Patterns of Global Terrorism   -2003
Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
April 29, 2004

Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism

State Sponsors: Implications

Although several of the seven designated state sponsors of Terrorism -- most notably Libya and Sudan -- took signifi cant steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism -- and the liberation of Iraq removed a regime that had long supported terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the other state sponsors -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- did not take all the necessary actions to disassociate themselves fully from their ties to terrorism in 2003. Although some in this latter group have improved their performances in some areas, most have also continued the very actions that led them to be declared state sponsors.

The ousting of Saddam Hussein’s regime by Coalition forces removed a longstanding sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East region. The President, therefore, suspended on 7 May 2003, all sanctions against Iraq applicable to state sponsors of terrorism, which had the practical effect of putting Iraq on a par with nonterrorist states. However, Iraq became a central front in the global war on terrorism as Coalition and Iraqi authorities faced numerous attacks by a disparate mix of former regime elements, criminals, and some foreign fighters -- including Islamic extremists linked to Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaida, and Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Increasingly, the line between insurgency and terrorism has been blurred by anti-Coalition attacks that have included suicide car bombings at police stations, an Italian military police base, and the headquarters of the International Red Cross. Members of the foreign terrorist group Mujahedine- Khalq (MEK) maintained an active presence in Iraq but were in US custody by the end of the year. The Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK, now renamed the Kurdistan People’s Congress) continued to attack Turkish targets despite claiming a commitment to nonviolence.

In 2003, the Libyan Government reiterated assurances to the UN Security Council that it had renounced terrorism, undertook to share intelligence on terrorist organizations with Western intelligence services, and took steps to resolve matters related to its past support of terrorism. In September 2003, Libya addressed the requirements of the United Nations relating to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, accepting responsibility for the actions of its officials and agreeing to a compensation package for the victims’ families. As a result, UN sanctions, Sponsor: Implications suspended since 1999, were lifted. Libya also appeared to be trying to resolve a number of the other claims outstanding for Tripoli-sponsored attacks in the 1980s. On 19 December 2003, Colonel Qadhafi made a historic decision to eliminate Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programs and missiles covered by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); and he took significant steps to implement this public commitment with the assistance of the United States, United Kingdom, and relevant international organizations.

Chemical, Biological, Nuclear ,CBRN,, Terrorism

Sudan’s cooperation and information sharing improved markedly, although areas of concern remained. Khartoum sought to deter terrorists from operating from Sudan and took steps to strengthen its legal instruments for fighting terrorism.

The performances of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria showed little change from previous years. Cuba remained opposed to the US-led Coalition prosecuting the global war on terrorism and continued to provide support to designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations and to host several terrorists and dozens of fugitives from US state and federal justice. Cuba allowed Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members to reside in the country and provided support and safehaven to members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003: Islamic Revolutionary Guard and Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel were involved in planning and support for terrorist acts. Although Iran detained al-Qaida operatives in 2003, it refused to identify senior members in custody. Tehran continued to encourage anti-Israel activities, both operationally and rhetorically, providing logistic support and training to Lebanese Hizballah and a variety of Palestinian rejectionist groups. North Korea announced it planned to sign several antiterrorism conventions but did not take any substantive steps to cooperate in efforts to combat terrorism. Syria continued to provide support to Palestinian rejectionist groups and allowed them to operate out of Syria, albeit with a lower profile after May 2003. Syria also served as a transshipment point for Iranian supply of Hizballah in Lebanon, and although Syrian offi cials have publicly condemned terrorism, they continue to distinguish between terrorism and what they view as legitimate resistance against Israel. Nonetheless, Syria has cooperated with the United States against al-Qaida and other extremist Islamic terrorist groups and has made efforts to limit the movement of anti-Coalition fighters into Iraq.

State sponsors of terrorism impede the efforts of the United States and the international community to fight terrorism. These countries provide a critical foundation for terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have a much more difficult time obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. The United States will continue to insist that these countries end the support they give to terrorist groups.


Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security were involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.

Iran’s record against al-Qaida remains mixed. After the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, some al-Qaida members fled to Iran where they have found virtual safehaven. Iranian officials have acknowledged that Tehran detained al-Qaida operatives during 2003, including senior members. Iran’s publicized presentation of a list to the United Nations of deportees, however, was accompanied by a refusal to publicly identify senior members in Iranian custody on the grounds of “security.” Iran has resisted calls to transfer custody of its al-Qaida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for further interrogation and trial.

During 2003, Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli activity, both rhetorically and operationally. Supreme Leader Khamenei praised Palestinian resistance operations, and President Khatami reiterated Iran’s support for the “wronged people of Palestine” and their struggles. Matching this rhetoric with action, Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups -- notably HAMAS, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command -- with funding, safehaven, training, and weapons. Iran hosted a conference in August 2003 on the Palestinian intifadah, at which an Iranian official suggested that the continued success of the Palestinian resistance depended on suicide operations.

Iran pursued a variety of policies in Iraq aimed at securing Tehran’s perceived interests there, some of which ran counter to those of the Coalition. Iran has indicated support for the Iraqi Governing Council and promised to help Iraqi reconstruction.

Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, individuals with ties to the Revolutionary Guard may have attempted to infiltrate southern Iraq, and elements of the Iranian Government have helped members of Ansar al-Islam transit and find safehaven in Iran. In a Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran in May, Guardian Council member Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati publicly encouraged Iraqis to follow the Palestinian model and participate in suicide operations against Coalition forces.

Iran is a party to five of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.

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