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U.S. terror report cites Venezuela, Iran

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  • NEW: Venezuela's ambassador to U.S. calls accusations "almost ridiculous."
  • Venezuelan president not cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts, U.S. report says
  • Iran "remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism," report claims
  • Syria criticized for its support of Palestinian groups like Hamas
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From Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Venezuela's associations with terror states, Iran's meddling in Iraq and the resurgence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan top the concerns in a new State Department report on terrorism threats in countries around the world.

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A U.S. report on terrorism notes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "sympathy" for Colombian rebels.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is not cooperating with U.S. anti-terror efforts and has "deepened Venezuelan relationships with state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Cuba," the annual report says.

The report notes Chavez's "ideological sympathy" for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Colombian-based National Liberation Army, which "regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup."

While the report says it "remained unclear to what extent the Venezuelan government provided support to Colombian terrorist organizations," it notes that Venezuelan weapons stocks have turned up in the hands of Colombian terrorist organizations.

It also notes that Iran and Venezuela began weekly flights between their capitals, and the passengers were not subject to proper checks. Among the passengers was a suspect in the plot to bomb New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists," the report says.

Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, told CNN that the criticism of Venezuela in the report is "a political decision motivated by politics."

"The accusations are mostly motivated by political disagreements," he said. "The US decided for political reasons they are going to name a country, and then try and collect information to support their thesis. It is almost ridiculous."

Alvarez Herrera said that Venezuela has relationships with many countries in the world, and its cooperation with Iran is not different. The recent flight from Tehran to Venezuela is a once-a-week joint venture between the Venezuelan airline and Iran Air. He said that everyone has to follow "normal procedures at the airport, including complying with immigration law."

"This is ridiculous that we would have a commercial plane coming from another country in a joint venture and not comply with international law," he said. He added that concerning the allegation of passport fraud, Venezuela has had problems in the past but has moved to biometric passports and is "moving very aggressively" to correct the problem.

Concerning Iran, the report says that once again, the nation "remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism."

"Elements of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts throughout the region and continued to support a variety of groups in their use of terrorism to advance their common regional goals," it says, citing the group's support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraq-based militants, and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

The report says that despite promises to stabilize Iraq, Iran "continued to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance, to some Iraqi militant groups that target coalition and Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians."

"In this way, Iranian government forces have been responsible for attacks on coalition forces. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force continued to provide Iraqi militants with Iranian-produced advanced rockets, sniper rifles, automatic weapons [and] mortars that have killed thousands of coalition and Iraqi Forces," it says.

The report says that Iraq "remained at the center of the war on terror," with al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups battling coalition and Iraqi forces.

It also criticizes Syria, another U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism, for allowing foreign fighters into Iraq, citing U.S. government reports that found "nearly 90 percent of all foreign terrorists known to be in Iraq had used Syria as an entry point."

"The Syrian government could do more to stop known terror networks and foreign fighter facilitators from operating within its border," it adds.

Although it notes that no Syrian official has been implicated in bombing attacks in Lebanon, the report says that Damascus "continued to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and security through its proxies," including Hezbollah.

Syria is also criticized for its weak treatment of terrorist financing and its continued support of Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas, including providing safe haven to its leader, Khalid Mishal. It notes that "Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria have claimed responsibility for anti-Israeli terrorist attacks."

The report notes that the Sudan, North Korea and Cuba, all designated as state sponsors of terror, had not actively supported terrorist groups inside their countries over the past year.

The report once again found al Qaeda and its affiliated networks "remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners" last year, reconstituting some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities in Pakistan's tribal areas. It also found a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and voiced concern about a rash of bombings by militants, including the one that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last year.

"Despite the efforts of both Afghan and Pakistani security forces, instability, coupled with the Islamabad brokered cease-fire agreement in effect for the first half of 2007 along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, appeared to have provided AQ leadership greater mobility and ability to conduct training and operational planning, particularly that targeting Western Europe and the United States," the report says.

The report again notes that al Qaeda continued to exploit local grievances for larger terrorist purposes and "seeks weapons of mass destruction in order to inflict the maximum possible damage on anyone who stands in its way, including other Muslims and/or elders, women, and children."

Al Qaeda operatives in East Africa and al-Shabaab militants in Somalia once again posed "the most serious threat to American and allied interests in the region," the report says.

Somalia's weak central government and lawlessness "make Somalia a permissive operating environment and a potential safe haven for both Somali and foreign terrorists already in the region," it found.

"Somalia remains a concern, as its unsecured borders and continued political instability provide opportunities for terrorist transit and/or organization. AQ is likely to keep making common cause with cells of Somali extremists in an attempt to disrupt international peacemaking efforts in Somalia," it adds.

The report also voices concern about insurgent terror tactics in Algeria over the last year and calls Yemen's counterterrorism efforts last year "mixed" with "significant setbacks," including releasing all returned Guantanamo detainees and instituting a surrender program for terrorists with "lenient requirements." It also criticizes Yemen's weak counterterrorism laws and an "ineffective" justice system.

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The report notes that human rights organizations have accused China of using counterterrorism in the run-up to the Olympics as a pretext to suppress ethnic Uighurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Although the Chinese have claimed they are terrorists, the report found no concrete evidence of that.

It also notes a spread of radical Islam in Europe, where several "significant terrorist plots" were foiled. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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