Iran remains a top state sponsor of terrorism, said the United States Department of State on Friday.
In its annual terrorism report for 2018, it said the Iranian regime has spent “nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe.”
Tehran has funded international terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and other groups.
It also has engaged in its own terrorist plotting around the world, particularly in Europe, charged the report. In January 2018, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks.
Furthermore, Tehran continued to allow an al-Qaeda facilitation network to operate in Iran, which sends fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it has extended sanctuary to al-Qaeda members residing in the country, said the report.
“Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates remain resilient and pose an enduring threat to the United States, our allies and partners, and our interests around the world,” it continued. “Given ISIS’s setbacks, al-Qaeda aims to reestablish itself as the vanguard” of the global extremist movement.
“Despite our sustained efforts since September 11, 2001, and the group’s leadership losses, al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates continue to expand their ranks, plot, and carry out attacks, as well as raise funds and inspire new recruits through social media and virtual technologies,” it added.
“Regionally focused terrorist groups also remained a threat in 2018. For example, Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba – which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks – and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) maintained the capability and intent to attack Indian and Afghan targets,” it said.
The report also warned that the global presence of ISIS continued to advance in 2018 through networks and affiliates even though the Trump administration declared it defeated the terror group in Syria and killed its leader last month in a US raid.
War-hardened fighters from groups such as ISIS returning to their home countries began raising fresh threats, the report said.
“Even as ISIS lost almost all its physical territory, the group proved its ability to adapt, especially through its efforts to inspire or direct followers online,” said Nathan Sales, the US counter-terrorism coordinator, whose office produced the congressionally mandated report.
“Additionally, battle-hardened terrorists headed home from the war zone in Syria and Iraq or traveled to third countries, posing new dangers,” he said.
The report also noted that terrorist tactics and use of technologies evolved throughout 2018. It cited the increased use of commercially available drones and encrypted communications, as well as low-tech vehicle and knife attacks. These presented additional challenges for the international counter-terrorism community.
“In October, the White House released the National Strategy for Counter-terrorism, the United States’ first counter-terrorism strategy since 2011. The strategy emphasizes the need to counter the full spectrum of terrorist threats we face, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Iran-backed groups, as well as regional terrorist organizations.
“It also highlights the need for a whole-of-government approach to counter-terrorism – one that relies on both civilian and military tools to address near- and long-term terrorist threats. Our strategy places a premium on dismantling terrorist organizations using a wide range of diplomatic, law enforcement, military, intelligence, financial and other tools.
“It also calls on our foreign partners to assume a greater share of the burden. In 2018, the United States used this whole-of-government approach to mobilize international responses to counter the most dangerous transnational terrorist organizations,” stressed the report.
Restricting terrorist travel remained a top priority. The United States played a leading role in helping states implement key measures in UN Security Council Resolution 2396 aimed at countering terrorist travel, including border security and information sharing measures.
The United States signed three new arrangements to share terrorist watchlists under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6, bringing the total number of partner countries to 72. The Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) border security platform grew to include 227 ports of entry in 23 countries, and partners use it to screen more than 300,000 travelers each day.
In December, the United States launched an initiative at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to adopt a standard for passenger name record data – a key screening tool that the United States has used for decades and that UN Security Council Resolution 2396 made mandatory for all UN members – by the end of 2019.