“Shadow War”: State Sponsored Terrorism & Threats to Local Communities

Editor’s Note: “Shadow War”: State Sponsored Terrorism & Threats to Local Communities is a five-part series that discusses ongoing local dangers from the “Cold War” between the U.S. and selected allies versus an alliance of Iran, Hezbollah and increasingly Russia. This creates “Hot War” conflicts as well as added threats from terrorist plots and attacks playing out in our communities.  During the series, examples of this activity and solutions for law enforcement officers will be showcased and highlighted.


In this current era of global activity directly impacting local security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Professionals must follow geopolitical trends and anticipate the effect on the jurisdictions they protect and serve. This includes spates of terrorism violence from certain nations (via terror groups they sponsor) against rival’s citizens and interests for strategic as well as retaliatory reasons. This activity creates deadly acts in a host of global communities. US jurisdictions have been targeted in the past.


Iran’s War in Iraq

During my combat tour as a US Army National Guard Soldier during the “stalemate” years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, IEDs were a primary concern on patrols and other operations. The most devastating type of IED was the Explosive Forming Projectile (EFP). I still remember the first patrol brief in which we were informed that EFP’s migrated in proximity to our battlespace, targeting an adjoining unit’s patrol causing casualties. This info created a serious “pucker factor”. At the time, I had limited knowledge of this weapon and its origins, but understood its devastation as “a dismount” infantryman assigned to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Towards the end of my tour and after the bombing of the Shi’a Gold Mosque in Samarra, my unit’s area of operations (AO) changed to neighborhoods that were ground zero for sectarian violence in West Baghdad. We were not only attacked daily but also caught in the middle of fighting between Sunni militants (Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)) and Shi’a militias (Mahdi Army). My platoon had its own battles with EFP’s and luck was on our side. There were mistimed EFPs barely missing our patrols, along with devices improperly set up causing the projectile to fail in fully penetrating armor.  We had vehicles rendered inoperable by these devices and towed back to base but thankfully with no serious casualties.

As I began to learn about the origin of the EFP, Iran was identified as the culprit. Some of the reports were that components used in these devices were manufactured in an Iranian machine shop. These weapons were controlled closely and mainly used by specially trained Iraqi Shi’a militias.  Iran tried to minimize exposure from its facilitation of these attacks on US forces. In addition to EFPs and other weapons used against the US, Iranian operatives helped plan and execute a sophisticated plot to kidnap American soldiers from a base in Karbala Iraq (January 2007). It is believed the original goal was to capture US troops and exchange them for Iranian Quds Force members in US custody.  The attack resulted in 5 US soldiers killed and 3 wounded.


A Legacy of Global Terrorism

Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism for many years. The VBIED attacks on the Marine Barracks and US Embassy in Beirut during the early 1980’s were the work of Iran through its important and long-term proxy. This group once described primarily as “Islamic Jihad” later morphed into Hezbollah, a terrorist group and political party with deep influences in Lebanon and globally. The interconnected bond between Iran and Hezbollah has existed for decades, thus creating terrorist attacks and exploiting bloody conflicts to achieve Iran’s strategic goals in the Middle East and beyond.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is an Iranian government agency tasked with defending the regime against internal and external threats, the IRGC uses secret police methods against its opponents within Iran and terrorist tactics against its enemies abroad. IRGC is the third wealthiest organization in Iran.  The Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is a special branch of the IRGC tasked with achieving sensitive missions beyond Iran’s borders. The IRGC-QF has played an active role in providing training and weapons to extremist groups including Iraqi militias, Lebanese Hezbollah, and others.” The IRGC and Qud Force are primary actors as well as the face of Iran’s regional and global “Shadow War” terrorist activity.

In global plots and attacks, the US and Israel are frequent targets of Iran (via Quds Force) and Hezbollah’s deadly aggression. Another prominent target is Saudi Arabia, which Iran is also embroiled in “Cold War” competition for influence in the region. This “Cold War” has spawn proxy “Hot Wars” in places like Yemen, Syria as well as others.  With recent events in Syria and reports of Iranian ambitions to again attack US interests, the dangers to communities inside the US and citizens abroad grows daily.

In April (2018) rhetoric and actions heated up between Iran and Israel which has resulted in a threat of war. Israel intercepted an Iranian drone laden with explosives that penetrated Israeli airspace from Syria in February (2018). Israel responded by conducting an airstrike on the Iranian drone base in Syria, killing seven Iranian Quds force members on April 9th (2018).  While this activity is seen as pushing these two countries closer to outright war, Iran doesn’t have much support at home or with its allies to confront Israel in a conventional military manner. This will most likely ramp up “Shadow War” activity through a growing diversity of proxies.

After the combined Syrian airstrikes by the US, UK and France (April 2018); Iranian proxies have also increased rhetoric on attacking US forces in Iraq and Syria. Iranian backed militias are putting out threatening statements and waiting for authorization from Iran to attack.  This further foreshadows another “Shadow War” response, via Iranian sponsorship, against locations inside the US and its interests abroad.


Bottom Line:
  • Iranian sponsored terrorism is a long-term enduring threat to US jurisdictions.
  • It is important that Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice professionals understand these threats and local impact of “Shadow War” activity by Iranian/Hezbollah operatives.


In this five-part series, the background and actions of Iranian sponsored “Shadow War” terrorist activity is discussed. A spate of attacks and plots in 2012 provide important lessons on tactics / methods of sponsored activity. Regional Shi’a foreign fighter recruitment for the Syrian Civil War is explored as an enduring danger along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds force and its covert mission to cultivate operatives and spread terrorism in support of Iran’s objectives worldwide. Previous Iranian based terrorist activity in the US is showcased to assists with analyzing and preparing for the threats unfolding in our communities. There are US cities, spaces and activities more at risk from this variant of terrorism.


Part 2:  Global “Shadow War” 2012

Additional Resources
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Global “Shadow War” 2012
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Shi’a Foreign Fighters, Syrian Civil War & Future Global Dangers
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IRGC Qud Force Training and Global Terrorism
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Shadow War: Threats to US Communities
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