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Analysis: Iran, Hizballah Brush Off U.S. Terrorism Label

  • Bill Samii

(RFE/RL) Tehran has responded to an annual U.S. State Department report identifying Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" by suggesting that the United States is not qualified to pass such a judgment. Iranian allies in the Lebanese Hizballah singled out in the April 28 report responded similarly, accusing the Bush administration of supporting "Israeli terrorism" and carrying out its own terrorist activities. But the participation of numerous terrorist groups in a mid-April conference in Tehran -- as well as Iranian officials' open encouragement of suicide bombings -- undermines that country's defense of its policies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi countered the State Department report by accusing the United States of hypocrisy. He was quoted by IRNA on April 29 as saying the U.S. administration singles out countries whose policies it opposes and who stand up to what he described as the "Zionist regime." Assefi described the United States as Israel's "main supporter," and he said U.S. policies contribute to the intensification of terrorism. He added that the United States is therefore in no position to point the finger at others.

The State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" also describe the Lebanese Hizballah -- which it has labeled a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" -- as being "closely allied with Iran and often act[ing] at its behest."

Hizballah's reaction was described on the Lebanese organization's Al-Manar television on April 29. Hizballah charged that Washington supports what it called "Israeli terrorism." The group said that actions by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration warrant a spot at the top of a list of global terrorists. Hizballah declared that it is unmoved by its appearance in the U.S. report, adding that it considers it "a big medal on [the] mujahedins' chests."

The State Department report asserts that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were "directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts." It claims they also encourage the leadership of Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria to "use terrorism in pursuit of their goals."

The State Department alleges that "Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally, and financially." The report notes that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have "praised Palestinian terrorist operations."

The State Department accuses Iran of having provided "extensive funding, training, and weapons" to groups that include the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Iranian officials and members of those groups have rejected the U.S. accusations.

Representatives of those organizations attended an April 14-16 conference in Iran called Support for the Palestinian Intifada.

The State Department report does not mention that recent conference, as it covers the year 2005. But Supreme Leader Khamenei made statements in connection with the event that arguably encourage terrorist operations. He told the conference on April 14 that "the values of jihad and martyrdom are revived," IRNA reported. Khamenei added that "the noble blood of martyrdom-seeking youths and the presence of dauntless warriors within the struggle invalidate all calculations of worldly materialists and hedonists." Khamenei hailed "a new arena where blood triumphs over sword."

Khamenei's emphasis on martyrdom is not unusual. It is a prominent theme in Shi'a Islam, the Iranian state religion. It is also cited when Iranians discuss those who gave their lives in the Iran-Iraq War or otherwise serving the country. Yet in the context of a conference on the Intifada and to such an audience, Khamenei appeared to be encouraging suicide bombings (also known as martyrdom-seeking operations).

Indeed, Iranian officials appear to have encouraged their own citizens to participate in such attacks. The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement -- which is connected with the IRGC -- began enrolling volunteer suicide bombers in 2004. Headquarters spokesman Mohammad Ali Samadi said in an interview that appeared in the April 20 issue of "Il Giornale" that 55,000 Iranians have volunteered for suicide-bombing missions in Palestine or Iraq. He said that 1,000 of those volunteers have completed their training. The spokesman added that the Iranian martyrdom volunteers are active. But he noted that "unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad," the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement "are not committed to a declared conflict."

The State Department's terrorism report also describes Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria as "state sponsors." The report alleges that those countries facilitate terrorists' acquisition of funds, weapons, and materials, and they also provide terrorist groups with safe havens.
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