After yesterday's ISIS attacks in Tehran, U.S. president Trump said in reference to Iran, "states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote."

Prima facie, the claim that Iran sponsors ISIS (if that's what Trump's ​statement means) sounds implausible. Not only did ISIS chose to attack Iran, but they also consider Shia Islam, Iran's state religion, as heresy. Iran also fights ISIS in Syria.

Is there any evidence or plausible reasoning that supports the claim that Iran 'sponsors' ISIS? Alternatively, is there another reading of Trump's statement that makes more sense?

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    ISIS is not the only jihadist group which uses terrorism as a tactic. It wasn't all that long ago that the Iranian state was using such tactics itself.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 5:59
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    @jamesqf I'd appreciate it if you could expand this comment and turn it into an answer (eg. which other terrorist groups does Iran support, when did it use terrorism itself as a political tactic). Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 6:20
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    Do you have a specific group's definition of terrorist/terrorist organisation in mind? Otherwise this is likely to be trivially true, since many states support (to some extent) organisations that somebody somewhere has called terrorist.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 8:27
  • @origimbo I don't, but in the context of the quote, I would be most interested in the type of terrorism that ISIS stands for: Transnational, religiously "justified" use of indiscriminate violence mostly directed against civilians in order to instill fear and/or a disproportionate counter-reaction and thereby achieve political goals. Your query also hints at a relevant observation: that Mr Trump might have used the term as a vague denunciation rather than narrowly. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 8:50
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    Does a broad, vague, red-meat "karma will get you, you terrorist-sponsor" statement imply they specifically sponsor ISIS? I'm not seeing that claim in the quotes specified in OP. Iran is known to sponsor Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups, as well as militias in Iraq and some other countries, so would his reference necessarily make a link to ISIS? Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 14:21

6 Answers 6


"Terrorist" as already suggested is thrown around a lot nowadays. One party may consider a group to be terrorist while some other party might view them as revolutionaries or Freedom fighters.

However, one undeniable fact, despite the ambiguity in the definition of terrorism , is that if you support factions who deliberately attack civilians, you support terrorism.

Iran, since the Islamic revolution, has followed the policy of ideological export. The main emphasis is on exporting the revolution to other states of the region and destabilize their existing regimes. Almost always it follows Proxy-Insurgency style covert warfare rather than outright conventional war.

Support and Creation of Proxies abroad

For Iranian backed proxies nowadays, we see:

  1. Anti-Government Elements in Bahrain who mostly happen to follow Shia Islam,Iran's official sect.
  2. Houthi rebels in Yemen.
  3. Shia Militias in Iraq

The Houthis and Dissidents of Bahrain are considered terrorists by their respective regimes. The Shia outfits were considered the same by Saddam regime of Iraq until US toppled Saddam and installed Shia government in Iraq. Now the Iraqi militias are right hand of Iraqi government in fight against ISIS but have been accused of similar terrorist acts by their Sunni countrymen and foreign powers.

Direct Support for Terrorist organizations

For directly supported foreign organizations who are considered terrorists by one or more countries in the world, we see:

  1. Hezbollah
  2. Hamas
  3. Palestinian Islamic Jihad

These organizations are classified as terrorist factions by several countries in the world. It must be noted however that many people (Especially from perspective of Iranian hardliners who whole-heartedly support their government's support of such organizations) in the region consider them to be freedom fighters and consider their attacks on civilians, a reaction to Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians (Which may not be deliberate but are portrayed as deliberate by people who have a vested interest in that kind of portrayal. That doesn't mean that all such attacks are collateral damage). It must however also be noted that these organizations have deliberately struck several times civilians of nations they consider their enemies.

Direct Actions

Finally we hit the last spectrum, which is direct state-level covert operations/black-ops/terrorist-operations, choose your word.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard is responsible for operations abroad and many of them have caused them to be labelled a terrorist organization by US. For example:

  1. IRG was accused of carrying out an attack on Israeli ambassadors in India by Indian Police.
  2. Two IRG officials were arrested in Kenya, plotting an attack on Western and Israeli targets.
  3. US considers Iran to be responsible for 1998 US Embassy Bombings, USS Cole Bombing, Ties between Iran and Al-qaeda, supporting Afghan Taliban
  4. Germany considers Iranian intelligence to be directly involved in Mykonos Hotel murders.
  5. Argentinian Authorities believe Iranian government carried out 1994 Jewish center bombing in the country through their proxy Hezbollah.(Shout out to Colin Zwanziger for pointing it out).

Curious Case of ISIS

ISIS isn't the only terrorist organization in the world. The sole reason that Iran is fighting against them is because they consider Shias to be heretic and fit to be killed as they have shown. Iran is also protecting the so-called Shia chain (Iran~Iraq~Syria~Lebanon) by fighting against ISIS.

ISIS isn't some magical monster, fighting against whom instantly absolves you of all your other crimes. It doesn't absolve the Kurdish militias of their attacks on civilians, it doesn't absolve the Shia militias of their attacks on civilians, it doesn't absolve the Russians or the West of their attacks on civilians.

ISIS is a monster, no doubts about that but it is merely one of the many monsters on world stage. If ISIS was only anti-West, anti-Israel, make no mistake, Iran would have been on their side. (Similarly if ISIS was just anti-Assad and anti-Shia, US would have been on their side and would have called them moderate rebels.)

And since US is supporting FSA and other factions, It's easy to say that for Iranians, US is also terrorist. Same goes for every country in the world. The organization that fits your agenda is not a terrorist while the organization that is against you is a terrorist.

In conclusion, No Iran doesn't sponsor or support ISIS. Iran has actually been leading the real fight against ISIS from the beginning. Nevertheless, Yes, Iran supports terrorism. But so does every other major country in the world in one way or another.

Mr. Trump's statement just highlights the dilemma he was in given the attack on Iranian parliament. He was expected to convey sympathy to the Iranian people but at the same time, he had to point out Iranian backing of other terrorist organizations to please the anti-Iran lobby at home and allies in mid-East. He deftly managed that with his statement, with enormous help from Washington's PR and diplomatic corps no doubt. He showed sympathy but also bashed Iran which he recently called responsible for exporting sectarianism and violence in Mid-East during his last visit to KSA.

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    Do you have reliable sources for Israel deliberately attacking civilians? If not, I don't think it's relevant how some people might try to justify their terrorism, it's enough to state that these organizations are considered terrorist by some countries and that they deliberately target civilians.
    – tim
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 11:25
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    It's an improvement, but honestly, if you have to go back to 1948 to find a case of Israeli soldiers attacking civilians (soldiers which were tried and convicted by Israel for their crimes), I don't think there is much of a case here; I also think that there is a sort of double standard (it's difficult to imagine a similar answer about al-Qaeda including possible crimes by US soldiers as justification for 9/11).
    – tim
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:22
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    A praise worthy answer. Only like to add that looking at it coldly, Terrorism is tactic with a history as long as warfare itself. You are right that every country has engaged in it. It won't end until one side destroys the other. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 15:12
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    @tim, I didn't think it was any news that IDF targets civilians (war crime, btw). Look here(03.2015), here (07.2014), here.. and I filtered out tons of not-as-respected sources (plus some stuff by Haaretz behind paywall).
    – Stefano
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 9:18
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    @tim: Israeli officials have repeatedly and openly discussed the targeting of civilians, both in mass media and in court.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 14:26

The UN is mostly under the pressure of the US. So if the US and its allies want to label someone a terrorist, they can easily do that, since they get to classify what qualifies as a terrorist group. But obviously Hezbollah is not a terrorist group; most of the people in Lebanon respect them and they are even represented in the government (Parliament) of Lebanon. Hamas and other Palestinian groups just want their rights and their homeland which they view as stolen by Israel.

All of the attacks that Iran (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) was said to be responsible for has never been proven.

If we ignore that Israeli and US military attacks kill people (like the Qana airstrike, or the killing of 500000 kids in Iraq by the US) and just repeat "Iran supports terrorist groups," we can reach to reality.

Who created Al-Qaeda? Iran or the US?

Who is supporting Al-Nusra Front? Iran or Israel?

The US disagrees with the Iranian Revolution, so it wants to put pressure on Iran, and hence why the US and their allies claim Iran supports terrorism.

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    Hi Tom, thanks for your contribution. Your answer explains why the US would want to emphasize that Iran sponsors terrorists, but so far I don't know if you also explain whether or not Iran in fact does sponsors terrorists. My question was about the latter. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 10:01
  • I edited your post to correct the English, but a couple notes. (1.) I don't know what you mean by "reach to reality," so I didn't change it, so that part is still unclear. (2.) You likely need sources for your claims (e.g. the US "killed 500000 kids in Iraq", "it's never been proven Iran was responsible for any terrorist attacks"). (3.) You're probably getting downvoted for your opinionated stance, e.g. factually stating that Hezbollah is not a terrorist group, without pointing out why some countries view them as so and some countries do not.
    – C. Helling
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 15:15
  • You were downvoted because the truth hurts
    – ainasiart
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 16:11

It isn't a yes or no question, it is by degrees of relativity. Terrorism is best defined as guerilla attacks on civilians, and bombing of civilian targets.

Lybia was commonly accused of involvement in the Lockerby plane bombing, but Iran has not been found guilty of anything near that severity. Israel does lead retributions against wrathful and ordinary civilians, and Iran sponsors local insurgency.

It doesn't make much sense to victimize Iran for terrorist operations, especially when alliance with Saudi-Arabia and Pakistan has caused the US's loss in Afghanistan and a strong funding and power base for ISIS.

The US has historically supported local insurgencies and been responsible for bombing of civilians, so drone bombings are also often called terrorism by other countries than the US, because they are very prone to killing civilians.

  • Hi there, thanks for weighing in. Your post goes some way in contextualizing the claim that Irans sponsors terrorism, but does it also answer the question whether or not Iran does sponsor terrorism? Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 16:30
  • I figure that I don't find that Iran sponsors terrorism as much as saudi arabia does, as illustrated by the wahhabi nature of ISIS, and saudi arabia are our allies, the same goes for pakistan and the taliban. Therefore our allies to whom we pay military aid, are far greater sponsors of terrorism than Iran. there is no clear answer to your question. relatively speaking, in US CIA terms, i would say it doesn't. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 19:40

Over the years Terrorism was used as political tool. Trump said iran as terrorist when he was in saudi arabia to get money from them and offer protection. you can ask your self who is the benefit from IIS, primaley the factories who makes weapon, arab countries such as iraq , syria, Yamen part of egypt , lybia and others are 'infected by IIS' and have chaoes in the countires.

  • Please try to answer the question which was asked: "Does Iran sponsor terrorists?" What a president from a different country said in some other country isn't really relevant for answering this question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 20:45

The official answer is: depends on what you call terrorism.

Iran does sponsor the Shia based groups Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon). Those two have carried out attacks on civilians in Israel, plus the Christians in Lebanon, and both continue to lob rockets and mortar shells into civilian areas in Israel to this day.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah have been labeled terrorist organizations by most terrorist watching organizations, including the UN.

If one believes that the Jews don't belong in Israel, and any means to drive them out is acceptable, then Iran does not support terrorism.

If one believes that intentional targeting of civilians for killing, regardless of the stated manifesto, is terrorism, then Iran is supporting terrorism.

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    Hamas is not a Shia group tho. Hamas is sunni and Iranian support for the group is often presented as proof by Iranian regime that they aren't in a sectarian war unlike KSA, their regional rivals.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 9:26

I'm from Iran!

Is Iran a terrorist?

Quick Answer: No it's not! Iran just is supporting some countries/groups (mentioned in the accepted answer) which the USA doesn't like them.

As the accepted answer mentioned we support:

  • Hezbollah
  • Hamas
  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad

But we believe they're not terrorists. The common thing about these 3 groups is that they all are against Zionists. Zionists invaded Palestine because they want to make a new [larger] country for themselves. We don't accept that. They have been bombing neighbor countries for many years. Unfortunately, they can't stand any powerful country in the region, they have many Jewish and powerful friends in the white house, we believe the USA attacked Iraq and other Asian countries because of Israel.

So now that we know these facts, we know Israel and the USA don't like Iran, it's not surprising to hear the USA calls Iran as the terrorist nation.

Does Iran sponsor terrorists?

At first, we need to answer a question; who is the terrorist? The answer is the one who stands against zionists! Who isn't a terrorist? The one who helps the USA and zionists! Do you know Mojahedin Khalgh? They were known as a terrorist group by the USA before, but a few months ago they announced they're not! Because they found out Mojahedin Khalgh is the enemy of Iran, and they have attacked this country before!

As I explained above, we are the sponsor of some groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and countries like Yaman, Syria, Iraq.

Our president Ahmadinejad announced many times we want people in Palestine to have a free election. He also said if other countries don't make trouble in Asia all of these countries will be developed and there won't be any terrorists to be sponsored! (ISIS was created because of the USA! If they didn't attack to Iraq I'm sure there wouldn't be any terrorist groups)

To reply to the accepted answer!

Let me tell you something about ISIS. We like Muslims (At least I do or other Muslims in Iran), but we hate ISIS even if ISIS was against Israel and the USA. Why? because we believe they were pretending to be Muslim and they were showing a bad aspect of Islam. Besides, they were destroying our religious structures in Iraq. The name of our fighters was/is The Sanctum Defenders!

History and proofs for the above claims.

How Muhammad was reacting to his enemies:

Prophet Muhammad was releasing almost all of his captives. It's said 6000 captives from Havazen war were helping prophet! and again it's said: Captives from Havazen war told prophet Muhammad to release them, Prophet said after pray repeat your request, I'll convince my people to release all of your captives.

Quran says:

Prophet say to whoever is in your hands of the captives "If Allah knows [any] good in your hearts He (and we) will give you [something] better than what was taken from you and He will forgive you, and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful"

So, as you have seen; ISIS never did such these things! They just were cutting heads off and killing people! That's not how we act with our enemies. We will never defend those monsters.

Quran says:

And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, "Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?"

Based on these quotes we defend oppressed people. Other countries like the USA may say they are terrorists; as you know Israel is hurting people in Palestine, they're bombing them!

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    Hint: It's a political forum, not theological. Would you appreciate an explanation that the US would be nice international politics, as they mostly believe in Jesus and his teachings, which as described in the Bible look highly noble? Would you consider as a good answer whether US drone violated Iranian or kept within international waters a bunch of Bible verses? ;)
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 11:38
  • @Shadow1024 Iran is the Islamic Republic of Iran, so answers based on the religion of Islam is not necessarily unrelated to this political question. It may be helpful if this post can be related to Iranian politicians. Perhaps some of them cited these passages as well in relation to the matter in the question? If so, please edit it to include that.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:31
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    Please edit it in a way that it answers the question. Adding these rants will get the question removed while the passages of the Quran may actually provide some insight into Iran's motives.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:34
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    This answer seems to be focusing more on explaining how the US and Israel are terrorists than explaining how Iran are not terrorists. You were onto something with the "Iran hates ISIS too" angle, but then you seem to have derailed your own answer somewhat. I'm not saying you are wrong, I'm just saying that the question is about Iran's (potential) links to terrorism, not the US or Israel's.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:50
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    You shouldn't use answers to reply to other answers; that's not what they're for. Once you've gained enough reputation through posting good-quality answers, you can post comments on other people's questions and answers instead.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:59

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