to work toward Nikbakht's freedom. Some Yemeni officials acknowledged this narrative.[69][70][72]

A second narrative came from inside Yemen. The Iranian diplomat Nikbakht was freed in a prisoner exchange that took place in a third country. Yemeni sources said that no rescue operation had taken place on Yemeni territory. "The operation was in another country, where a group of terrorists was held." One of those exchanged in the release was reported to be a leader of the Islamic State.[69]

On 14 September 2014 Sky News broke the story that the Iranian diplomat Nikbakht was released in exchange for five senior al-Qaeda leaders.[73] The five were Abu Khayr al-Masri, Sayf al-Adl, Abu Mohammed al-Masri, Khalid al-Aruri and Sari Shihab. The five were believed to be still in Iran. Mainstream Western media, including the New York Times[74] and the Washington Post[75] confirmed the story of the release of the five al-Qaeda leaders.

Taliban insurgency

U.S. and British officials have accused Iran of giving weapons and support to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82][83][84][85]

"We did interdict a shipment, without question [from] the Revolutionary Guard's core Quds Force, through a known Taliban facilitator. Three of the individuals were killed... Iranians certainly view [it] as making life more difficult for us if Afghanistan is unstable. We don't have that kind of relationship with the Iranians. That's why I am particularly troubled by the interception of weapons coming from Iran. But we know that it's more than weapons; it's money; it's also according to some reports, training at Iranian camps as well."[86]

According to Hamid Karzai, Iran is "not fooling anyone" with its support for Taliban insurgents.[87]

Documents released by Wikileaks in 2010 provide further information on Iranian support for al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.[88]


In October 2012, a former United States government official said that American authorities believe that Iranian hackers, who were likely supported by the Iranian government, were responsible for cyberattacks against oil and gas companies in the Persian Gulf. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the cyberattacks the most destructive cyberattacks in the private sector. Another American official said that the Obama administration knows that a government was responsible for the cyberattacks, which was confirmed by American agencies investigating the cyberattacks.[89]

Other allegations

Along with the above allegations, Iran is also accused of other acts of terrorism. Including:

See also


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