Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2020, including support for Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various terrorist and militant groups in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations, provide cover for associated covert operations, and create instability in the region. Iran has acknowledged the involvement of the IRGC-QF in the Iraq and Syria conflicts, and the IRGC-QF is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorist activity abroad. In 2019, the Secretary of State designated the IRGC, including IRGC-QF, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Iran also used regional militant and proxy groups to provide deniability, in an attempt to shield it from accountability for its aggressive policies.
Iran supported various Iraqi Shia terrorist groups in 2020, including Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), Harakat al-Nujaba, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. KH’s March 11, 2020 rocket attack on international counter-ISIS forces at Camp Taji (Iraq) killed three members of Defeat-ISIS Coalition forces, including two U.S. servicemembers. Iran also bolstered the Assad regime in Syria and Shia terrorist groups operating there, including Hizballah. Iran views the Assad regime in Syria as a crucial ally and Iraq and Syria as vital routes through which to supply weapons to Hizballah, Iran’s primary terrorist proxy group. Through financial or residency enticements, Iran has facilitated and coerced primarily Shia fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria. Iran-supported Shia militias in Iraq have also committed human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians. Iranian forces have directly backed militia operations in Syria with armored vehicles, artillery, and drones.
Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has supplied Hizballah in Lebanon with thousands of rockets, missiles, and small arms in violation of UNSCR 1701. Israeli security officials and politicians expressed concerns that Iran was supplying Hizballah with advanced weapons systems and technologies, as well as assisting the group in creating infrastructure that would permit it to indigenously produce rockets and missiles to threaten Israel from Lebanon and Syria. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hizballah and trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. Hizballah fighters have been used extensively in Syria to support the Assad regime.
In 2020, Iran provided support to Hamas and other designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. These Palestinian terrorist groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank.
In Bahrain, Iran has continued to provide weapons, support, and training to local Shia militant groups, including the al-Ashtar Brigades, a designated FTO and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), and Saraya al-Mukhtar, which was designated an SDGT under Department of State authorities in 2020.
In Yemen, Iran has provided weapons, advanced equipment such as unmanned aircraft systems, training, and other support to Houthi militants, who have engaged in attacks against regional targets. In February and June, the U.S. Navy and partner forces interdicted dhows carrying Iran-origin weapons intended for the Houthis, including 1,700 rifles and more than 170 missiles.
The Iranian government maintains a robust offensive cyber program and has sponsored cyber attacks against foreign government and private sector entities.
Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members residing in the country and has refused to publicly identify members it knows to be living in Iran. Iran has allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria, among other locales.
As in past years, the Iranian government continued supporting terrorist plots or associated activities targeting Iranian dissidents in Europe. In recent years, Albania, Belgium, and the Netherlands have all either arrested or expelled Iranian government officials implicated in various terrorist plots in their respective territories. Denmark similarly recalled its ambassador from Tehran after learning of an Iran-backed plot to kill an Iranian dissident in its country.
Source: “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020,” U.S. State Department, (December 16, 2021).