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U.S. Says Iran 'Most Active' Terrorism Sponsor

An elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was criticized in the report

An elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was criticized in the report

In a new report, the U.S. State Department says Iran remains the "most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world, threatening peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

It also notes that the Al-Qaeda network, using tribal areas of Pakistan, poses the biggest terrorist threat to the West.

According to the annual report, released on April 30, while the number of terrorist attacks around the world has dropped, such attacks have increased in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

'Planning And Financing'

The report says Iran's role in the planning and financing of terror-related activities in the Palestinian territories and in countries like Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan threatens efforts to promote peace, economic stability, and democracy.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Ronald Schlicher, the State Department's acting coordinator for counterterrorism, said Tehran supports terrorist activities and groups abroad through the Quds force, an elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

"[The Quds force is] deeply involved in the really objectionable and terrorist activities in those places where Iran chooses to be active. The great area of concern of course is the Middle East itself -- Lebanon, very much so; Iraq over the last several years and continuing until now, very much so," Schlicher said.

"We are still troubled by indications that the Iranians may be seeking to extend their influence into other parts of the world."

Iran was already described last year as the most active state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran's ally Syria, as well as Sudan, and Cuba were also named as state sponsors of terrorism in the new report.

In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Washington had no right to lecture others and said his government rejected terrorism.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who was in Havana for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement nations, agreed, accusing Washington of double standards.

"The United States, for all that it has done in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo jails, doesn't have the authority nor the capacity to give opinions nor accusations about other countries," Mottaki said.

Al-Qaeda Threat

In its report, the State Department also cites the threat of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan where terrorist attacks are sharply on the rise.

"Since September 11 [2001], Al-Qaeda and its allies have moved across the [Afghan] border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier," Schlicher said.

"And they're using, of course, that mountainous terrain as a safe haven where they can hide, where they can train, where they can communicate with their followers, where they can plot attacks and where they can make plans to send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The report says the number of terrorist attacks around the world has dropped, including in Iraq, such attacks have more than doubled in Pakistan, from 890 in 2007 to 1,839 in 2008. It said 2,293 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan last year.

In Afghanistan, the report says terror attacks have increased from 1,125 in 2007 to 1,220 in 2008.

However Schlicher said the role of Al-Qaeda’s leaders has diminished.

"Osama bin Laden and [his deputy Ayman al-] Zawahiri appear to be in a position now to be responding to events, rather than driving events. It seems to us that that's especially the case in the latter half of 2008," Schlicher said.

Meanwhile U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Congress to quickly approve a $83.4-billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as military aid for Pakistan.

The funds include $76 billion for costs related to the Afghan and Iraq wars, and about $400 million to assist Pakistan in its counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban.

It also includes $7.1 billion for the State Department for international affairs and stabilization assistance, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gates, speaking at a Senate committee hearing on April 30, urged lawmakers to pass the spending bill no later than May 25, so that the government does not run out of funds for assistance in Pakistan and for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.