The State Department released a report Wednesday (September 19th) identifying Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism with a "near-global reach".
The annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2017 said Iran and the proxy groups it finances were responsible for attacks or attempted attacks in the Middle East, Europe, South America and Africa.
"Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s proxy Hizbullah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region," the report said.
Iran used the IRGC-QF "to provide support to terrorist organisations, provide cover for associated covert operations, and create instability in the Middle East", it said.
It uses regional proxy forces "to shield it from the consequences of its aggressive policies", the report added.
In 2017, Iran supported various Iraqi Shia terrorist groups, including Kataib Hizbullah, it said. It also bolstered the al-Assad regime in Syria, which it views as "a crucial ally", and Syria and Iraq as crucial routes to supply weapons to Lebanon's Hizbullah.
"Through financial or residency enticements, Iran has facilitated and coerced primarily Shia fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in the al-Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria," the report said.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday said the militia will stay in Syria "until further notice".
"We will remain there even after the Idlib accord," Nasrallah said, referring to a Russia-Turkey deal to prevent a Syrian regime offensive on the country's last opposition-held stronghold.
"Our presence there is tied to necessity and to the consent of the Syrian leadership," he said.
ISIS, al-Qaeda 'more dispersed'
The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and al-Qaeda present other major threats to the region and the world, the US State Department report said.
The near-defeat of ISIS has forced a dispersal of the group that has made the global threat of terror attacks much more complex, it said.
ISIS, al-Qaeda and related extremists have decentralised and are adopting new technologies like simple chemical weapons and small drone systems to be able to pose a threat far from their traditional operating zones.
"They have become more dispersed and clandestine, turning to the internet to inspire attacks by distant followers, and, as a result, have made themselves less susceptible to conventional military action," it said.
"Further, the return or relocation of foreign terrorist fighters from the battlefield has contributed to a growing cadre of experienced, sophisticated, and connected terrorist networks, which can plan and execute terrorist attacks."
Decline in terror attacks
State Department Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales said global terror attacks fell 23% and deaths due to terrorism fell 27% in 2017 from 2016.
That decline was almost wholly due to the fall of ISIS in Iraq, where coalition and government forces have captured most of the territory it once controlled.
But members of the group have dispersed away from the Middle East and are surfacing with their own operations and networks elsewhere, including Southeast Asia.
Last year ISIS operatives conducted attacks in England, Spain, Egypt, the US and Philippines, the report noted.
Sales said al-Qaeda, despite living in the ISIS shadow for several years, remains a very potent threat globally, responsible for, among others, a truck bomb attack in October 2017 in Mogadishu, Somalia that killed more than 300 people.
"Al-Qaeda is a determined and patient adversary," he said.
"Although ISIS has gotten the headlines," he added, "we remain focused and determined to confront al-Qaeda wherever we find it."
The report indicated a general increase in global co-operation to fight terrorism, including tracking and blocking financial flows to the groups.
But this remains a challenge, Sales noted.
"You have got to stop the flow of money to these organisations."
"You have got to stop terrorist travel" as well, he added, pointing to the spread of airport detection systems like biometric face identification as a potent tool.