The US accused the Iranian government of sheltering members of Al Qaeda.
In its annual terrorism report issued on Wednesday, the US State Department said Iran remained unwilling to convict Al Qaeda members living in the country and refused to publicly identify members in its custody.
Without revealing names of the members allegedly hosted by Iran, the report said the government in Tehran “has allowed [Al Qaeda] facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling [the group] to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria”.
The report labelled Iran as the worst state sponsor of terrorism for its support of “Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza and various terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and throughout the Middle East” and deploying the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force throughout the region.
Speaking from the State Department, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the Trump administration for taking steps in the past year that, he said, his predecessors avoided. He said this included designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organisation and the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.
Moving on to another extremist group, the report said that despite the fall of the physical caliphate, ISIS had grown in Africa and Afghanistan. “ISIS formally recognised a number of new branches and networks in 2019 and ISIS-affiliated groups were active across the continent, including in the Sahel, the Lake Chad region and East Africa,” it said.
US counterterrorism co-ordinator Nathan Sales said the group was a global network. “It has evolved from an entity that purported to control territory to a global network that reaches almost every continent,” he said.
In Afghanistan, the report pointed to continued attacks by ISIS against civilians and especially religious minorities.
The report mentioned challenges that Iraqi security forces faced in fighting ISIS and said terrorist fighters continued to come through from Turkey.
“Turkey is a source and transit country for FTFs [foreign terrorist fighters] seeking to join ISIS and other terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq,” the report said. However, it said that since 2011, Turkey had repatriated more than 7,800 FTFs from more than 100 countries.
In Lebanon, the report references Israeli information on Hezbollah’s “efforts to produce precision-guided missiles [PGMs] within Lebanon”. It said the group “continued its military role in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in collaboration with the Iranian regime”.
The State Department also noted an improved ability for Lebanese armed forces to control the land border. “The LAF improved its ability to control Lebanon’s land border with Syria through the Land Border Security Project funded by the United States, the UK and Canada.”
Some other strides have been made against global terrorism in the past year.
Despite continued attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mr Sales said he was hopeful about the US negotiations with its leaders.
He expected the group to make “a clean break” from terrorist groups, as required by the deal.
Similarly, Sudan came in for praise in the report. “Sudan has taken steps to work with the United States on counter-terrorism,” it said.
“The Sudanese government continued to pursue counter-terrorism operations alongside regional partners, including operations to counter threats to US interests and personnel in Sudan.”
Sudanese dictator Omar Al Bashir was removed from power in 2019 and the country is now taking steps to be removed from the US state sponsors of terrorism list. However, the report gave a warning that “despite the absence of high-profile terrorist attacks, ISIS facilitation networks appear to be active within Sudan”.