Iran, which continues to plan and finance terrorist attacks in the Middle East and beyond, remains the "most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world, the U.S. government charged Thursday while al-Qaeda poses the greatest terrorist threat to the West.
Iran was lumped with Syria, Sudan and Cuba as terrorism sponsors in the State Department report for 2008, the same countries that appeared in previous annual reports.
North Korea was dropped from the blacklist in Oct. 2008 after it struck a verbal deal with the United States aimed at verifying its nuclear disarmament, even though a formal agreement was never sealed.
The latest report said "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism," while also calling it the "most significant” sponsor.
"Iran's involvement in the planning and financial support of terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy," it said.
It singled out the Quds Force, an elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as the Islamic republic's main means to cultivate and support terrorists overseas.
The Quds Force gave "weapons, training and funding" to Hamas and other Palestinian anti-Israeli groups, Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah as well as Iraq-based militants and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the report said.
It also said the Quds Force trained the Taliban "on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons."
Iran broke its own pledges to help stabilize Iraq by giving "weapons, training, funding, and guidance" to Iraqi militant groups that attack U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces as well as Iraqi civilians, the U.S. said.
Syria and Sudan
The report also took to task Syria, an Iranian ally which it said also supported Hezbollah as well as Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Some of the leaders of those groups are based in Damascus.
"Throughout the year, Syria continued to strengthen ties with fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran," the report said.
It said "Syria has not been directly implicated in an act of terrorism since 1986," but it pointed out that the United Nations was still investigating a suspected Syrian role in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
The State Department sounded more upbeat on Sudan.
Sudan generally believed it was in its interest to cooperate with U.S. efforts to thwart attacks against the United States, but yet allowed groups like Hamas to operate on its territory, the report said.
It also said that "al-Qaeda-inspired elements" were also in Sudan.
Qeada the greatest threat
Al-Qaeda, using tribal areas of Pakistan, poses the greatest terrorist threat to the West, while Iran is the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism," according to the report
The State Department said al-Qaeda was recovering some of the potency it had before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States
"al-Qaeda remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners," even though its structures have weakened and public support has waned, the report said.
And it warned that al-Qaeda "has reconstituted some of its pre-Sept. 11 operational capabilities" by using the lawless Pakistan border areas, replacing key leaders, and restoring some "central control" by its top leadership.
The report said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaeda (AQ) and its allies have moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan where they have built "a safe haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan."
It said Pakistan's border region, which lies outside the control of President Asif Ali Zardari's government, now "provided AQ many of the benefits it once derived from its base across the border in Afghanistan."
Counterterrorism experts released figures showing attacks in Pakistan had more than doubled from 890 in 2007 to 1,839 last year, with the number killed rising from 1,340 people to 2,293 in the same period.