By Michael Hernandez
Terrorism across the globe decreased in 2016 for a second straight year but Iran is still the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism”, the U.S. said Wednesday.
The State Department pointed to Tehran’s elite extra-territorial Quds Force that “continued to play a destabilizing role” in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in its annual country reports on terrorism.
It said Iran has sought to recruit foreign fighters to join its Shia militias, offering a path to citizenship for those who do so, and said Iran is the primary backer of the Lebanese Hezbollah that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.
Dating to at least 2009, Tehran “has allowed” al-Qaeda “to operate a core facilitation pipeline through the country”, Justin Siberell, the agecny’s acting counterterrorism coordinator, told reporters.
The “pipeline” has allowed the terror group to move “funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria”, Siberell said.
Why Iran would allow al-Qaeda to do so is unclear. Iran and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate are at odds in the Syrian conflict where Tehran firmly supports Damascus, al-Qaeda’s nemesis, with fighters, supplies and other resources.
Still, the U.S. report noted an overall decline in the number of terrorist attacks and consequent deaths for a second year, pointing to a dip in attacks in South and Central Asia and Africa’s Lake Chad Basin region.
The report pointed to a “common thread” in many of the terrorist attacks last year, namely “adherence to violent extremist ideology put forth by a fundamentalist strain of Sunni Islam that perceives itself to be under attack by the West and in conflict with other branches of Islam”, particularly Daesh’s directed or inspired attacks.
Amid an ongoing row between Qatar and its Arab neighbors regarding alleged support for terrorism, the State Department emphasized Doha “maintained a strong partnership in the fight against terrorism in 2016 and collaborated to foster closer regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement and rule of law activities“.
Qatar, it added, has made “significant progress” in combatting terrorist financing but “terrorist financiers within the country are still able to exploit Qatar’s informal financial system”.