This is the official stance of the Trump administration. Was it also the position of the Obama administration and Bush administration? What is this based on?

I know that America considers Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations. EU states official stance is that their militant wings are. It's also an ally of Syria's Assad administration, which the US alleges has committed chemical weapons attacks against civilians.

But clearly, even if Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations (I'm not sure Hezbollah specifically meets that criteria, but that's another debate), these aren't the biggest terrorist groups in the middle east, or the world. Al Qaeda, Al Nusra Front, ISIS would all be bigger terrorist groups.

Who sponsors/funds these terrorist groups? Wouldn't the source of their funding be the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world? Or is it that no single state has voiced support for them, and rather individuals within those states are responsible?

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    Who knows. Maybe after the communist bogeyman gave up the ghost the West had to find a new one to scare everybody with. Or is that too simple an assessment? Sep 27, 2018 at 6:09
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    Clearly Iran is not being targeted for terrorist activities or support of terrorist activities, and rather due to US allies Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel regional rivalries and power struggles. It's pretty obvious. What I'm interested though, is how the determination was made, and if it is technically true, in that Iran as a state has officially supported these groups, whereas Saudi Arabia (probably the real biggest state sponsor of terror) has not officially voiced national support, even if it is the primary financial source.
    – Icarian
    Sep 27, 2018 at 6:17
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    US and some western states calls those groups "freedom fighters", "opposition", and similar. That is the answer to your questions at the end. ;)
    – user2701
    Sep 27, 2018 at 11:07
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    @BЈовић, really so. But many in western world thinks in another way. All because magical words about freedom.) Sep 27, 2018 at 13:01
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    It is probably worth mentioning that some feel the US is the biggest exporter of terror in the modern era. They certainly meet the definition of a terrorist country. It embarrasses and humiliates me as a US citizen, and increases me and my fellow citizens risk for events like 9/11. Also see United States and state terrorism (and friends).
    – user11101
    Sep 28, 2018 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


The US does not identify any of its ally states (at government level) as state sponsors of terrorism. Iraq for example was removed in 2004, following the US invasion. The current US list of state sponsors of terrorism is actually pretty short (as of 2017): besides Iran, only North Korea, Sudan and Syria (Assad's regime) are on it. The official reports don't seem to put a lot of effort in arguing which of these is the biggest, except perhaps as a threat-level to US interests:

In its annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” released Wednesday, the State Department said Iran was the planet’s “foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016, a dubious distinction the country has held for many years. It said Iran was firm in its backing of anti-Israel groups as well as proxies that have destabilized already devastating conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. It also said Iran continued to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Shiite militia members to fight in Syria and Iraq. And, it said Iranian support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement was unchanged. [...]

“Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016 as groups supported by Iran maintained their capability to threaten U.S. interests and allies,” said the report [...]

Interestingly, the 2017 edition of the report lacks the "strategic assessment" chapter where the "foremost" declaration was usually made. The 2016 edition had this reasoning for Iran the being "foremost":

Iran remained the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2016 as groups supported by Iran maintained their capability to threaten U.S. interests and allies. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force, along with Iranian partners, allies, and proxies, continued to play a destabilizing role in military conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Iran continued to recruit fighters from across the region to join Iranian affiliated Shia militia forces engaged in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and has even offered a path to citizenship for those who heed this call. Hizballah continued to work closely with Iran in these conflict zones, playing a major role in supporting the Syria government’s efforts to maintain control and territory, and providing training and a range of other support for Iranian aligned groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Additionally, Hizballah continued to develop its long-term attack capabilities and infrastructure around the world.

In the 2017 edition this assessment was reworded and moved to the foreword:

Iran remained the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and continued to support attacks against Israel. It maintained its terrorist-related and destabilizing activities through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hizballah. Iran is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining the legitimate governments of, and U.S. interests in, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. In particular, Iran and Hizballah are emerging from the Syria conflict emboldened and with valuable battlefield experience that they seek to leverage across the globe. IRGC leader Qasem Soleimani recruited and deployed Shia militias from diverse ethnic groups across the Middle East and South Asia to fight in defense of the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Beyond the Middle East, Iran and its terrorist affiliates and proxies posed a significant threat and demonstrated a near-global terrorist reach. Notably, in June 2017, the FBI arrested two suspected Hizballah operatives in Michigan and New York who allegedly were conducting surveillance and intelligence gathering on behalf of the organization, including in the United States.

ISIS etc. are deemed non-state actors.

Since 2016 at least Pakistan is listed as a "safe haven" for terrorists, but not outright sponsor of terrorism. The latter list of "safe haven" countries, which I'm not sure when it first appeared, is actually pretty long. In the 2017 edition it includes Venezuela, Colombia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, "The Southern Philippines", "The Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral", "The Trans-Sahara", "The Lake Chad Region", and Somalia.

Also, some people, including Trump himself before the election have been implicitly critical of the official categorization, e.g.:

In his 2015 book, ‘Time to Get Tough,’ which was published ahead of the presidential election, Trump wrote: “Then look at Saudi Arabia. It is the world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars – our very own money – to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people, while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.”

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    Regarding not identifying allies as terrorism sponsors: is that purely a diplomatic thing ("we don't want to upset the Saudis") or is it also a legal thing ("US companies are prohibited from selling weapons to states sponsoring terrorism")?
    – janh
    Sep 27, 2018 at 8:01
  • This is I think, both. US politics is strongly affected by buisiness in this case. This is close ally of course. Especially in terms of new "middle-east NATO" Trump's idea. And also - Saudis have one of the biggest military budgets in the world. And US military industry definetly wants their money. Sep 27, 2018 at 9:04
  • And I doubt if this is an answer. This is just re-post of declarartions and nothing more Sep 27, 2018 at 10:26
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    @user2501323 It's pretty simple, Fizz has it right at the top. The US only recognises four states as supporting terrorism. Of those four, Iran is the largest. I'm sure the Russian definition of states supporting terrorism doesn't include Syria, the Chinese won't include NK, etc.
    – Caleth
    Sep 27, 2018 at 23:51
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    "The US does not identify any of its ally states..." - You should probably say "itself or any of its ally states". The US is one of the states it does not apply it's definition to. Also see United States and state terrorism | Definition.
    – user11101
    Sep 28, 2018 at 0:11

First, you have to recognize that "terrorism" in this context (and basically all political contexts in the current world) is a code word for jihad. While terrorism itself is a neutral military/political tactic that can be (and has been) used by groups having any ideological motivation, the plain fact is that in the current world, 1) Groups using terrorist tactics are almost exclusively jihadists; and 2) It is the jihadists who are directing attacks against the US and other non-Islamic countries (and occasionally other varieties of Islam that they disagree with).

That being the case, the only sort of "terrorism" that really concerns the US (and the majority of the non-Islamic world which isn't having local problems like e.g. Basque separatists) is that motivated by the Islamic concept of jihad.

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country has been run by an Islamic theocratic government. As such, they take the concept of jihad seriously. Their leaders call the US the "Great Satan" and call for its destruction. To this end, it spends copious amounts on supporting various jihadist groups, and on weapons development. It also has considerable oil wealth.

Given that Iran has both the resources and the motivation to sponsor "terrorism" (= jihad), is it surprising that they might actually do so? And if they do in fact do so, determining that they are the largest state sponsor is at base merely a matter of accounting.

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    "Almost exclusively jihadists" isn't accurate. Particularly in the US, where Islamist terrorism is less than 50% of acts (outnumbered by white supremacist terrorism) but even worldwide, where something over 50% is Islamist terrorism, depending on how things are classified, but other motivations aren't close to unheard of.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 27, 2018 at 19:50
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    This is word cheating. Jihade from ISIS and different armed 'rebels' in syria is shia jihad. Which is backed by terrorism acts and public executions. Do you remember some Iran-backed terrorist acts? I don't. Sep 28, 2018 at 6:31
  • @Obie 2.0: Perhaps you'd like to cite a source for that claim? Because I can't offhand remember more than one white supremacist act of terror in this century, while there have been many jihadist acts in the US. And after checking, I was even wrong about that one: it was in the 20th century, and wasn't primarily motivated by white supremacy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Rudolph
    – jamesqf
    Sep 29, 2018 at 3:53
  • @user2501323: To a non-Muslim, the difference between Shia and Sunni is purely academic, like the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is to a non-Christian (and I suspect to many Christians as well). As for terrorist attacks against US soil, start with the attack on the US embassy and the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Google will provide a longer list.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 29, 2018 at 4:06
  • Do you think terrorism is merely bombs? And do you just rely on your memory, as opposed to data? I like data. Right-wing extremists (not all, but many, of whom are white supremacists) were responsible for over 50% of terrorist incidents. If you like anecdotes, Dylan Roof, who killed black civilians for a political purpose (to start a "race war"), in his own words) is a prominent example of a white supremacist terrorist.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 29, 2018 at 4:59

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