Why is Iran determined by U.S. as the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world today?


This is the official stance of the Trump administration. Was it also the position of the Obama administration and Bush administration? What is this based on?

I know that America considers Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations. EU states official stance is that their militant wings are. It's also an ally of Syria's Assad administration, which the US alleges has committed chemical weapons attacks against civilians.

But clearly, even if Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations (I'm not sure Hezbollah specifically meets that criteria, but that's another debate), these aren't the biggest terrorist groups in the middle east, or the world. Al Qaeda, Al Nusra Front, ISIS would all be bigger terrorist groups.

Who sponsors/funds these terrorist groups? Wouldn't the source of their funding be the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world? Or is it that no single state has voiced support for them, and rather individuals within those states are responsible?


Posted 2018-09-27T05:47:39.163

Reputation: 3 401

8Who knows. Maybe after the communist bogeyman gave up the ghost the West had to find a new one to scare everybody with. Or is that too simple an assessment? – Mozibur Ullah – 2018-09-27T06:09:19.367

1Clearly Iran is not being targeted for terrorist activities or support of terrorist activities, and rather due to US allies Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel regional rivalries and power struggles. It's pretty obvious. What I'm interested though, is how the determination was made, and if it is technically true, in that Iran as a state has officially supported these groups, whereas Saudi Arabia (probably the real biggest state sponsor of terror) has not officially voiced national support, even if it is the primary financial source. – Icarian – 2018-09-27T06:17:39.973

2US and some western states calls those groups "freedom fighters", "opposition", and similar. That is the answer to your questions at the end. ;) – BЈовић – 2018-09-27T11:07:57.987

Al Qaeda core is extremely small, so no, it's not "biggest". ISIS at this point is likely smaller than Hezbollah as well, as is Al Nusra. So, even that argument is false (leaving aside the validity of arguing that size of group has anything to do with state sponsorship designation). – user4012 – 2018-09-27T11:34:57.550

1@BЈовић, really so. But many in western world thinks in another way. All because magical words about freedom.) – user2501323 – 2018-09-27T13:01:59.053

1if we call Hezbollah terroristic, why don't to count US support to YPG? Turkey claims it as terroristic - so, why? – user2501323 – 2018-09-27T13:03:48.100


It is probably worth mentioning that some feel the US is the biggest exporter of terror in the modern era. They certainly meet the definition of a terrorist country. It embarrasses and humiliates me as a US citizen, and increases me and my fellow citizens risk for events like 9/11. Also see United States and state terrorism (and friends).

– None – 2018-09-28T00:05:18.113



The US does not identify any of its ally states (at government level) as state sponsors of terrorism. Iraq for example was removed in 2004, following the US invasion. The current US list of state sponsors of terrorism is actually pretty short (as of 2017): besides Iran, only North Korea, Sudan and Syria (Assad's regime) are on it. The official reports don't seem to put a lot of effort in arguing which of these is the biggest, except perhaps as a threat-level to US interests:

In its annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” released Wednesday, the State Department said Iran was the planet’s “foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016, a dubious distinction the country has held for many years. It said Iran was firm in its backing of anti-Israel groups as well as proxies that have destabilized already devastating conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. It also said Iran continued to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Shiite militia members to fight in Syria and Iraq. And, it said Iranian support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement was unchanged. [...]

“Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016 as groups supported by Iran maintained their capability to threaten U.S. interests and allies,” said the report [...]

Interestingly, the 2017 edition of the report lacks the "strategic assessment" chapter where the "foremost" declaration was usually made. The 2016 edition had this reasoning for Iran the being "foremost":

Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016 as groups supported by Iran maintained their capability to threaten U.S. interests and allies. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force, along with Iranian partners, allies, and proxies, continued to play a destabilizing role in military conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Iran continued to recruit fighters from across the region to join Iranian affiliated Shia militia forces engaged in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and has even offered a path to citizenship for those who heed this call. Hizballah continued to work closely with Iran in these conflict zones, playing a major role in supporting the Syria government’s efforts to maintain control and territory, and providing training and a range of other support for Iranian aligned groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Additionally, Hizballah continued to develop its long-term attack capabilities and infrastructure around the world.

In the 2017 edition this assessment was reworded and moved to the foreword:

Iran remained the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and continued to support attacks against Israel. It maintained its terrorist-related and destabilizing activities through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hizballah. Iran is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining the legitimate governments of, and U.S. interests in, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. In particular, Iran and Hizballah are emerging from the Syria conflict emboldened and with valuable battlefield experience that they seek to leverage across the globe. IRGC leader Qasem Soleimani recruited and deployed Shia militias from diverse ethnic groups across the Middle East and South Asia to fight in defense of the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Beyond the Middle East, Iran and its terrorist affiliates and proxies posed a significant threat and demonstrated a near-global terrorist reach. Notably, in June 2017, the FBI arrested two suspected Hizballah operatives in Michigan and New York who allegedly were conducting surveillance and intelligence gathering on behalf of the organization, including in the United States.

ISIS etc. are deemed non-state actors.

Since 2016 at least Pakistan is listed as a "safe haven" for terrorists, but not outright sponsor of terrorism. The latter list of "safe haven" countries, which I'm not sure when it first appeared, is actually pretty long. In the 2017 edition it includes Venezuela, Colombia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, "The Southern Philippines", "The Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral", "The Trans-Sahara", "The Lake Chad Region", and Somalia.

Also, some people, including Trump himself before the election have been implicitly critical of the official categorization, e.g.:

In his 2015 book, ‘Time to Get Tough,’ which was published ahead of the presidential election, Trump wrote: “Then look at Saudi Arabia. It is the world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars – our very own money – to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people, while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.”


Posted 2018-09-27T05:47:39.163

Reputation: 76 605

2Regarding not identifying allies as terrorism sponsors: is that purely a diplomatic thing ("we don't want to upset the Saudis") or is it also a legal thing ("US companies are prohibited from selling weapons to states sponsoring terrorism")? – janh – 2018-09-27T08:01:05.380

This is I think, both. US politics is strongly affected by buisiness in this case. This is close ally of course. Especially in terms of new "middle-east NATO" Trump's idea. And also - Saudis have one of the biggest military budgets in the world. And US military industry definetly wants their money. – user2501323 – 2018-09-27T09:04:39.613

And I doubt if this is an answer. This is just re-post of declarartions and nothing more – user2501323 – 2018-09-27T10:26:48.663

@Fizz, where is answer? Question is WHY. Not "list me US documents about it", but WHY – user2501323 – 2018-09-27T11:23:23.683

1@user2501323 It's pretty simple, Fizz has it right at the top. The US only recognises four states as supporting terrorism. Of those four, Iran is the largest. I'm sure the Russian definition of states supporting terrorism doesn't include Syria, the Chinese won't include NK, etc. – Caleth – 2018-09-27T23:51:14.630

1"The US does not identify any of its ally states..." - You should probably say "itself or any of its ally states". The US is one of the states it does not apply it's definition to. Also see United States and state terrorism | Definition. – None – 2018-09-28T00:11:48.123


The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as:

The political use of violence or intimidation.

Based on the definition, I say yes, the Islamic Republic of Iran(IR) sponsors terrorism and it is the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world.The number of assassinations carried out by the regime proves that USA's claims are not false.

Supporting terrorism is in the nature of this regime and they have supported killing their opponents even before they rose to power:

Fada'iyan-e Islam was a shia terrorist group that assassinated many diplomats and intellectuals before the Islamic revolution. Navvab Safavi was the founder of this group. The IR's leader Khamene'i admires him and one of the biggest highways in Tehran is called Navvab Safavi.

But the main support of IR started after the revolution in 1979, when they had enough power to spread terror, not only in Iran, but also allover the world. I'll mention some of this activities:

1-Assassination of opponents inside Iran:

  • 1988 Execution of political prisoners , where nearly 30,000 prisoners were executed without trial and women were raped before execution.

  • The Chain murders of Iran: or Serial murders of Iran,were a series of 1988–98 murders and disappearances of certain Iranian dissident intellectuals who had been critical of the Islamic Republic system. Hundreds of opponents were murdered in and out of Iran brutally and their bodies were cut into pieces. Shapour Bakhtiyar and Freydoun Farrokhzad, etc. were assassinated in France and Germany respectively.These murders were condemned in Mykonos trial.

  • Suppretion of student protests in 1999 and murdering some of them including Abar Mohammadi.

  • Quelling peacefull protests in 2009 which led to hundreds of deaths including Neda Aghasoltan, you can see the moment of her death on YouTube.

  • Systematic torturing and execution of political opponents, including Farzad Kamangar, Sattar Beheshti, etc. This category contains thousands of executions and makes Iran the country with the highest number of executions compared to its population.

2-Supporting terrorist groups and terrorist activities allover the world:

These are only the main terrorist activities committed by IR, and there are many others that can't be mentioned here. Given then definition of terrorism, the IR's actual activities in Syria and Iraq that have led to severe consequences for them, I conclude that the answer of this question is YES, the Islamic Republic sponsors terrorism .

Codito ergo sum

Posted 2018-09-27T05:47:39.163

Reputation: 1 565


First, you have to recognize that "terrorism" in this context (and basically all political contexts in the current world) is a code word for jihad. While terrorism itself is a neutral military/political tactic that can be (and has been) used by groups having any ideological motivation, the plain fact is that in the current world, 1) Groups using terrorist tactics are almost exclusively jihadists; and 2) It is the jihadists who are directing attacks against the US and other non-Islamic countries (and occasionally other varieties of Islam that they disagree with).

That being the case, the only sort of "terrorism" that really concerns the US (and the majority of the non-Islamic world which isn't having local problems like e.g. Basque separatists) is that motivated by the Islamic concept of jihad.

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country has been run by an Islamic theocratic government. As such, they take the concept of jihad seriously. Their leaders call the US the "Great Satan" and call for its destruction. To this end, it spends copious amounts on supporting various jihadist groups, and on weapons development. It also has considerable oil wealth.

Given that Iran has both the resources and the motivation to sponsor "terrorism" (= jihad), is it surprising that they might actually do so? And if they do in fact do so, determining that they are the largest state sponsor is at base merely a matter of accounting.


Posted 2018-09-27T05:47:39.163

Reputation: 10 503

3"Almost exclusively jihadists" isn't accurate. Particularly in the US, where Islamist terrorism is less than 50% of acts (outnumbered by white supremacist terrorism) but even worldwide, where something over 50% is Islamist terrorism, depending on how things are classified, but other motivations aren't close to unheard of. – Obie 2.0 – 2018-09-27T19:50:57.257

This is word cheating. Jihade from ISIS and different armed 'rebels' in syria is shia jihad. Which is backed by terrorism acts and public executions. Do you remember some Iran-backed terrorist acts? I don't. – user2501323 – 2018-09-28T06:31:16.910

@Obie 2.0: Perhaps you'd like to cite a source for that claim? Because I can't offhand remember more than one white supremacist act of terror in this century, while there have been many jihadist acts in the US. And after checking, I was even wrong about that one: it was in the 20th century, and wasn't primarily motivated by white supremacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Rudolph

– jamesqf – 2018-09-29T03:53:56.847

@user2501323: To a non-Muslim, the difference between Shia and Sunni is purely academic, like the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is to a non-Christian (and I suspect to many Christians as well). As for terrorist attacks against US soil, start with the attack on the US embassy and the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Google will provide a longer list. – jamesqf – 2018-09-29T04:06:09.053

Do you think terrorism is merely bombs? And do you just rely on your memory, as opposed to data? I like data. Right-wing extremists (not all, but many, of whom are white supremacists) were responsible for over 50% of terrorist incidents. If you like anecdotes, Dylan Roof, who killed black civilians for a political purpose (to start a "race war"), in his own words) is a prominent example of a white supremacist terrorist.

– Obie 2.0 – 2018-09-29T04:59:49.237

That said l should have been a little more careful in my wording. Right-wing, non-Islamist terrorism is more common than Islamist terrorism in the US. White supremacist terrorism may or may not be. – Obie 2.0 – 2018-09-29T05:01:37.403

Left-wing terrorism of course exists too, though it less common: the shooting attack a few years back on Republican congresspeople, for instance, qualifies more as terrorism than attempted assassination. Again, an attack with guns rather than bombs. – Obie 2.0 – 2018-09-29T05:03:51.773

@user250 - Perhaps you've also forgotten some things? Iran financially supports Hezbollah and Hamas, among others, which frequently employ terrorist tactics. Whether they're "terrorist groups" is a bit of a thorny question (Hamas has an incompetent government wing too, for instance), but they've certainly engaged in terrorist attacks, such as intentionally launching mortars and rockets at civilian targets (yes, this is also a terrorist tactic when countries do it, such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki). – Obie 2.0 – 2018-09-29T05:10:13.870

@Obie 2.0: Of course "terrorism" isn't merely bombs. It can be guns, e.g. Charlie Hebdo, the Paris nightclub attacks, or number of jihadist attacks in the US like the one in San Bernardino a few years back. Or it can be vehicles: airplanes as in 9/11, or cars & trucks - Nice in July '16, NYC in October '17: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_New_York_City_truck_attack

– jamesqf – 2018-09-30T04:32:51.493

@Obie 2.0: WRT Dylan Roof and similar, there's the question of whether the actions are actually terrorism per se - that is, somewhat coordinated acts carried out in pursuit of a more-or-less coherent political goal, or just random nutcases. There are, after all, numerous mass killings with no really sane motive. In Roof's particular case, how could an even halfway sane person think that shooting up a church would trigger a race war? So AFAIK that one seems more like just plain insanity. – jamesqf – 2018-09-30T04:39:51.160

1Terrorism = jihad??? Too bad I could only down vote your answer once. – David Blomstrom – 2018-09-30T23:24:07.527