Report says Iran still most active supporter of terrorism

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

AP Diplomatic WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Iran remains the world's most active sponsor of terrorism, while Sudan and Libya took some steps -- but not enough -- to "get out of the business," the State Department said Tuesday in an annual report to Congress.

The report listed the same seven countries -- Iran, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and Syria -- as state sponsors of terrorism last year.

Iran has intensified its backing for violent Palestinian groups that attacked Israel, but Iran also apparently has reduced its other terror activity, the State Department told Congress.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said terrorists are trying every way they can to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction -- "whether radiological, chemical, biological or nuclear."

Briefing reporters, Powell said the anti-terrorism campaign must be waged on many fronts.

He said the report marks the significant progress that the United States and its partners in the terrorism fight are making in many critical areas.

"Country by country, region by region, coalition members have strengthened law enforcement and intelligence cooperation," he said.

"We have tightened border controls and made it harder for terrorists to travel, to communicate and therefore to plot. One by one, we are severing the financial bloodlines of terrorism organizations."

But in contrast to Powell's positive account, Francis X. Taylor, the department's counter-terrorism coordinator, said "additional terrorist attacks are very, very likely."

Referring to the al-Qaida network, Taylor said "we are very much concerned" about future attacks on the United States. Like other Bush administration officials who have sounded similar alarms, Taylor did not provide any details.

Even after some 1,600 arrests around the world, al-Qaida is trying to regroup after losing its strongholds in Afghanistan, Taylor said at a news conference.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami condemned the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but at the same time supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continued to refer to Israel as a "cancerous tumor" that must be removed.

In this mixed picture, the State Department said there was no evidence that Iran sponsored or knew in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks, a point U.S. law enforcement officials have made privately. And yet, matching Khamenei's rhetoric with action, Iran continued to supply Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian groups with funds, haven, training and weapons.

Hard-liners who hold the reins of power thwarted efforts to end the country's support, the report said.

In certain areas, including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, state sponsors remained a driving force behind terrorism. Iran, Iraq and Syria were all cited for backing terror groups.

Israel's cooperation with the Palestinian Authority broke down with a renewed Palestinian uprising, and counterterrorism by the Authority "remained sporadic throughout the year," the report said.

Israel was accused of destroying the Palestinians' security apparatus, an assertion Israel has rejected in the past, thereby contributing to its ineffectiveness,

Iraq provided training and political encouragement to many terror groups, but its main focus was on dissident Iraqis opposed to President Saddam Hussein.

The report noted that Syria and Lebanon cooperated with the United States in the fight against al-Qaida, but refused to recognize other groups that conduct terrorism against Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as terrorists.

Some of the seven listed countries, particularly Sudan and Libya, took steps to get out of the terrorism business, but "none has yet taken all necessary actions to divest itself of ties to terrorism," the report said.

And positive moves in North Korea were halted abruptly, the report said.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, meanwhile, views terror as a legitimate revolutionary tactic but he signed all 12 U.N. counter-terror convention.

Little evidence was offered to justify bracketing Cuba with the six other countries whose support for terror was recounted. At least 20 Basque militants and several other terror suspects are given haven in Cuba, the report said.

On Monday, President Bush denounced the Castro government and said U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba would be extended.

Overall, terrorist attacks claimed a record number of lives -- 3,547 -- in 2001, about 90 percent of them in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, the State Department said.

And yet, the number of international terror attacks declined to 346, down from 426 in 2000. A little more than half of the attacks, 178, were bombings against an international oil pipeline in Colombia.

The report called the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an airline that crashed in Pennsylvania, "the worst international terrorist attack ever" -- with the four coordinated suicide attacks by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network killing more than 3,000 people from more than 78 countries.

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