The US State Department released its annual report on global terrorist activity on Thursday, listing Iran as the top state sponsor of terrorism and labeling the Islamic State as “the greatest threat globally” and a “formidable force” in Iraq and Syria.
“Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2015, providing a range of support, including financial, training and equipment, to groups around the world,” the State Department report read.
The report listed Sudan and Syria as the other two state sponsors of terrorism, and included a 2015 tally of 11,774 terrorist attacks in 92 countries worldwide, resulting in more than 28,300 total deaths and more than 35,300 people injured.
In a briefing to reporters Thursday, the Department’s Acting Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Justin Siberell said: “Iran continues to provide support to Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”
The report stated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, led by General Qassem Suleimani was “Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”
Iran uses the unit “to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations and create instability in the Middle East,” the report overview read.
In Iraq and Syria, Iran has dispatched the Quds force, together with Hezbollah, to provide funding, training and advisers for Shiite militants, primarily Iraqi Shiite terror group Kata’ib Hezbollah, of which many members have fought alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, according to the report.
In an effort to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State, which controls swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, Iran has bolstered these groups, many of whom “have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians,” the report read.
Elsewhere in the Mideast, the report said, Iran also continued to support Palestinian terror groups, namely Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad .
While the report described the Islamic State as “the greatest threat globally,” it described a terror group in retreat with significant territorial losses in the second half of 2015.
Recent global attacks claimed by the Islamic State and its affiliates, including the Paris attacks in November which claimed 130 lives and the downing of the Russian plane over Sinai last October, “have been staged in an effort to assert a narrative of victory in the face of steady losses of territory in Iraq and Syria.”
Iran’s designation as the top global sponsor of terrorism is bound to fuel criticism of the nuclear deal signed between Tehran and six leading world powers last July. As part of the agreement, Iran was set to curb its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.
Critics have warned that the influx of funds could be funneled by Iran to further support its terrorist activities worldwide. In an interview earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry said that some of the released funds “will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists.”
But, he added, “right now, we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time.”
The US government is already under scrutiny for the Iran deal following a profile in The New York Times last month of Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, in which he describes how the White House set up an “echo chamber” of organizations, experts and even friendly reporters to advocate for the deal.
Opponents in Washington allege that the White House misled the US public and concealed the extent of its outreach to Tehran.
AP and AFP contributed to this report