WASHINGTON -- Iran strengthened its ties last year with extremist groups, particularly Palestinians, that stage acts of terror worldwide, the State Department reported yesterday.
The help extended not just to Islamic groups but to Marxist-Leninist Kurds, who used terror attacks in a campaign to set up a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, the department said in its annual report on international terrorism.
In addition, Iranian intelligence services, with approval from the highest levels of the government, continued to assist and conduct terrorist attacks, the report said. It cited the assassination Aug. 6 of former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar outside Paris as an "outstanding example."
The report identifies Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that carries trade and other penalties.
The harsh assessment of Iran's terrorist role is noteworthy because it comes despite the release last year of Western hostages, including six Americans, held in Lebanon by groups under Iran's influence and despite the country's interest in improved ties with some Western countries.
The report said the hostage releases, achieved largely by former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and his special envoy, apparently reflected a belief by Iran and elements of the Lebanese group Hezbollah that they would have no further advantage in holding the hostages.
"Iran has . . . strengthened its relationship with extremist groups throughout the world by providing advice and financial and material assistance, often through its embassies. Iran's support is increasingly important not only to Islamic extremist organizations but also to Palestinian groups that may have lost some support from other state sponsors," the report stated. Iran has apparently doubled to $2 million its bounty on the life of British writer Salman Rushdie, whom it accuses of defaming Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."
Because it drew only on events in 1991, the report did not take account of the recent elections to Iran's Parliament that strengthened President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a relative pragmatist.
Iran, Iraq and Libya came under the harshest criticism as state sponsors of terrorism in the report. But Syria continued to draw its share despite its improved relations with the United States.
The report noted that Syria seemed to have restrained groups over which it had influence during the Persian Gulf crisis, when it joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. But it said there were a number of terrorist incidents last year, particularly against Israel, attributed to groups based in Syria or in Syrian-controlled parts of Lebanon.
Iraq, despite agreeing as part of the gulf war cease-fire not to support acts of terrorism, continued to maintain contacts with terrorists and terror organizations, the report said. Iraq is suspected of increasing support and sanctuary for the PKK as a way of punishing Turkey, the report said.
Besides the alleged role of Libyan officials in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the report said Libya continued its support for a variety of terrorist or insurgent groups last year, including radical Palestinian groups and the NPA group in the Philippines, which has killed a number of Americans.
Overall last year, international terrorist incidents were up 22 percent, from 456 in 1990 to 557. "This increase is solely attributable to terrorism associated with the Persian Gulf war," A. Peter Burleigh, counterterrorism coordinator, wrote in an introduction.
Terrorists in many regions attacked targets belonging to members of the anti-Iraq coalition, the report said. But most were minor and uncoordinated, and only a small percentage were fatal. After the war, the pattern went below 1990 levels.