Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism 1999

The designation of state sponsors of terrorism by the United States--and the imposition of sanctions--is a mechanism for isolating nations that use terrorism as a means of political expression. US policy is intended to compel state sponsors to renounce the use of terrorism, end support to terrorists, and bring terrorists to justice for past crimes.

The United States is committed to holding terrorists and those who harbor them accountable for past attacks, regardless of when the acts occurred. The United States has a long memory and will not simply expunge a terrorist's record because time has passed. The states that choose to harbor terrorists are similar to accomplices who provide shelter for criminals--and the United States will hold them accountable for their "guests'" actions. International terrorists should know before they contemplate a crime that they cannot hunker down afterward in a safehaven and be absolved of their crimes.The United States is committed firmly to removing countries from the state sponsor list once they have taken necessary steps to end their link to terrorism. In fact, the Department of State is engaged in ongoing discussions with state sponsors interested in being removed from the list.

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, and Sudan remain the seven governments that the US Secretary of State has designated as state sponsors of international terrorism. Iran continued to support numerous terrorist groups-- including the Lebanese Hizballah, HAMAS, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)--in their efforts to undermine the Middle East peace process through terrorism. Although there were signs of political change in Iran in 1999, the actions of certain state institutions in support of terrorist groups made Iran the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Iraq continued to provide safehaven and support to a variety of Palestinian rejectionist groups, as well as bases, weapons, and protection to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian terrorist group that opposes the current Iranian regime. Syria continued to provide safehaven and support to several terrorist groups, some of which oppose the Middle East peace process. Libya had yet to fully comply with the requirements of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions related to the trial of those accused of downing Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. North Korea harbored several hijackers of a Japanese Airlines flight to North Korea in the 1970s and maintained links to Usama Bin Ladin and his network. Cuba continued providing safehaven to several terrorists and US fugitives and maintained ties to other state sponsors and Latin American insurgents. Finally, Sudan continued to serve as a meeting place, safehaven, and training hub for members of Bin Ladin's al-Qaida, Lebanese Hizballah, al-Jihad, al-Gama'at, PIJ, HAMAS, and the Abu Nidal organization (ANO).

State sponsorship has decreased over the past several decades. As it decreases, it becomes increasingly important for all countries to adopt a "zero tolerance" for terrorist activity within their borders. Terrorists will seek safehaven in those areas where they are able to avoid the rule of law and to travel, prepare, raise funds, and operate. In 1999 the United States actively researched and gathered intelligence on other states that will be considered for designation as state sponsors. If the United States deems a country to "repeatedly provide support for acts of international terrorism," it is required by law to add that nation to the list.

In 1999 the United States increasingly was concerned about reports of Pakistani support for terrorist groups and elements active in Kashmir, as well as Pakistani relations with the Taliban, which continued to harbor terrorists such as Usama Bin Ladin. In the Middle East, the United States was concerned that a variety of terrorist groups operated and trained inside Lebanon with relative impunity. Lebanon also was unresponsive to U.S. requests to bring to justice terrorists who attacked U.S. citizens and property in Lebanon in previous years....


Although there were signs of political change in Iran in 1999, the actions of certain state institutions in support of terrorist groups made Iran the most active state sponsor of terrorism. These state institutions, notably the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, continued to be involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts and continued to support a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.

A variety of public reports indicate Iran’s security forces conducted several bombings against Iranian dissidents abroad. Iranian agents, for example, were blamed for a truck bombing in early October of a Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorist base near Basrah, Iraq, that killed several MEK members and non-MEK individuals.

Iran continued encouraging Hizballah and the Palestinian rejectionist groups--including HAMAS, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC--to use violence, especially terrorist attacks, in Israel to undermine the peace process. Iran supported these groups with varying amounts of money, training, and weapons. Despite statements by the Khatami administration that Iran was not working against the peace process, Tehran stepped up its encouragement of, and support for, these groups after the election of Israeli Prime Minister Barak and the resumption of Israel-Syria peace talks. In a gesture of public support, President Khatami met with Damascus-based Palestinian rejectionist leaders during his visit to Syria in May. In addition, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei reflected Iran's covert actions aimed at scuttling the peace process when he sponsored a major rally in Tehran on 9 November to demonstrate Iran's opposition to Israel and peace. Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist speakers at the rally reaffirmed their support for violent jihad against Israel. A Palestinian Islamic Jihad representative praised a bombing in Netanya that occurred days before and promised more such attacks.

Tehran still provided safehaven to elements of Turkey's separatist PKK that conducted numerous terrorist attacks in Turkey and against Turkish targets in Europe. One of the PKK's most senior at-large leaders, Osman Ocalan, brother of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, resided at least part-time in Iran. Iran also provided support to terrorist groups in North Africa and South and Central Asia, including financial assistance and training.

Tehran accurately claimed that it also was a victim of terrorism, as the opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq conducted several terrorist attacks in Iran. On 10 April the group assassinated Brigadier General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, the Iranian Armed Forces Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff.


Iraq continued to plan and sponsor international terrorism in 1999. Although Baghdad focused primarily on the antiregime opposition both at home and abroad, it continued to provide safehaven and support to various terrorist groups.

Press reports stated that, according to a defecting Iraqi intelligence agent, the Iraqi intelligence service had planned to bomb the offices of Radio Free Europe in Prague. Radio Free Europe offices include Radio Liberty, which began broadcasting news and information to Iraq in October 1998. The plot was foiled when it became public in early 1999.

The Iraqi opposition publicly stated its fears that the Baghdad regime was planning to assassinate those opposed to Saddam Hussein. A spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord in November said that the movement's security organs had obtained information about a plan to assassinate its secretary general, Dr. Iyad 'Allawi, and a member of the movement's political bureau, as well as another Iraqi opposition leader.

Iraq continued to provide safehaven to a variety of Palestinian rejectionist groups, including the Abu Nidal organization, the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), and the former head of the now-defunct 15 May Organization, Abu Ibrahim, who masterminded several bombings of U.S. aircraft.

Iraq provided bases, weapons, and protection to the MEK, an Iranian terrorist group that opposes the current Iranian regime. In 1999, MEK cadre based in Iraq assassinated or attempted to assassinate several high-ranking Iranian Government officials, including Brigadier General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, Deputy Chief of Iran's Joint Staff, who was killed in Tehran on 10 April.


In April 1999, Libya took an important step by surrendering for trial the two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The move responded directly to the US-UK initiative; concerted efforts by the Saudi, Egyptian, and South African Governments; and the active engagement of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General. At yearend, however, Libya still had not complied with the remaining UN Security Council requirements: payment of appropriate compensation; acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials; renunciation of, and an end to, support for terrorism; and cooperation with the prosecution and trial. Libyan leader Qadhafi repeatedly stated publicly during the year that his government had adopted an antiterrorism stance, but it remained unclear whether his claims of distancing Libya from its terrorist past signified a true change in policy.

Libya also remained the primary suspect in several other past terrorist operations, including the La Belle discotheque bombing in Berlin in 1986 that killed two US servicemen and one Turkish civilian and wounded more than 200 persons. The trial in Germany of five suspects in the bombing, which began in November 1997, continued in 1999.

In 1999, Libya expelled the Abu Nidal organization and distanced itself from the Palestinian rejectionists, announcing that the Palestinian Authority was the only legitimate address for Palestinian concerns. Libya still may have retained ties to some Palestinian groups that use violence to oppose the Middle East peace process, however, including the PIJ and the PFLP-GC....


Sudan in 1999 continued to serve as a central hub for several international terrorist groups, including Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization. The Sudanese Government also condoned Iran's assistance to terrorist and radical Islamist groups operating in and transiting through Sudan.

Khartoum served as a meeting place, safehaven, and training hub for members of the Lebanese Hizballah, Egyptian Gama'at al-Islamiyya, al-Jihad, the Palistinian Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, and Abu Nidal organization. Sudan's support to these groups included the provision of travel documentation, safe passage, and refuge. Most of the groups maintained offices and other forms of representation in the capital, using Sudan primarily as a secure base for organizing terrorist operations and assisting compatriots elsewhere.

Sudan still had not complied with UN Security Council Resolutions 1044, 1054, and 1070 passed in 1996--which demand that Sudan end all support to terrorists--despite the regime's efforts to distance itself publicly from terrorism. They also require Khartoum to hand over three Egyptian Gama'at fugitives linked to the assassination attempt in 1995 against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia. Sudanese officials continued to deny that they are harboring the three suspects and that they had a role in the attack.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism

In 1999 the possibility of another terrorist weapons of mass destruction (WMD) event--a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN), or large explosive weapon--continued to increase.

Although most terrorists continued to favor proven and conventional tactics, such as bombing, shooting, and kidnapping, some terrorist groups were attempting to obtain CBRN capabilities. For example, Usama Bin Ladin spoke publicly about acquiring such a capability and likened his pursuit of those weapons to a religious duty.

Some terrorist groups have demonstrated CBRN use and are actively pursuing CBRN capabilities for several reasons:

  • Increased publicity highlighted the vulnerability of civilian targets to CBRN attacks. Such attacks could cause lasting disruption and generate significant psychological impact on a population and its infrastructure. As of yearend, the largest attack involving chemical weapons against civilians was Aum Shinrikyo's sarin nerve agent attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995.


  • Some groups, especially those motivated by distorted religious and cultural ideologies, had demonstrated a willingness to inflict greater numbers of indiscriminate casualties. Other less predictable but potentially dangerous groups also had emerged. Those groups may not adhere to traditional targeting constraints.


  • CBRN materials, information, and technology became more widely available, especially from the Internet and the former Soviet Union.

Sudan also continued to assist several Islamist and non-Islamist rebel groups based in East Africa. Nonetheless, Sudan's relations with its neighbors appeared to improve in 1999. Ethiopia renewed previously terminated air links, while Eritrea considered reestablishing diplomatic ties. Moreover, in early December, Sudan signed a peace accord with Uganda under which both nations agreed to halt all support for any rebel groups operating on each other's soil.


Syria continued to provide safehaven and support to several terrorist groups, some of which maintained training camps or other facilities on Syrian territory. Ahmad Jibril's Popular Front Liberation of Palestinian-General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), for example, were headquartered in Damascus. In addition, Syria granted a wide variety of terrorist groups--including HAMAS, the PFLP-GC, and the PIJ--basing privileges or refuge in areas of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley under Syrian control. Damascus generally upheld its agreement with Ankara not to support the Kurdish PKK, however.

Syria permitted the resupply of rejectionist groups operating in Lebanon via Damascus. The Syrian Government, nonetheless, continued to restrain their international activities, instructing leaders of terrorist organizations in Damascus in August to refrain from military activities and limit their actions solely to the political realm. Syria also participated in a multinational monitoring group to prevent attacks against civilian targets in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

Source: Patterns of Global Terrorism 1999, U.S. State Department