Join us on

State Sponsored Terrorism Timeline

Iran: the “most active state sponsor of terrorism”

The U.S. government designates the Islamic Republic of Iran as the “most active state sponsor of terrorism.

What is state-sponsored terrorism?

State-sponsored terrorism is the act of a state directly supporting terrorist acts or organizations through funds, weapons, smuggling assistance, training camps, media outlets, propaganda, and sanctuary. The U.S. Department of State further outlines state-sponsored terrorism: “Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from the designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”

Since the Iran Hostage Crisis unfolded in 1979, Iran — particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — has been repeatedly tied to terrorist organizations and terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies throughout the world.

Overview of State-Sponsored Terrorism by Iran:

Acts of state-sponsored terrorism by Iran can largely be broken down into a number of forms.

Iran has a long history of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israel, mainly through bombings, abductions, and hijackings. Iran has also acted against America’s Persian Gulf allies and has a history of committing state-sponsored assassinations of dissidents and opposition groups. In addition to carrying out direct attacks, Iran commits terrorism by proxy through Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, insurgents in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

Timeline of Iranian State-Sponsored Acts of Terrorism:

NOV 4 1979 to JAN 20 1981

Iranian Hostage Crisis

  • 66 Americans taken hostage by radical Iranian students at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, supported and helped maintain the hostage crisis once it began.
  • 52 of the hostages were held captive for 444 days, until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as President of the United States.
  • Eight American servicemen died in a failed U.S. military raid to rescue the American prisoners.
  • Represented a crucial turning point in relations between the U.S. and Iran. The crisis established the first series of sanctions against Iran.

Blindfolded U.S. hostages

Early 1980's

Formation of Hezbollah

  • 1982: Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim terrorist organization, is created with the help of Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, Iran's ambassador to Syria at the time.
  • Founded with the aid of at least 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards and financially supported by the Iranian government. Hezbollah’s ideology is inspired from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical brand of Islam.
  • The 1983 U.S. embassy suicide bombing was one of Hezbollah’s first terrorist acts.
  • Hezbollah was the originator of modern suicide bombing, a tactic that spread throughout the Middle East and Asia as a blueprint for other terrorist organizations. The group is regarded as “the region’s most technically advanced outfit, one that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the GIA [Armed Islamic Group of Algeria] sought to emulate.” (Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda, pp. 194-195)
  • Hezbollah is the terrorist group responsible for the most deaths of Americans outside of Al Qaeda.
  • Hezbollah’s annual financial and military assistance from Iran is believed to amount to $100-200 million annually. Hezbollah has used this money throughout its existence to launch attacks on US military installations throughout the Middle East and against Israel. Hezbollah's propagandist television network, Al-Manar, is also funded by Iran. By 2002, Iran reportedly provided Al-Manar with some $15 million annually.
  • Hezbollah has had extensive cooperation with Sunni Al Qaeda, a strategic partnership forged by Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda received explosives from Iran and training by Hezbollah. Collaboration extended to working relationships between Hezbollah leadership and bin Laden. Hezbollah leader and security expert Imad Mughniyeh “inspired Osama to develop coordinated, simultaneous attacks as a regular modus operandi, and this has been the hallmark of most subsequent Al Qaeda operations, including 9/11 and the East Africa bombings.”(Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda, p. 196)
  • “Both Hezbollah trainers and experts from Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security trained Al Qaeda fighters in Sudan (in existing Al Qaeda facilities), Lebanon (in Hezbollah camps) and Iran (in officially run bases).”(Gunaratna, Rohan, Inside Al Qaeda, p. 196)

President Ahmadinejad embracing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah militants

APR 18 1983

U.S. Embassy Bombing – Beirut, Lebanon

  • 63 people killed, including 17 Americans
  • The attack occurred when a suicide bomber in a pickup truck drove into the Embassy
  • According to the U.S., Hezbollah operatives were responsible for the bombing, and received support – financially and logistically—from Syria and Iran.
  • Deadliest terror attack on Americans outside of U.S. soil until the U.S. Marine Barracks Bombing six months later.

Aftermath of the Embassy Bombing

OCT 23 1983

Barracks Bombings – Beirut, Lebanon

The destroyed U.S. marine barracks

DEC 12 1983

U.S. Embassy Bombing in Kuwait

  • 6 people killed, including the suicide bomber
  • 80+ injured
  • The suspected perpetrator of the attacks was Al Dawa, a group backed by Iran.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, following the bombing

1982 to 1992

Lebanese Hostage Crisis

CIA Station Chief William Buckley

SEP 20 1984

U.S. Embassy Annex Bombing – Awkar, Lebanon, Northeast of Beirut

September 20, 1984

Bombed U.S. Embassy Annex

JUN 14 1985

Hijacking of TWA Flight 847

  • Flight hijacked en route from Athens to Rome to secure the release of fellow militants. Plane held in Beirut for 17 days.
  • Hostage Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, killed when demands not met.
  • U.S. sources held Hezbollah responsible for the attack.

Captain John Testrake held at gunpoint during the hijacking of Flight 847

FEB 14 1989

1989 Khomeini’s Fatwa against Salman Rushdie

  • Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling to kill Salman Rushdie, an Indian-born British Muslim author, for writing the book Satanic Verses, which Khomeini proclaimed as "blasphemous against Islam"
  • The fatwa “…signal[ed] the beginning of an assassination campaign against individuals associated with Rushdie’s book as well as other ‘enemies of the revolution.’”

Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie

1980's to 1990's

Iran-Sponsored Assassinations of Iranian Dissidents and Opposition leaders

  • Iran's primary targets are members of the regime's main opposition groups, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), as well as former officials of the late Shah's government who speak out against the clerical regime.”

  • July 13, 1989
  • Dr. Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, then Secretary-General of Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), killed with two associates in Vienna, where secretly meeting with envoys sent by then Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
  • Dispatched diplomat-terrorists of the Iranian Islamic regime were suspected of direct involvement at the time. Austrian sources have since connected current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the assassination through weapons sales.

  • 1991
  • Former Iranian Prime Minister and opposition leader Shapour Bakhtiar assassinated in Paris.

  • September 17, 1992
  • 4 Iranian Kurds killed at Mykonos Café, including the leader of the KDPI, Dr. Mohammad Sadegh (Saeid) Sharafkandi.
  • German courts link Iranian government and Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian to assassination.

Bodies of Kurdish leader Ghassemlou and follower in the apartment following the attack

MAR 17 1992

1992 Israeli Embassy bombing in Argentina

  • Suicide truck bombing targeting the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.
  • 29 people killed, 242 injured, including 4 Israelis, Argentine citizens and children.
  • In 2008, an American judged ruled that Iran was responsible for the bombing, saying that Hezbollah committed the attack and could not have done so without Iranian assistance.

Rescue workers in the rubble of the Israeli embassy

FEB 26 1993

1993 World Trade Center bombing

1993 World Trade Center Bombing

JUL 18 1994

1994 AMIA bombing in Argentina

AMIA center ruins

JUN 25 1996

1996 Khobar Towers bombing

  • Truck bomb exploded at U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia.
  • 19 American servicemen and one Saudi killed, 372 people wounded.
  • 13 members of pro-Iran Saudi Hezbollah and one member of Lebanese Hezbollah were charged by a U.S. Federal Grand Jury in the attack.

Khobar Towers Attack Aftermath

2003 to Present

Iran provides money, weapons and training to several Shia militias operating in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, directly contributing to American and allied deaths in the region.

Iranian involvement in Iraq

Iranian Supplying of Weapons

  • July 19, 2005 - The U.S. sent a diplomatic protest to Iran accusing Tehran of providing Iraqi Shiite militants with advanced armor-piercing roadside bombs known as “explosively formed penetrators,” or E.F.P.’s.
    • In the report, the U.S. identified long-term connections between the Shi’ite insurgents and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    • The U.S. also asserted that the Revolutionary Guards and Iran-supported Hezbollah were training Iraqi Shiite extremists in Iran and equiping them with bomb-making materials.
  • 2006 - 18% of combat deaths of American and allied forces fighting in Iraq in last quarter of year due to E.F.P. attacks, according to classified data compiled by the U.S. military. Increases in allied casualties from E.F.P. attacks attributed to Iran’s role supplying weapons.
  • According to U.S. intelligence, the explosives are going to Shiite militias that include rogue elements of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army militia and a breakaway faction of the Badr Corps, the armed wing of a powerful Shiite party.”

Support of the Taliban

  • The Iranian Qods Force supplies the Taliban with weapons and funds to assist anti-U.S. and anti-coalition activity in Afghanistan.
  • In 2004, Defense Minister Hazem Sha'alan accused Iran of backing terrorism in Iraq and said that there was “clear interference in Iraqi issues by Iran.
  • "Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged frequent shipments of small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107 mm rockets, plastic explosives, and probably man-portable defense systems to the Taliban," according to the statement made by the Treasury Department in 2007 regarding economic sanctions against Iran.
  • Army General McChrystal, then commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, stated in May 2010 that there is “clear evidence” that some Taliban fighters have trained in Iran and received weaponry from the regime.

Following the Trail of Iran’s Meddling in Iraq (The Long War Journal)

Seized weaponry in Iraq reportedly smuggled from Iran

Taliban Militants

1980 to Present

Iranian Support of Terrorism against Israel, 1980 – Present

  • The U.S. government asserts, “Iran has supplied funding, haven, training and weapons for the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” In addition to demanding that Israel be “wiped off the map” and developing nuclear weapons programs, Iran has been working to undermine Israel from within via terrorism, and increasing its power in the Palestinian territories.
  • Beginning with support of groups like Hezbollah in the 1980s, Iran’s efforts have increased since the early 2000s, as Iran has increasingly backed Palestinian groups directly involved in the conflict: “Since 2000, Iran has invested increasing amounts of funds, training, and logistical support that is dispensed via Hezbollah to Fatah affiliates in the West Bank and Gaza, effectively opening a new front for Iran and Hezbollah's war against Israel.”
  • More recently, Iran has provided greater financial and material backing to Hamas, particularly since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. In Iran’s 2010 country report, the U.S. State Department noted, “Iran’s provision of training, weapons, and money to HAMAS since the 2006 Palestinian elections has bolstered the group’s ability to strike Israel.”

Israel has intercepted Iranian weaponry intended for Palestinian groups