Iran increased its support of international terrorist-related activities last year, as the capabilities of al-Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan declined, the U.S. State Department said.
In its annual report on terrorism issued yesterday, the State Department reported a “marked resurgence” in terrorist-related activities last year by Iran, which also is supplying weapons and other “extensive” aid to the Syrian regime for its war against rebel groups.
The State Department cited activities by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
“Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and Hezbollah’s terrorist activity have reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa,” according to the State Department.
The Bulgarian government implicated Hezbollah in the July 2012 Burgas bombing that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen, the State Department report said. The Quds Force is suspected of directing planned terrorist attacks in Georgia, India, Thailand, and Kenya in 2012, as well as a 2011 plot against the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., according to the report.
An Iranian-American used-car salesman, Manssor Arbabsiar, was sentenced yesterday in New York City to 25 years in prison for plotting in 2011 with a member of Iran’s Quds Force to kill the Saudi ambassador with a bomb at a Washington restaurant. The Iranian government has denied any ties to the plot, which wasn’t carried out after an informant tipped off federal authorities.
The State Department said that the deaths or arrests of dozens of mid- and senior-level al-Qaeda operatives –- including Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011 -– have disrupted communications, financial activities, facilitation nodes, and a “number of terrorist plots.”
As al-Qaeda’s remaining leaders “focus increasingly on their own survival,” the group’s offshoots in Yemen, Iraq, North Africa and Somalia are acting with greater independence and setting their own goals, according to the report.
While the al-Qaeda affiliates “still seek to attack the ‘far enemy,’ they seem more inclined to focus on smaller scale attacks closer to their home base,” according to the report.
Still, the State Department cautioned that al-Qaeda’s core leadership retains “the ability to inspire, plot, and launch regional and transnational attacks from its safe haven in western Pakistan.”
The State Department said al-Qaeda’s two most dangerous affiliates lost ground in 2012: The government of Yemen regained areas that had been under the control of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Somali national forces and the African Union mission in Somalia expelled al-Shabaab from major cities in southern Somalia.
Tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa “have complicated the counterterrorism picture,” according to the State Department. “The dispersal of weapons stocks in the wake of the revolution in Libya, the Tuareg rebellion, and the coup d’état in Mali presented terrorists with new opportunities.”
In Libya, the security vacuum in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi has provided a space for terrorists to operate. “This vacuum, combined with the weakness of Libya’s nascent security institutions, allowed violent extremists to act, as we saw too clearly on September 11 in Benghazi, when J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three staff members, died during attacks on U.S. facilities,” according to the report.