US: Iran 'most active' sponsor of terror

State Department report says Iran supporting several Palestinian groups, including group loyal to Fatah.

Iran continues to be the world's "most active" state sponsor of terror, according to a US State Department report on terrorism released Wednesday, which details Iranian support of several Palestinian groups. US officials have been stressing Iran's terror-related activity in recent days in places including Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its developing ties with Venezuela. The congressionally mandated 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism designated Venezuela as "not cooperating fully" with US anti-terrorism efforts in part because of its relationship with Iran. Wednesday's report included findings of an increased role for Iran in boosting a number of Palestinian terror groups, including the Aksa Martyrs Brigade. It points out that the group is "loyal to, but not under the direct control" of, Fatah, the secular-nationalist party run by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which is different from the other groups Iran supports in the West Bank and Gaza, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which espouse Islamic extremist goals. "Iran has exploited al-Aksa's lack of resources and formal leadership by providing funds and other aid, mostly through Hizbullah facilitators," according to the text of the report. Al-Aksa members - who are estimated to number in the hundreds - have some presence in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon, the document states, but they and other Fatah groups are at risk of being eclipsed there by Hamas, which has generally been working to undermine its rival Palestinian party and has been expanding its reach. The report also says that the international boycott of Gaza and perceived efforts to destroy Hamas have increased anti-American sentiment on the Palestinian street, which could lead cells to launch attacks independent of the organization's leadership. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed Iran's growing ties to Hamas directly at an appearance before the American Jewish Committee Tuesday night. "The extremists that we are talking about now also have a different character than even in the '90s and in the beginning of the decade. And that is, this belt of extremism that is Hamas and Hizbullah [supported by] Iran gives this conflict a regional dimension that it has not had before," she said. "I didn't, three, four years ago, talk very much about Iranian influence in Gaza. Now we do." Rice said that circle of extremist threat pushed Arab states to come to the table at Annapolis for the launch of formal Israeli-Palestinian talks, urgency which helped create a diplomatic opening for the two peoples to work out a two-state solution. "The window of opportunity for that vision is not very large," she warned. "Increasingly, Palestinians who talk about a two-state solution are my age. And I'm not that old, but I'm a lot older than most of the Palestinian population. And what you don't want is that the hopelessness and the vision of the extremists has no counter." She called on both sides to seize the moment to take the difficult steps toward peace before that window closed. "There's an opportunity now to advance the historic and long-held aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. This will require difficult, painful sacrifices by both sides," she said. "But these are choices that Israel can and should make confidently. Israel can be bold in the pursuit of peace - for America is fully behind her, and fully committed to her security." Rice also spoke of Iran's support for terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the 2007 terrorism report highlighted. In discussing the findings with reporters Wednesday, State Department counter-terrorism coordinator Dell Dailey described the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' provision of funding, training and weaponry to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. "In this way, Iranian government forces have been responsible for attacks on coalition forces," he said, referring to Iran's desire to see US forces bogged down in Afghanistan as "prudent meddling." Overall, though, Dailey said, "al-Qaida and its affiliated groups remain the greatest threat to the US" in terms of terrorism. In 2007, terror attacks worldwide decreased slightly, from 14,570 to 14,499, according to the US definition of politically motivated attacks against non-combatants by sub-national groups or clandestine agents. Fatalities increased significantly, however, from 20,872 to 22,685. The State Department attributed that largely to the increase of both suicide bombings as a tactic and the use of mechanisms of delivery - such as backpacks as opposed to vehicles - that are harder to defend against. "Suicide bombing is the tool of choice that's becoming more and more prevalent in the terrorism business," Dailey said. "It can be a pretty effective, a pretty accurate tool." The most terror attacks by far in 2007 occurred in the Mideast, followed by South Asia, with Muslims - at more than 50 percent of all victims - hit disproportionately hard.