In April 2004, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism, covering the year 2003. The annual report is simultaneously a political and an analytical document. Its basic purpose is to justify the categorical designation of certain states as sponsors of terrorism.
This underlying purpose affects the organization of the report. A strictly analytical approach would break down and analyze terrorism by ideological motive and operational method. Patterns of Global Terrorism instead divides terrorism by world regions and states, and the states themselves are separated into two categories: state sponsors of terrorism, and all the rest.
Entries for Middle Eastern states appear under two different rubrics: the "Middle East Overview," which includes most Middle Eastern states, all of which presumably counter terrorism to an extent that meets U.S. criteria; and the "Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism," which includes Iran and Syria, as well as Iraq, Libya, and Sudan, three states that remain on the list by virtue of bureaucratic inertia. The Palestinian Authority, which is not a state, receives no separate entry at all, and is only mentioned in passing under "Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza."
This breakdown tends to blur the outline of the region's only axis of state support for terrorism. That axis includes two listed states, Iran and Syria, but it also includes one unlisted state, Lebanon, and a non-state, the Palestinian Authority (PA). The following excerpts from the report bring together the discussions of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and the PA. While the annual report makes it clear that all the region's governments are arrayed against the threat posed by al-Qaeda, and oppose terrorism in principle, these three states and the PA have openly tolerated or supported U.S.-designated terrorist organizations and have often cooperated for that purpose.
The full report is available at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2003/.
Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security were involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.
Iran's record against al-Qaida remains mixed. After the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, some al-Qaida members fled to Iran where they have found virtual safehaven. Iranian officials have acknowledged that Tehran detained al-Qaida operatives during 2003, including senior members. Iran's publicized presentation of a list to the United Nations of deportees, however, was accompanied by a refusal to publicly identify senior members in Iranian custody on the grounds of "security." Iran has resisted calls to transfer custody of its al-Qaida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for further interrogation and trial.
During 2003, Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli activity, both rhetorically and operationally. Supreme Leader Khamenei praised Palestinian resistance operations, and President Khatami reiterated Iran's support for the "wronged people of Palestine" and their struggles. Matching this rhetoric with action, Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups—notably HAMAS, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC)—with funding, safe haven, training, and weapons. Iran hosted a conference in August 2003 on the Palestinian intifadah, at which an Iranian official suggested that the continued success of the Palestinian resistance depended on suicide operations.
Iran pursued a variety of policies in Iraq aimed at securing Tehran's perceived interests there, some of which ran counter to those of the Coalition. Iran has indicated support for the Iraqi Governing Council and promised to help Iraqi reconstruction.
Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, individuals with ties to the Revolutionary Guard may have attempted to infiltrate southern Iraq, and elements of the Iranian Government have helped members of Ansar al-Islam transit and find safe haven in Iran. In a Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran in May, Guardian Council member Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati publicly encouraged Iraqis to follow the Palestinian model and participate in suicide operations against Coalition forces.
The Syrian Government in 2003 continued to provide political and material support to Palestinian rejectionist groups. HAMAS, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operate from Syria, although they have lowered their public profiles since May, when Damascus announced that the groups had voluntarily closed their offices. Many of these groups claimed responsibility for anti-Israeli terrorist acts in 2003; the Syrian Government insists that their Damascus offices undertake only political and informational activities. Syria also continued to permit Iran to use Damascus as a transshipment point for resupplying Hizballah in Lebanon.
Syrian officials have publicly condemned international terrorism but continue to make a distinction between terrorism and what they consider to be the legitimate armed resistance of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and of Lebanese Hizballah. The Syrian Government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986.
During the past five years, there have been no acts of terrorism against US citizens in Syria. Despite tensions between the United States and Syria about the war in Iraq and Syrian support for terrorism, Damascus has repeatedly assured the United States that it will take every possible measure to protect US citizens and facilities. Damascus has cooperated with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and individuals; it also has discouraged signs of public support for al-Qaida, including in the media and at mosques.
In 2003, Syria was instrumental in returning a sought-after terrorist planner to US custody. Since the end of the war in Iraq, Syria has made efforts to tighten its borders with Iraq to limit the movement of anti-Coalition foreign fighters into Iraq, a move that has not been completely successful.
Despite a decrease from the previous year in anti-US terror attacks in Lebanon and the introduction of counterterrorism legislation, Lebanon remains host to numerous US-designated terrorist groups. At the same time, a number of legislative, legal, and operational initiatives showed some promise in Lebanon's counterterrorism efforts. However, Beirut continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to take steps against Lebanese Hizballah, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, the Abu Nidal organization (ANO), and HAMAS.
The Lebanese Government recognizes as legitimate resistance groups those organizations that target Israel and permits them to maintain offices in Beirut. Beirut goes further by exempting what it terms "legal resistance" groups—including Hizballah—from money-laundering and terrorism-financing laws. Lebanese leaders, including President Emile Lahud, reject assessments of Hizballah's global reach, instead concentrating on the group's political wing and asserting that it is an integral part of Lebanese society and politics. In addition, Syrian and Iranian support for Hizballah activities in southern Lebanon, as well as training and assistance to Palestinian rejectionist groups, help promote an environment where terrorist elements flourish. Hizballah conducted multiple attacks in the Shab'a Farms region during 2003, including firing antitank rockets.
The Lebanese security forces remain unable or unwilling to enter Palestinian refugee camps—the operational nodes of terrorist groups such as 'Asbat al-Ansar and the Palestinian rejectionists—and to deploy forces to much of the Beka'a Valley, southern Beirut, and the south of the country bordering Israel. Furthermore, Syria's predominant role in Lebanon facilitates the Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist presence in portions of Lebanon.
The Lebanese Government acknowledges the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee's consolidated list but does not acknowledge groups identified by only the US Government: Beirut will not take action against groups designated solely by the United States. In addition, constitutional provisions prohibit the extradition of Lebanese nationals to a third country. Lebanese authorities further maintain that the Government's provision of amnesty to Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the civil war prevents Beirut from prosecuting many cases of concern to the United States—including the hijacking in 1985 of TWA 847 and the murder of a US Navy diver on the flight—and the abduction, torture, and murder of US hostages from 1984 to 1991. US courts have brought indictments against Hizballah operatives responsible for a number of those crimes, and some of these defendants remain prominent terrorist figures.
The Lebanese Government has insisted that "Imad Mugniyah"—wanted in connection with the TWA hijacking and other terrorist acts, who was placed on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists in 2001—is no longer in Lebanon. The Government's legal system also has failed to hold a hearing on the prosecutor's appeal in the case of Tawfiz Muhammad Farroukh, who—despite the evidence against him—was found not guilty of murder for his role in the killings of US Ambassador Francis Meloy and two others in 1976.
In October, the Lebanese National Assembly passed two bills strengthening existing legislation against money laundering and terrorist financing. Law 547—while differentiating between terrorism and what Lebanon calls the "legal resistance" of Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionists—expands existing legislation on money laundering, making illicit any funds resulting from terrorism. Law 553 stipulates penalties for persons who financially support terrorist acts or organizations. A Special Investigations Commission in 2003 investigated 245 cases involving allegations of money laundering, including 22 related to terrorist financing. No accounts used for financing terrorism—as defined by Beirut—were discovered in Lebanese financial institutions. Signifying the difficulty Lebanon will have in enforcing the new legislation, the Central Bank in September asked Lebanese financial institutions to identify accounts held by six HAMAS leaders whose assets are the target of a US freeze. The inquiry sparked a public uproar and caused the Central Bank to end the investigation.
Lebanon has taken other counterterrorism measures in 2003, primarily directed against Sunni extremists, including those affiliated with al-Qaida.
Palestinian terrorist groups conducted a large number of attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip in 2003. HAMAS, the PIJ, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—all of which the United States has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations pursuant to Executive Order 13224—were responsible for most of the attacks, which included suicide bombings, shootings, and mortar firings against civilian and military targets. Terrorist attacks in 2003 killed almost 200 people (mostly Israelis, as well as a number of foreigners, including 16 US citizens), a decrease from the more than 350 people killed in 2002.
On 15 October, Palestinian militants attacked a US diplomatic convoy in Gaza with an improvised explosive device, killing three Americans. To date, this was the most lethal attack ever to directly target US interests in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza. The Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), a loose association of Palestinians with ties to various Palestinian militant organizations such as HAMAS, PIJ, and Fatah, claimed responsibility. Although that claim was later rescinded, and official investigations continue, the PRC remains the primary suspect in the attacks. At the end of the year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) had yet to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
HAMAS was particularly active, carrying out more than 150 attacks, including shootings, suicide bombings, and standoff mortar-and-rocket attacks against civilian and military targets. The group was responsible for one of the deadliest attacks of the year—the suicide bombing in June on a Jerusalem bus that killed 17 people and wounded 84. Although HAMAS continues to focus on conducting anti-Israeli attacks, it also claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at a restaurant adjacent to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, demonstrating its willingness to attack targets in areas frequented by foreigners.
The PIJ remained active in 2003, conducting several deadly attacks against Israeli targets, and began using women as suicide bombers. The PIJ claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest suicide bombings of 2003—a suicide bombing in October at a Haifa restaurant that killed 21 people and wounded at least 50. The PIJ also claimed responsibility for the joint attack in January with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade for a double-suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed 23 people and wounded more than 100—the deadliest suicide bombing of the year.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade conducted numerous shooting attacks and suicide bombings in 2003. In August, a suicide bombing claimed by al-Aqsa in Rosh Ha'ayin killed two people and wounded at least 10. Al-Aqsa used at least three female suicide bombers in operations.
The Palestinian Authority's efforts to thwart terrorist operations were minimal in 2003. The PA security services remained fragmented and ineffective. The services were also hobbled by corruption, infighting, and poor leadership. There are indications that some personnel in the security services, including several senior officers, have continued to assist terrorist operations.