US to designate IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization

The US State Department announced today that it intends to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

The US government has previously sanctioned and designated the IRGC, IRGC officials and proxies, as well as the IRGC – Qods Force (IRGC – QF), using other executive branch measures. More than 900 “Iran-related individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels” had already been sanctioned under the Trump administration for “human right abuses, censorship, ballistic missile program, malign cyber activities, support to terrorism, or associations with the Government of Iran,” according to State.

But the new designation technically goes beyond those past actions, as the entire IRGC will now be considered a FTO. It is the first time that part of a foreign government has been targeted with such a designation.

As its name suggests, the IRGC is responsible for defending the Iranian revolution at home and exporting it abroad. The IRGC has backed Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, supported the Taliban in Afghanistan, and been tied to various terrorist plots and attacks around the globe.

IRGC and IRGC – QF previously designated for terrorist roles, including support for the Taliban

The US government has designated the IRGC for its terrorist activities in the past.

For example, in Oct. 2017, the US Treasury Department designated the IRGC for its role in supporting the IRGC – QF and its deployments to Syria. Treasury’s designation was mainly focused on the logistical assistance the IRGC provided to its proxies in Syria, as “at least hundreds” of its personnel have been deployed to Syria to boost the IRGC -QF.  These men “provide critical combat support, including serving as snipers and machine gunners.” And the IRGC has also “recruited, trained, and facilitated the travel of Afghan and Pakistani nationals to Syria, where those personnel are assigned to, and fight alongside, the IRGC-QF.”

A decade earlier, the State Department designated the IRGC – QF for its terrorism, noting that it “provides material support to the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).”

The IRGC – QF’s sponsorship of Shiite terrorist organizations, such as Hizballah, is well-known. But the IRGC – QF has also worked with Sunni terrorist groups, such as Hamas and the Taliban. State explained at the time that IRGC – QF is the “Iranian regime’s primary instrument for providing lethal support to the Taliban” and is “seeking to inflict casualties on U.S. and NATO forces.”

In Oct., the US and six partner nations exposed further details concerning the Taliban-IRGC relationship, naming two IRGC – QF officials who have worked closely with their Taliban counterparts. The IRGC provides military training, housing, funding and medical assistance for Taliban fighters. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: US and partner nations seek to disrupt Iran-Taliban nexus.]

Iran’s proxies responsible for more than 600 American deaths in Iraq

The IRGC – QF has worked through various proxies to attack American and Coalition forces in Iraq.

In its announcement today, State notes that the FTO list already includes groups such as: Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hizballah, and al-Ashtar Brigades. Each of these organizations has either worked with or been controlled by the IRGC.

One of these proxies, the Iraq-based Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), was designated as a FTO in 2009. The IRGC – QF has funded KH and its members received training from Hizballah, the Iranian regime’s main terrorist arm since the 1980s. KH directly targeted US service members and their allies in Iraq with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs).

Iran used KH and other proxies in Iraq to kill or maim American soldiers, Iraqis, and others. The Trump administration recently announced that the US military has concluded that the Iranian regime “is responsible for the deaths of at least 603 American service members in Iraq since 2003.” This “accounts for 17% of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011,” according to State.

Iran harbors al Qaeda operatives

“In addition to its support of proxies and terrorist groups abroad, Iran also harbors terrorists within its own borders, thereby facilitating their activities,” the State Department says. Specifically, “Iran continues to allow Al Qaeda (AQ) operatives to reside in Iran, where they have been able to move money and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”

The State Department points to a July 2016 Treasury Department designation of three senior al Qaeda operatives who are located in Iran, or were at the time. State says that Iran has “knowingly permitted these AQ members, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, to transit its territory on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning.”

The reference to the 9/11 hijackers seems out of place. In its final report (see pages 240 – 241), the 9/11 Commission documented the hijackers’ travels through Iran. But this was not mentioned in Treasury’s July 2016 designation. In addition, this was not the only such designation documenting the presence of al Qaeda leaders and operatives inside Iran.

The Obama administration first exposed Iran’s formerly “secret deal” with al Qaeda in July 2011. This led to a series of additional terrorist designations and other official statements that further documented al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline” inside Iran and the terrorists who operate there. [For more, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, State Department: Iran allows al Qaeda to operate its ‘core facilitation pipeline’.]

IRGC’s worldwide network of terror

The State Department says the IRGC’s FTO designation “highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft and that the IRGC, part of Iran’s official military, has engaged in terrorist activity or terrorism since its inception 40 years ago.” The IRGC “has been directly involved in terrorist plotting.”

State points to terrorist plots that have been “uncovered and disrupted in many countries, including Germany, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kenya, Bahrain, and Turkey.” Most recently, in Jan. 2018, Germany “uncovered ten IRGC operatives” who were planning an attack inside the country and “convicted another IRGC operative for surveilling a German-Israeli group.”

In addition to targeting Americans in Iraq, State’s announcement briefly mentions some other anti-US operations. Iran was responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 Americans in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, the IRGC – QF also plotted the assassination of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US. That plot was intended to unfold inside the US.

Although State’s summary doesn’t mention it, the Department of Justice announced in 2017 that two alleged Iranian operatives had been arrested and charged with laying the groundwork for possible terrorist attacks, including inside the US. The Iranian plots took the men around the globe, from Thailand to Panama and even into the heart of New York City.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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