People's Mujahedin of Iran
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, or the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران, romanized: sâzmân-e mojâhedīn-e khalq-e īrân, abbreviated MEK, PMOI or MKO), is an Iranian political-militant organization based on Islamic and Marxist ideology. It advocates overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership and installing its own government. The MEK was the "first Iranian organization to develop systematically a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam – an interpretation that differed sharply from both the old conservative Islam of the traditional clergy and the new populist version formulated in the 1970s by Ayatollah Khomeini and his government". It is also considered the Islamic Republic of Iran's biggest and most active political opposition group.
|Abbreviation||MEK, MKO, PMOI|
|Leader||Maryam Rajavi and Massoud Rajavi[note 1]|
|Founded||5 September 1965|
|Banned||1981 (in Iran)|
|Split from||Freedom Movement|
|Military wing||National Liberation Army (NLA) - disarmed by the US in 2003.|
|Political wing||National Council of Resistance (NCR)|
|Membership (2011)||5,000 to 13,500 (DoD estimate)|
|Former armed wing of the MEK|
National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA)
|Participant in Iran–Iraq War, 1991 uprisings in Iraq|
|Active||Since 20 June 1987 - disarmed in 2003.|
|Area of operations||Iran and Iraq|
|Size||Brigade (at peak)|
|Battles and war(s)||Operation Forty Stars|
Operation Eternal Light
MEK was founded on 5 September 1965 by leftist Iranian students affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran to oppose the U.S.-backed Shah. The organization engaged in armed conflict with the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1970s and contributed to the overthrow of the Shah during the Iranian Revolution. It subsequently pursued the establishment of a democracy in Iran, particularly gaining support from Iran's middle class intelligentsia. After the fall of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the MEK refused to take part in the constitutional referendum of the new government, which led to Khomeini preventing Massoud Rajavi and other MEK members from running for office in the new government. This created conflicts with Ayatollah Khomeini, and by early 1981, authorities had banned the MEK with Khomeini carrying out a major "crackdown on the group’s members and supporters", driving the organization underground.
The MEK organized a large demonstration in Iran against the Islamic Republic party and in support of president Abolhassan Banisadr, claiming that the Islamic Republic had carried out a secret coup d'état. Afterwards, the government arrested and executed numerous MEK members and sympathizers. The MEK initiated attacks targeting the clerical leadership that lasted until 1982. According to Sandra Mackey, the MEK responded by targeting key Iranian official figures for assassination: they bombed the Prime Minister's office, attacked low-ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards, along with ordinary citizens who supported the new government. The MEK "have been careful to demonstrate their reluctance to resort to violence" and mention that violence is imposed on them. Struan Stevenson and other analysts have stated that MEK targets included only the Islamic Republic’s governmental and security institutions.
The MEK attacked the Iran regime for "disrupting rallies and meetings, banning newspapers and burning down bookstores, rigging elections and closing down Universities; kidnapping, imprisoning and torturing political activists". The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps raided MEK safe houses, killing Massoud Rajavi's first wife, Ashraf Rabi'i, and Musa Khiabani, MEK's second in-command at the time.
In 1983, Masud Rajavi sided with Saddam Hussein in exchange for financial support against the Iranian Armed Forces in the Iran–Iraq War, a decision that was viewed as treason by the vast majority of Iranians and that destroyed the MEK's appeal in its homeland. In 1986, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) requested France to expel the MEK from its base in Paris. In response, it re-established its base in Iraq, where it was involved, alongside Saddam Hussain, in Operation Mersad, Operation Forty Stars, and the 1991 nationwide uprisings. In 2002, the MEK was a source for claims about Iran’s clandestine nuclear program. Following the occupation of Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces in 2003, the MEK signed a ceasefire agreement with the U.S. and put down their arms in Camp Ashraf.
The European Union, Canada and the United States have previously listed the MEK as a terrorist organization. This designation has since been lifted, first by the Council of the European Union on 26 January 2009, by the U.S. government on 21 September 2012, and lastly by the Canadian government on 20 December 2012. The MEK is designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq. In June 2004, the U.S. had designated members of the MEK to be ‘protected persons’ under the Geneva Convention IV, relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which expired in 2009 after full sovereignty of Iraq.
Critics, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and many experts have described the group as "resembling" a cult. Those who back the MEK describe the group as proponents of "a free and democratic Iran" that could become the next government there.
- 1 Other names
- 2 History
- 2.1 Overview
- 2.2 Founding (1965–1971)
- 2.3 Schism (1971–1979)
- 2.4 Political phase (1979–1981)
- 2.5 Conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)
- 2.6 Post-war Saddam era (1988–2003)
- 2.7 Post-U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003–2016)
- 2.8 Settlement in Albania (2016–present)
- 2.9 2019
- 3 Ideology
- 4 Membership
- 5 Designation as a terrorist organization
- 6 Designation as a cult
- 7 Assassinations
- 8 Intelligence and misinformation campaign against the MEK
- 9 Assassination of MEK members outside Iran
- 10 Islamic Republic of Iran allegations against the MEK
- 11 Ties to foreign and non-state actors
- 12 Intelligence and operational capabilities
- 13 Propaganda campaign
- 14 Human rights record
- 15 Fund raising
- 16 Perception
- 17 Documentary films
- 18 See also
- 19 Notes
- 20 References
- 21 External links
The group had no name until February 1972.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran is known by a variety of names including:
- Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK)
- The National Liberation Army of Iran (the group's armed wing)
- National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – the MEK is the founding member of a coalition of organizations called the NCRI. The organization has the appearance of a broad-based coalition; many analysts consider NCRI and MEK to be synonymous and recognize NCRI as an only "nominally independent" political wing of MEK.
- Monafiqeen (Persian: منافقین, lit. 'the hypocrites') – the Iranian government consistently refers to the organization with this derogatory name. The term is derived from the Quran, which describes it as people of "two minds" who "say with their mouths what is not in their hearts" and "in their hearts is a disease".
- The Cult of Rajavi or Rajavi Cult
The MEK was founded on 5 September 1965 by leftist Iranian students affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran to oppose the Shah Pahlavi. The MEK was the first Iranian organization to systematically develop a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam. Its members mainly belonged to the Iranian intelligentsia, particularly the salaried middle class, college students, teachers, civil servants, and other professionals. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, the MEK's "modernist interpretation of Islam appealed to the educated youth, who, while still culturally attached to Islam, rejected its old-fashioned clerical interpretations." Unlike the clergy, it accepted Western concepts (specially in social sciences). The organization engaged in armed conflict with the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1970s and played an active role in the downfall of Shah in 1979. The MEK is considered to be Iran's "largest and most active Iranian exile organization".
Khomeini did not like the MEK's philosophy, which "combined Marxist theories of social evolution and class struggle with a view of Shiite Islam that suggested Shiite clerics has misinterpreted Islam and had been collaborators with the ruling class." By early 1979, the MEK had organized themselves and recreated armed cells, especially in Tehran. The MEK (together with other guerilla organizations) helped overthrow the Pahlavi regime. Le Monde reported that "In the course of two decisive and dramatic days, the guerilla organizations, both Marxist and non-Marxist, had managed to bring down the Pahlavi monarchy". Ayandegan, the independent mass-circulation daily, wrote that it had been predominantly the Feda'iyan and the MEK who had defeated the Imperial Guards. Kayhan, the mass-circulation evening paper, said that the MEK, the Feda'iyan and other left-wing guerillas had played the decisive role in the final battles of 11 February. The first person to speak at length on national television immediately after the revolution was the father of three members of MEK sho had been killed, Khalilollah Rezai. One of the first persons to address Iran on Radio Tehran was a MEK spokesman who congratulated the country for the revolution and hailed "His highness Ayatollah Khomeini as a glorious mojahed". The MEK had managed to emerge from the underground onto the public arena, although it would soon enter into conflict with Khomeini. Asghar Ali described the MEK as "using [Islam] for serving the exploited masses". The author said that although the MEK lacked the prestige of Khomeini, they were “certainly fighting the poor and downtrodden, giving Islam a radical image.”
After the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah, the People's Mujahedin of Iran refused to participate in the referendum to ratify the constitution. As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused to permit Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the 1980 Iranian presidential election. Furthermore, despite the fact that the organization's top candidate received as many as 531,943 votes in Tehran electoral district and had a few candidates in the run-offs, it was unable to win a single seat in the 1980 Iranian legislative election. The MEK accused Khomeini of “monopolizing power”, “hijacking the revolution”, “trampling over democratic rights”, and “plotting to set up a fascistic one-party dictatorship”. The MEK represented Islamic leftists who had fought the Shah's regime independently of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini, having denied the MEK participation in the new regime, forced it into opposition.
The Islamic Republic's Chief Prosecutor banned MEK demonstrations. In an open letter to Ayatollah Khomeini, the MEK warned that if all peaceful avenues were closed off they would have no choice but to return to "armed struggle." In a letter to President Bani-Sadr, the MEK requested the president as the "highest state authority, to "protect the rights of citizens, especially their right to demonstrate peacefully." "We have ignored past provocations, but as good Muslims we have the right to resist and to take up arms if necessary, particularly if the monopolists deprive us of our rights to demonstrate," the MEK stated. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, the ban on demonstrations met with protests not only from intellectuals well known in secular circles, but also from veterans of the anti-Shah struggles.
On 20 June 1981, MEK organized a peaceful demonstration in Tehran. Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards suppressed the demonstration, resulting in "50 deaths, 200 injured, and 1000 arrested". In 1980-81, the MEK and other leftist and moderate groups rallied in favor of President Abolhassan Banisadr to resist a total takeover by the Islamic Republic Party. The Islamic Republic answered by "unleashing an unprecedented reign of terror", shooting demonstrators, including children. In less than six months, 2,665 persons, 90 per cent of whom were MEK members, were executed.
Allied with President Abolhassan Banisadr, the group clashed with the ruling Islamic Republican Party while avoiding direct and open criticism of Khomeini until June 1981, when they declared war against the Government of Islamic Republic of Iran and initiated a number of bombings and assassinations targeting the clerical leadership. Many MEK sympathizers and middle-level organizers were detained and executed after June 1981.
The arrested members of Mujahedin by the Islamic Republic were made to repent and were sent to rehabilitation camps, while about eight to ten thousand were kept in prison for minor charges such as "possession of copies of clandestine the Mujahid newspaper and similar acts of defiance". In 1982 the MEK group in Paris claimed that Khomeini’s “re-education campaign” involved ordering repenting MEK members to “join the firing squads in charge of executing their former comrades in arms.” Even though the killings of its members disturbed the Mujahidin they have not shown any sign to cease their violent movement. From 1982 to 1988, MEK performed sixty operations per week on average. These attacks demonstrated that "the end of their violent struggle was nowhere in sight."
The organization gained a new life in exile, founding the National Council of Resistance of Iran and continuing to conduct violent attacks in Iran. According to Ronen Cohen, the MEK's "presence in Iraq was proof for Iraq that the MEK's diplomatic wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), as an authentic representative of the Iranian community diaspora, which opposed the present religious government in Iran and that it had nothing to do with Iraqs's unilateral hostility."
While the MEK's leadership has resided in Paris, the group's core members were for many years confined to Camp Ashraf in Iraq, particularly after the MEK and U.S. forces signed a cease-fire agreement of "mutual understanding and coordination" in 2003. The group was later relocated to a former U.S. military base, Camp Liberty, in Iraq, and eventually to Albania.
There have also been documented cases concerning the Iranian government mounting campaigns aimed at eradicating MEK members and their influence, including assassinations abroad. In 1990, Professor Kazem Rajavi (brother of Massoud Raavi and a human rights activist), was notably assassinated in Geneva. The Swiss government named thirteen Iranian officials, with special mission stamped into their passports as participants in the assassination. According to Kenneth Katzman, the MEK is “a major target of Iran’s international security apparatus and its campaign in assassinating opponents abroad". The MEK has had headquarters located in France (1981–1986; since 2003), Iraq (1986–2016) and Albania (since 2016).
According to infoplease.com, more than 16,000 Iranian people have been killed by the MEK since 1979. In a 2010 report, the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom stated: In the 1980s and 1990s an estimated 120,000 of MEK members and supporters were executed. According to the MEK, over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK mainly appealed to young Iranian women and people from an urban social background. Their publications are commonly circulated within the Iranian diaspora.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran was founded on 5 September 1965 by six former members of the Liberation or Freedom Movement of Iran, students at Tehran University, including Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saied Mohsen and Ali-Asghar Badizadegan. The MEK offered a "a modern, democratic interpretation of Islam, with a decidedly nationalist political perspective". This differed from other opposition groups during this time, which included nationalists, Marxists, and fundamentalists.
The MEK opposed the rule of the Shah, considering him corrupt and oppressive, and considered the mainstream Liberation Movement too moderate and ineffective. Although the MEK are often regarded as devotees of Ali Shariati, in fact, their pronouncements preceded Shariati's, and they continued to echo each other throughout the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, their thinking aligned with what was a common tendency in Iran at the time – a kind of radical, political Islam based on a Marxist reading of history and politics. The group's main source of inspiration was the Islamic text Nahj al-Balagha, a collection of analyses and aphorisms attributed to Imam Ali. Despite some describing a Marxist influence, the group never used the terms "socialist" or "communist" to describe themselves. systematically a radical interpretation of Shia Islam. During the 1970s, the MEK propagated radical Islam through some of Ali Shariati's works (as opposed to their own publications, which were banned in Iran at the time). The MEK (and Shariati) claimed that Islam should oppose feudalism and capitalism; should eradicate inhumane practices; should treat all as equal citizens, and should socialize the means of production. The MEK adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam.
|Reza Rezaeia||Taghi Shahram|
|Kazem Zolanvarb||Majid Sharif Vaghefic|
|a Killed in action by SAVAK in 1973|
b Arrested in 1972, executed in 1975
c Killed by Marxist faction in 1975 purge
During August–September 1971, SAVAK managed to strike a great blow to the MEK, arresting many members and executing the senior members, including its co-founders. SAVAK had severely shattered MEK’s organizational structure, and the surviving leadership and key members of the organization were kept in prisons until three weeks before the revolution, when political prisoners were released.
Some surviving members restructured the group by replacing the central cadre with a three-man central committee. Each of the three central committee members led a separate branch of the organization with their cells independently storing their own weapons and recruiting new members. Two of the original central committee members were replaced in 1972 and 1973, and the replacing members were in charge of leading the organization until the internal purge of 1975.
On 30 November 1970 a failed attempt was made to kidnap the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, Douglas MacArthur II. MEK gunmen ambushed MacArthur's limousine while he and his wife were en route to their house. Shots were fired at the vehicle and a hatchet was hurled through the rear window, however MacArthur remained unharmed. On 9 February 1979, four of the assailants were sentenced to life imprisonment for acts of terrorism and sixteen others received confinements up to ten years.
By August 1971, the MEK’s Central Committee included Reza Rezai, Kazem Zolanvar, and Brahram Aram. Up until the death of the then leader of the MEK in June 1973, Reza Rezai, there was no doubt about the group’s Islamic identity.
By 1973, the members of the Marxist–Leninist MEK launched an "internal ideological struggle". Members who did not convert to Marxism were expelled or reported to SAVAK. This new group adopted a Marxist, more secular and extremist identity. They appropriated the MEK name, and in a book entitled Manifesto on Ideological Issues, the central leadership declared "that after ten years of secret existence, four years of armed struggle, and two years of intense ideological rethinking, they had reached the conclusion that Marxism, not Islam, was the true revolutionary philosophy".
This led to two rival Mujahedin, each with its own publication, its own organization, and its own activities. The new group was known initially as the Mujahedin M.L. (Marxist-Leninist). A few months before the Iranian Revolution, the majority of the Marxist Mujahedin renamed themselves Peykar (Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class) on 7 December 1978 (16 Azar, 1357). This name derived from the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which had been a left-wing group in Saint Petersburg, founded by Vladimir Lenin in the autumn of 1895. Later, during the Iranian revolution, Peykar merged with some Maoist groups.[which?] From 1973 to 1979, the Muslim MEK survived partly in the provinces but mainly in prisons, particularly Qasr Prison where Massoud Rajavi was held.
The group conducted several assassinations of U.S. military personnel and civilians working in Iran during the 1970s. Between 1973 and 1975, the Marxist–Leninist MEK increased their armed operations in Iran. In 1973 they engaged in two street battles with Tehran police. That same year, they bombed ten buildings including Plan Organization, Pan-American Airlines, Shell Oil Company, Hotel International, Radio City Cinema, and an export company owned by a Baha’i businessman. In February 1974, they launched an attack against a police station in Isafahan. In April 1974 they bombed the reception hall, Oman Bank, gates of the British embassy, and offices of Pan-American Oil company in protest of the Sultan of Oman’s state visit. A communiqué by the organization declared that their actions had been to show solidarity with the people of Dhofar. On 19 April 1974, they attempted to bomb the SAVAK centre at Tehran University. In 25 May, they set off bombs at three multinational corporations.
Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, was shot dead in front of his home in Tehran by two men on a motorcycle on 2 June 1973. A car carrying three American employees of Rockwell International was attacked by MEK in August 1976. William Cottrell, Donald Smith, and Robert Krongard were killed working on the Ibex system. Leading up to the Islamic Revolution, members of the MEK conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets. After the revolution, some say that the group supported the U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979. According to Ervand Abrahamian and Kenneth Katzman, the MEK “could not have supported the hostage taking because the regime used the hostage crises as excuse to eliminate its internal opponents”. In May 1972, an attack on Brig. Gen. Harold Price was attributed to the MEK. MEK described the eventual release of the American hostages a "surrender".
According to George Cave, CIA's former Chief of Station in Tehran, MEK hit squad members impersonated road workers and buried an improvised explosive device under the road that Brig. Gen. Harold Price regularly used. When he was spotted, the operative detonated the bomb, destroying the vehicle and disabling Price for the rest of his life. Cave states that it was the first instance of a remotely detonating that kind of bomb.
Bahram Aram and Vahid Afrakhteh both belonged to the (Marxist) rival splinter group Peykar that emerged in 1972, and not the (Muslim) MEK. Despite this, some sources have attributed these assassinations to the MEK.
In 2005, the Department of State also attributed the assassinations of Americans in Iran to Peykar. The Country Reports issued on April 2006 stated: "A Marxist element of the MEK murdered several of the Shah's US security advisers prior to the Islamic Revolution". Other analysts support this, including director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, claiming that "Rajavi, upon release from prison during the revolution, had to rebuild the organization, which had been badly battered by the Peykar experience".
Political phase (1979–1981)
After the Islamic Revolution, the MEK grew quickly, becoming "a major force in Iranian politics" and considered by many foreign diplomats as "the largest, the best disciplined and the most heavily armed of all the opposition organizations".
The group supported the revolution in its initial phases. MEK launched an unsuccessful campaign supporting total abolition of Iran's standing military, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, in order to prevent a coup d'état against the system. They also claimed credit for infiltration against the Nojeh coup plot.
It participated in the referendum held in March 1979. Its candidate for the head of the newly founded council of experts was Massoud Rajavi in the election of August 1979. However, he lost the election.
In 1980, the MEK was under the control of Massoud Rajavi, one of the few surviving members of the MEK’s Central cadre. Although allied with Khomeini against the shah, Khomeini “disliked the MEK’s philosophy, which combined Marxist theories of social evolution and class struggle with a view of Shiite Islam that suggested Shiite clerics had misinterpreted Islam and had been collaborators with the ruling class.” Rajavi became allied with Iran’s new president, Abolhassan Banisadr, elect in January 1980.
Although Khomeini had misgivings about the MEK's ideology, he allied with the MEK during the 1970s against the Shah. After the fall of the Shah, Khomeini had little use for the MEK. The MEK was then joined by other groups that opposed the new constitution, including the People’s Fedayeen and the Muslim People’s Republican Party. Despite the opposition, the 3 December 1979 referendum vote approved the new constitution.
The Mojahedin later refused to participate in the referendum held in December to ratify the Constitution drafted by the Assembly of Experts, even when Ruhollah Khomeini had called upon "all good Muslims to vote 'yes'". By boycotting the referendum, the MEK argued that the new Constitution had "failed to set up proper councils, nationalize foreign holdings, guarantee equal treatment to all nationalities, give ´land to the tiller´, place a ceiling on agricultural holdings and accept the concept of the classless tawhidi society." Once the Constitution had been ratified, the MEK proposed Rajavi as their presidential candidate. In launching his presidential campaign, Rajavi promised to rectify the Constitution´s shortcomings.
As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and MEK members to run in the 1980 Iranian presidential election. By the middle of the year 1980, clerics close to Khomeini were openly referring to the MEK as "monafeghin", "kafer", and "elteqatigari". The MEK, instead accused Khomeini of "monopolizing power", "hijacking the revolution", "trampling over democratic right", and "plotting to set up a fascistic one-party dictatorship".
In the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the MEK was suppressed by Khomeini's revolutionary organizations and harassed by the Hezbollahi, who attacked meeting places, bookstores, and kiosks of the Mujahideen. Toward the end of 1981, several PMOI members and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France.
By early 1981, Iranian authorities then closed down MEK offices, outlawed their newspapers, prohibited their demonstrations, and issued arrest warrants for the MEK leaders, forcing the organization go underground once again. According to Professor Cheryl Bernard, in 1981, a mass execution of political prisoners was carried out by the Islamic Republic, and the MEK fled splitting into four groups. One of the groups went underground remaining in Iran, the second group left to Kurdistan, the third group left to other countries abroad, and the remaining member were arrested, imprisoned or executed. Thereafter, the MEK took armed opposition against Khomeini's Islamic Republic.
|1979||Islamic Republic referendum||Vote 'Yes'|||
|Assembly of Experts election||
0 / 73 (0%)
|1980||Presidential election||Vote, no candidate|||
0 / 270 (0%)
Conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)
By the middle of the year 1980, clerics close to Khomeini were openly referring to the MEK as "monafeghin", "kafer", and "elteqatigari". The MEK, instead accused Khomeini of "monopolizing power", "hijacking the revolution", "trampling over democratic right", and "plotting to set up a fascistic one-party dictatorship".
In February 1980 concentrated attacks by hezbollahi pro-Khomeini militia began on the meeting places, bookstores and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists driving the left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested.
On 30 August a bomb was detonated killing the elected President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Khomeini's government identified secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and active member of the Mujahedin, Massoud Keshmiri, as the perpetrator. although there has been much speculation among academics and observers that the bombings may have been carried out by IRP leaders to rid themselves of political rivals.
The reaction to both bombings was intense with many arrests and executions of Mujahedin and other leftist groups, but "assassinations of leading officials and active supporters of the government by the Mujahedin were to continue for the next year or two".
According to Ervand Abrahamian, the MEK attacked the regime for "disrupting rallies and meetings, banning newspapers and burning down bookstores, rigging elections and closing down Universities; kidnapping imprisoning, and torturing political activists; reviving SAVAK and using the tribunals to terrorize their opponents, and engineering the American hostage crises to impose on the nation the ‘medieval’ concept of the velayat-e faqih".
According to Masoud Banisadr, following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, MEK called Saddam Hussein an "aggressor" and a "dictator". Although the MEK had fought against Iraq in September 1980, it called for peace and signed a peace agreement with Iraq in 1983, “calling the continuation of the war as illegitimate.” According to Alireza Jafarzadeh, the MEK had managed to halt Iraqi air raids on Iran on various occasions.
In 1981, the MEK formed the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) with the stated goal of uniting the opposition to the Iranian government under one umbrella organization. The MEK says that in the past 25 years, the NCRI has evolved into a 540-member parliament-in-exile, with a specific platform that emphasizes free elections, gender equality and equal rights for ethnic and religious minorities. The MEK claims that it also advocates a free-market economy and supports peace in the Middle East. However, the FBI claims that the NCRI "is not a separate organization, but is instead, and has been, an integral part of the [MEK] at all relevant times" and that the NCRI is "the political branch" of the MEK, rather than vice versa. Although the MEK is today the main organization of the NCRI, the latter previously hosted other organizations, such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
The foundation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the MEK´s participation in it allowed Rajavi to assume the position of chairman of the resistance to the Islamic Republic. Because other opposition groups were banned from legal political process and forced underground, the MEK´s coalition build among these movements allowed for the construction of a legitimate opposition to the Islamic Republic.
The MEK claims that over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the regime, but there is no way to independently confirm these figures. Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield describes this period in an article in The National Interest "when confronted with growing resistance in the spring of 1981 to the restrictive new order that culminated in massive pro-democracy demonstrations across the country invoked by MEK leader Massoud Rajavi on June 20, Khomeini's reign was secured at gunpoint with brute force, driving Iran's first and only freely elected president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, underground and into permanent exile. This fateful episode was described by Ervand Abrahamian as a "reign of terror"; Marvin Zonis called it "a campaign of mass slaughter".
In 1981, Massoud Rajavi issued a statement shortly after it went into exile. This statement, according to James Piazza, identified the MEK not as a rival for power but rather a vanguard of popular struggle:
Our struggle against Khomeini is not the conflict between two vengeful tribes. It is the struggle of a revolutionary organisation against a totalitarian regime... This struggle, as I said, is the conflict for liberating a people; for informing and mobilizing a people in order to overthrow the usurping reaction and to build its own glorious future with its own hands
In 1982, the Islamic Republic cracked down MEK operations within Iran. This pre-emptive measure on the part of the regime provoked the MEK into escalating its paramilitary programs as a form of opposition. By June 1982, Iraqi forces had ceased military occupation of Iranian territories. Massoud Rajavi stated that "there was no longer any reason to continue the war and called for an immediate truce, launching a campaign for peace inside and outside of Iran".
In January 1983, then Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Tariq Aziz and Massoud Rajavi signed a peace communique that co-outlined a peace plan "based on an agreement of mutual recognition of borders as defined by the 1975 Algiers Agreement". According to James Piazza, this peace initiative became the NCRI´s first diplomatic act as a "true government in exile". During the meeting, Rajavi claimed that the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had been "the only person calling for the continuation of the [Iran-Iraq] war".
Eventually, the majority of the MEK leadership and members fled to France, where it operated until 1985. In June 1986, France, then seeking to improve relations with Iran, expelled the MEK and the organization relocated to Iraq. MEK representatives contend that their organization had little alternative to moving to Iraq considering its aim of toppling the Iranian clerical government.
Operation Eternal Light
In 1986, after French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac struck a deal with Tehran for the release of French hostages held prisoners by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the MEK was forced to leave France and relocated to Iraq. Investigative journalist Dominique Lorentz has related the 1986 capture of French hostages to an alleged blackmail of France by Tehran concerning the nuclear program.
According to James Piazza, Khomeini intended the MEK to be exiled to an obscure location that would weaken their position. However, Iraq hastened to court the MEK "prior to its ousting". The MEK moved its base to Mehran. The Islamic Republic of Iran took an "extensive aerial bombing campaign to push the MEK from their position," and the MEK retaliated with a bombing spree.
The Islamic Republic launched two military operations against the MEK in 1986-1987 named “Nasr” (one and two). This attack on the MEK “failed to eradicate the guerrilla bases along the Iran-Iraq Kurdish borders”.
On the night of Saturday 18 June 1988, Iraq launched the Operation Forty Stars with the help of the MEK. With 530 aircraft sorties and heavy use of nerve gas, they attacked to the Iranian forces in the area around Mehran, killing or wounding 3,500 and nearly destroying a Revolutionary Guard division.
Near the end of the Iran–Iraq War, a military force of 7,000 members of the MEK, armed and equipped by Saddam's Iraq and calling itself the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA) was founded. On 26 July 1988, six days after Ayatollah Khomeini had announced his acceptance of the UN-brokered ceasefire resolution, the NLA advanced under heavy Iraqi air cover, crossing the Iranian border from Iraq. Massoud Rajavi hoped to mobilize Iranian opposition and overthrow the Islamic Republic. It seized and razed to the ground the Iranian town of Islamabad-e Gharb. As it advanced further into Iran, Iraq ceased its air support and Iranian forces cut off NLA supply lines and counterattacked under cover of fighter planes and helicopter gunships. On 29 July the NLA announced a voluntary withdrawal back to Iraq. The MEK claims it lost 1,400 dead or missing and the Islamic Republic sustained 55,000 casualties (either IRGC, Basij forces, or the army). The Islamic Republic claims to have killed 4,500 NLA during the operation. The operation was called Foroughe Javidan (Eternal Light) by the MEK and the counterattack Operation Mersad by the Iranian forces. The MEK contended that it had no choice to its presence in Iraq if it was to have any chance at toppling the Iranian regime. Rajavi stated that the failure of Eternal Light was not a military blunder, but was instead rooted in the members’ thoughts for their spouses.
1988 execution of MEK prisoners
Following Operation Mersad, a military attack on Iranian forces by the MEK desiring to gather Iranian opposition at home and overthrow the Islamic Republic, a large number of prisoners from the MEK, but many also from other leftist opposition groups were executed. Khomeini used failed invasion as a pretext for the mass execution of thousands of MEK "who remained steadfast in their support for the MEK" and other leftists in Iranian jails through a fatwa..The executions carried out by several high-ranking members of Iran's current government. According to Amnesty International, "thousands of political dissidents were systematically subjected to enforced disappearance in Iranian detention facilities across the country and extrajudicially executed pursuant to an order issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran and implemented across prisons in the country. Many of those killed during this time were subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in the process."
On 19 July 1988, Iranian authorities suddenly isolated major prisons, having its courts of law go on an unscheduled holiday to avoid relatives finding out about those imprisoned. According to Ervand Abrahamian, “thus began an act of violence unprecedented in Iranian history.” Prisoners were initially told that this was not a trial but a process for initiating a general amnesty and separating the Muslims from the non-Muslims. Prisoners were asked if they were willing to denounce the MEK before cameras, help the IRI hunt down MEK members, name secret sympathizers, identify phoney repenters, or go to the war front and walk through enemy mindfields. According to Abrahamian, the questions were designed to “tax to the utmost the victim’s sense of decency, honor, and self-respect.” The Mojahedin who gave unsatisfactory answers were promptly taken to a special room and later hanged in batches of six.
Most of the prisoners executed were serving prison terms on account of peaceful activities (distributing opposition newspapers and leaflets, taking part in demonstrations, or collecting donations for political oppositions) or holding outlawed political views. In order to eliminate potential political oppositions, the Islamic Republic started "coordinated extrajudicial killings" in Iran. Under International law, the killings were considered a "crime against humanity". The commissions including judicial, prosecution, intelligence and prison officials proceeded executions that were not approved by their own existing legislation, and sentenced prisoners to death despite any proven "internationally recognized criminal offence". The Prisoners were questioned if they were willing to give written repentance for their political activities and beliefs. Those executed included women and children.
In 2016, an audio recording was posted online of a high-level official meeting that took place in August 1988 between Hossein Ali Montazeri and the officials responsible for the mass killings in Tehran. In the recording, Hossein Ali Montazeri is heard saying that the ministry of intelligence used the MEK’s armed incursion as a pretext to carry out the mass killings, which “had been under consideration for several years.” Iranian authorities have dismissed the incident as “nothing but propaganda”, presenting the executions as a lawful response to a small group of incarcerated individuals who had colluded with the MEK to support its 25 July 1988 incursion. Those executed were put in collective graves containing multiple corpses at the Khavaran cemetery, which the Iranian government tried to cover up by changing the cemetery into a park. According to Amnesty International, this narrative fails to “explain how thousands of prisoners from across the country could have communicated and co-ordinated from inside Iran’s high-security prisons with an armed group outside the country.”
Human rights organizations say that the number of those executed remains a point of contention. Prisoners were charged with "moharebeh" or "waging war on God" and those who said to be affiliated with the MEK were hanged from cranes. The Iranian government accused those investigating the executions of “disclosing state secrets” and threatening national security”. According to Amnesty International, “there has also been an ongoing campaign by the Islamic Republic to demonize victims, distort facts, and repress family survivors and human rights defenders. In 2019, Maryam Rajavi, released a book named "Crime Against Humanity". The book is about the 1988 massacres of political prisoners in Iran, listing the location of 36 Iranian mass graves and explaining that about 30,000 people were executed, with the majority being MEK members.
Post-war Saddam era (1988–2003)
The organization owns a free-to-air satellite television network named Vision of Freedom (Sima-ye-Azadi), launched in 2003 in England. It previously operated Vision of Resistance analogue television in Iraq in the 1990s, accessible in western provinces of Iran. They also had a radio station, Radio Iran Zamin, that was closed down in June 1998.
In the following years the MEK conducted several high-profile assassinations of political and military figures inside Iran, including deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Brigadier General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, who was assassinated on the doorsteps of his house on 10 April 1999.
In April 1992, the MEK attacked 10 Iranian embassies, including the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York. Some of the attackers were armed with knives, firebombs, metal bars, sticks, and other weapons. In the various attacks, they took hostages, burned cars and buildings, and injured multiple Iranian ambassadors and embassy employees. There were additional injuries, including to police, in other locations. The MEK also caused major property damage. There were dozens of arrests.
The MEK claims to play a major role in anti-regime demonstrations. According to Kenneth Katzman, many analysts believe that the MEK lacks sufficient strength or support to seriously challenge the Iranian government's grip on power. However, MEK followers in Iran "have been resilient and persistent, defying the regime's efforts to eliminate the organization within Iran." The Iranian regime is concerned about MEK activities in Iran, and MEK supporters are a major target of Iran's internal security apparatus and its campaign of assassinating opponents abroad. The Iranian government is believed to be responsible for killing MEK members, Kazem Rajavi on 24 April 1990 and Mohammad-Hossein Naghdi, a NCRI representative on 6 March 1993.
According to the United States Department of State and the Foreign Affairs group of the Parliament of Australia, MEK was sheltered in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. "In a sign of the group’s appreciation for Saddam’s generous hospitality and largesse", MEK assisted the Iraqi Republican Guard in suppressing the 1991 nationwide uprisings of Shias, Kurds and Turkmens against Baathist regime. Maryam Rajavi has been reported by former MEK members as having said: "Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards."
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in June 1998 that he received "anonymous threats of disruption from Iranian exiles" for the 1998 FIFA World Cup match between Iran and the U.S. football teams at Stade de Gerland. The MEK bought some 7,000 out of 42,000 tickets for the match between, in order to promote themselves with the political banners they smuggled. When the initial plan foiled with TV cameras of FIFA avoiding filming them, intelligence sources had been tipped off about a pitch invasion. To prevent an interruption in the match, extra security entered Stade Gerland.
According to Ilan Berman, in 2002 the NCRI publicly called or the formation of a National Solidarity Front against the Iranian regime saying that it is "prepared for cooperation with other political forces" that seek a republican form of government and are committed to rejecting Iran’s current theocracy.
2003 French arrests
In June 2003, French police raided the MEK's properties, including its base in Auvers-sur-Oise, under the orders of anti-terrorist magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, after suspicions that it was trying to shift its base of operations there. 160 suspected MEK members were then arrested, including Maryam Rajavi and her brother Saleh Rajavi. After questioning, most of those detained were released, but 24 members, including Maryam Rajavi, were kept in detention.
In response, 40 supporters began hunger strikes to protest the arrests, and ten immolated themselves in various European capitals by lighting themselves on fire in front of French embassies. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy declared that the MEK "recently wanted to make France its support base, notably after the intervention in Iraq", while Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of France's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the group was "transforming its Val d'Oise centre [near Paris] [...] into an international terrorist base". Police found $1.3 million in $100 bills in cash in their offices.
U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on South Asia, then accused the French of doing "the Iranian government's dirty work". Along with other members of Congress, he wrote a letter of protest to President Jacques Chirac, while longtime MEK supporters such as Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, criticized Maryam Radjavi's arrest.
Following orders from MEK and in protest to the arrests, about ten members including Neda Hassani, set themselves on fire in front of French embassies abroad and two of them died. A court later found that there were no grounds for terrorism or terrorism-related finance charges. In 2014, prosecuting judges also dropped all charges of money laundering and fraud.
Post-U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003–2016)
During the Iraq War, the coalition forces bombed MEK bases and forced them to surrender in May 2003. U.S. troops later posted guards at its bases. The U.S. military also protected and gave logistical support to the MEK as U.S. officials viewed the group as a high value source of intelligence on Iran.[page needed]
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, MEK camps were bombed by the U.S., resulting in at least 50 deaths. It was later revealed that the U.S. bombings were part of an agreement between the Iranian government and Washington. In the agreement Tehran offered to oust some al-Qaeda suspects if the U.S. came down on the MEK.
In the operation, the U.S. reportedly captured 6,000 MEK soldiers and over 2,000 pieces of military equipment, including 19 British-made Chieftain tanks. The MEK compound outside Fallujah became known as Camp Fallujah and sits adjacent to the other major base in Fallujah, Forward Operating Base Dreamland. Captured MEK members were kept at Camp Ashraf, about 100 kilometers west of the Iranian border and 60 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared MEK personnel in Ashraf protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. US forces disarmed the residents of Camp Ashraf, signing a formal agreement that promised them the status of “protected persons”, which "outlines the rules for protecting civilians in times of war." They were then placed under the guard of the U.S. Military. Defectors from this group are housed separately in a refugee camp within Camp Ashraf, and protected by U.S. Army (2003–current)[needs update], U.S. Marines (2005–07), and the Bulgarian Army (2006–current)[needs update]. On 19 August 2003, MEK bombed the United Nations compound in Iraq, prompting UN withdrawal from the country.
In July 2010, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal issued an arrest warrant for 39 MEK members, including Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, for crimes against humanity committed while suppressing the 1991 uprisings in Iraq.
Iraqi government's 2009 crackdown
On 23 January 2009, while on a visit to Tehran, Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie reiterated the Iraqi Prime Minister's earlier announcement that the MEK organization would no longer be able to base itself on Iraqi soil and stated that the members of the organization would have to make a choice, either to go back to Iran or to go to a third country, adding that these measures would be implemented over the next two months.
On 29 July 2009, eleven Iranians were killed and over 500 were injured in a raid by Iraqi security on the MEK Camp Ashraf in Diyala province of Iraq. U.S. officials had long opposed a violent takeover of the camp northeast of Baghdad, and the raid is thought to symbolize the declining American influence in Iraq. After the raid, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated the issue was "completely within [the Iraqi government's] purview". In the course of attack, 36 Iranian dissidents were arrested and removed from the camp to a prison in a town named Khalis, where the arrestees went on hunger strike for 72 days, 7 of which was dry hunger strike. Finally, the dissidents were released when they were in an extremely critical condition and on the verge of death.
Iran's nuclear programme
The MEK and the NCRI revealed the existence of Iran's nuclear program in a press conference held on 14 August 2002 in Washington DC. MEK representative Alireza Jafarzadeh stated that Iran is running two top-secret projects, one in the city of Natanz and another in a facility located in Arak, which was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Journalists Seymour Hersh and Connie Bruck have written that the information was given to the MEK by Israel. Among others, it was described by a senior IAEA official and a monarchist advisor to Reza Pahlavi, who said before MEK they were offered to reveal the information, but they refused because it would be seen negatively by the people of Iran. Similar accounts could be found elsewhere by others, including comments made by US officials.
However, all of their subsequent claims turned out to be false. For instance, on 18 November 2004, MEK representative Mohammad Mohaddessin used satellite images to falsely state that a new facility exists in northeast Tehran, named "Center for the Development of Advanced Defence Technology".
In 2010 the NCRI claimed to have uncovered a secret nuclear facility in Iran. These claims were dismissed by U,S, officials, who did not believe the facilities to be nuclear. In 2013, the NCRI again claimed to have discovered a secret underground nuclear site.
In 2012, NBC News' Richard Engel and Robert Windrem published a report quoting U.S. officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, that the MEK was being "financed, trained, and armed by Israel's secret service" to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. However, a State Department spokesman reported that "Washington did not claim the exile group was involved in the assassination of scientists in Iran." Former CIA case officer in the Middle East, Robert Baer speculated that the perpetrators "could only be Israel", and that "it is quite likely Israel is acting in tandem with" the MEK.
In 2015, MEK again falsely claimed to have found a secret nuclear facility they called "Lavizan-3". The site was revealed to be operated by a firm which produces identification documents for the Iranian government.
Relocation from Iraq
On 1 January 2009 the U.S. military transferred control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government. On the same day, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the militant group would not be allowed to base its operations from Iraqi soil.
In 2012 MEK moved from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya in Baghdad (a onetime U.S. base formerly known as Camp Liberty). A rocket and mortar attack killed 5 and injured 50 others at Camp Hurriya on 9 February 2013. MEK residents of the facility and their representatives and lawyers appealed to the UN Secretary-General and U.S. officials to let them return to Ashraf, which they say has concrete buildings and shelters that offer more protection. The United States has been working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the resettlement project.
Settlement in Albania (2016–present)
In 2013, the United States requested that the MEK relocate to Albania, but the organization initially rejected the offer. The MEK eventually accepted to move about 3,000 members to Albania, and the U.S. donated $20 million to the U.N. refugee agency to help them resettle. On 9 September 2016, more than 280 MEK members remaining were relocated to Albania. In May 2018, MSNBC aired never-before-seen footage of the MEK's secret base in Albania, described as a "massive military-style complex". The installation is located in Manëz, Durrës County, where they have been protested by the locals.
In 2017, the year before John Bolton became President Trump's National Security Adviser, he addressed members of the MEK and said that they would celebrate in Tehran before 2019. By the 2018 over 4,000 MEK members had entered Albania, according to the INSTAT data.
As of 2018, MEK operatives are believed to be still conducting covert operations inside Iran to overthrow Iran's government. Seymour Hersh reported that "some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today," with the MEK's prime goal of removing the current Iranian government. In January 2018, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani phoned French president Emmanuel Macron, asking him to order kicking the MEK out of its base in Auvers-sur-Oise, alleging that the MEK stirred up the 2017–18 Iranian protests.
In July 2018, Belgian police arrested a man and a woman charged with an alleged plot to bomb the MEK meeting in Paris, amidst Rouhani's state visit to Austria and Switzerland. Later, an Iranian diplomat working in the Iranian embassy in Vienna was arrested in Germany, suspected of having been in contact with the two arrested in Belgium. Iran responded that the arrests were a "false flag ploy" and the two arrested in Belgium are in fact known members of the MEK. In October 2018, the French government officially and publicly blamed Iran's Intelligence Service for the failed attack against the MEK. U.S. officials also condemned Iran over the foiled bomb plot that France blames on Tehran.
In December 2018, Albania expelled two Iranian diplomats due to alleged involvement in a terror plot against the MEK (where Mayor Giuliani and other US government officials were also gathered) accusing the two of "violating their diplomatic status".
In 2019 Rudy Giuliani attended an MEK podium headlining a conference in Albania, where the former New York City mayor described the group as a "government-in-exile", saying it is a ready-to-go alternative to lead the country if the Iranian government falls. Additionally, the Trump administration said it would not rule out the MEK as a viable replacement for the current Iranian regime.
In October 2019 Albanian police discovered an Iranian paramilitary network that allegedly planned attacks against MEK members in Albania. Albania's police chief, Ardi Veliu, said that the Iran Revolutionary Guard's foreign wing operated an "active terrorist cell" that targeted members of the MEK. A police statement said that two Iranian security officials led the network from Tehran, and that it was allegedly linked to organised crime groups in Turkey. It also said that the network used a former MEK member to collect information in Albania. Valiu also said that a planned attack on the MEK by Iranian government agents was foiled in March.
Before the revolution
According to Katzman, the MEK's early ideology is a matter of dispute, while scholars generally describe the MEK's ideology as an attempt to combine "Islam with revolutionary Marxism", today the organization claims that it has always emphasized Islam, and that Marxism and Islam are incompatible. Katzman writes that their ideology "espoused the creation of a classless society that would combat world imperialism, international Zionism, colonialism, exploitation, racism, and multinational corporations".
Historian Ervand Abrahamian observed that the MEK were "consciously influenced by Marxism, both modern and classical", but they always denied being Marxists because they were aware that the term was colloquial to 'atheistic materialism' among Iran's general public. The Iranian regime for the same reason was "eager to pin on the Mojahedin the labels of Islamic-Marxists and Marxist-Muslims".
According to Abrahamian, it was the first Iranian organization to develop systematically a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam that "differed sharply from both the old conservative Islam of the traditional clergy and the new populist version formulated in the 1970s by Ayatollah Khomeini and his disciples". According to James Piazza, the MEK worked towards the creation by armed popular struggle of a society in which ethnic, gender, or class discrimination would be obliterated.
During the early 1970s, the MEK denied government allegations that it had espoused Marxism as ideology. Nasser Sadegh told military tribunals that although the MEK respected Marxism as a “progressive method of social analysis, they could not accept materialism, which was contrary to their Islamic ideology". The MEK eventually had a falling out with Marxist groups. According to Sepehr Zabir, "they soon became Enemy No. 1 of both pro-Soviet Marxist groups, the Tudeh and the Majority Fedayeen".
Abrahamian said that the MEK's early ideology constituted a "combination of Muslim themes; Shii notions of martyrdom; classical Marxist theories of class struggle and historical determinism; and neo-Marxist concepts of armed struggle, guerilla warfare and revolutionary heroism". However, the MEK claim that this misrepresents their ideology in that Marxism and Islam are incompatible, and that the MEK has always emphasized Islam.
The MEK's ideology of revolutionary Shiaism is based on an interpretation of Islam so similar to that of Ali Shariati that "many concluded" they were inspired by him. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, it is clear that "in later years" that Shariati and "his prolific works" had "indirectly helped the Mujahedin".
In the group's "first major ideological work", Nahzat-i Husseini or Hussein's Movement, authored by one of the group's founders, Ahmad Reza'i, it was argued that Nezam-i Towhid (monotheistic order) sought by the prophet Muhammad, was a commonwealth fully united not only in its worship of one God but in a classless society that strives for the common good. "Shiism, particularly Hussein's historic act of martyrdom and resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture".
As described by Abrahamian, one Mojahedin ideologist argued
Reza'i further argued that the banner of revolt raised by the Shi'i Imams, especially Ali, Hassan, and Hussein, was aimed against feudal landlords and exploiting merchant capitalists as well as against usurping Caliphs who betrayed the Nezam-i-Towhid. For Reza'i and the Mujahidin it was the duty of all muslims to continue this struggle to create a 'classless society' and destroy all forms of capitalism, despotism, and imperialism. The Mujahidin summed up their attitude towards religion in these words: 'After years of extensive study into Islamic history and Shi'i ideology, our organization has reached the firm conclusion that Islam, especially Shi'ism, will play a major role in inspiring the masses to join the revolution. It will do so because Shi'ism, particularly Hussein's historic act of resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture.
According to former MEK member Masoud Banisadr, "[l]ooking at the original official ideology of the group, one notices some sort of ideological opportunism within their 'mix and match' set of beliefs".
After the revolution
In 1981, after signing the "covenant of freedom and independence" with Banisadr, and establishing NCRI Massoud Rajavi made an announcement to the foreign press about the MEK’s ideology saying that “First we want freedom for all political parties. We reject both political prisoners and political executions. In the true spirit of Islam, we advocate freedom, fraternity, and an end to all repression, censorship, and injustices.” They appealed to all opposition groups to join NCRI, but failed to attract any except for the Kurdish Democratic Party. The failure is mainly associated to MEK's religious ideology.
According to Kenneth Katzman, the MEK has "tried to show itself as worthy of U.S. support on the basis of its commitment to values compatible with those of the United States – democracy, free market economics, protection of the rights of women and minorities, and peaceful relations with Iran’s neighbors". According to Department of State's October 1994 report, the MEK uses violence in its campaign to overthrow the Iranian regime. In 2001, Kenneth Katzman wrote that the organization publicly espouses principles that include "democracy, human rights protections, free market economics, and Middle East peace", but some analysts dispute that are genuinely committed to what they state. A 2009 U.S. Department of State annual report states that their ideology is a blend of Marxism, Islamism and feminism.
The MEK says it is seeking regime change in Iran through peaceful means with an aim to replace the clerical rule in Iran with a secular government. It also claims to have disassociated itself from its former revolutionary ideology in favor of liberal democratic values, but they fail to "present any track record to substantiate a capability or intention to be democratic". The MEK is also said to have a "commitment to a policy of peaceful coexistence and a non-nuclear Iran."
View on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
In the beginning, MEK used to criticize the Pahlavi dynasty for allying with Israel and apartheid South Africa, calling them racist states and demanding cancellation of all political and economic agreements with them. The MEK opposed Israeli–Palestinian peace process and was anti-Zionist.
The Central Cadre established contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), by sending emissaries to Paris, Dubai, and Qatar to meet PLO officials. In one occasion, seven leading members of the MEK spent several months in the PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon. On 3 August 1972, they bombed the Jordanian embassy as a means to revenge King Hussein's unleashing his troops on the PLO in 1970.
According to Sam Razavi, observers have noted Israel's support of the MEK after their exile from Iran.
View on the United States
In the late 1970s, the intelligentsia as a class in Iran was distinctly nationalistic and anti-imperialistic. The MEK had impeccable nationalistic credentials, calling for the nationalization of foreign companies and economic independence from the capitalist world, and praising writers such as Al-e Ahmad, Saedi and Shariati for being "anti-imperialist". Rajavi in his presidential campaign after revolution used to warn against what he called the "imperialist danger". The matter was so fundamental to MEK that it criticized the Iranian government on that basis, accusing the Islamic Republic of "capitulation to imperialism" and being disloyal to democracy that according to Rajavi was the only means to "safeguard from American imperialism".
After exile, the MEK sought the support of as many prominent politicians, academics and human rights lawyers. Rajavi tried to reach as broad a Western public as possible by giving frequent interviews to Western newspapers. In these interviews, Rajavi toned down the issues of imperialism, foreign policy, and social revolution. Instead, he stressed the themes of democracy, political liberties, political pluralism, human rights, respect for 'personal property', the plight of political prisoners, and the need to end the senseless war.
According to Ardeshir Parkizkari (a former MEK member), the MEK "called the events of Sept. 11 God's revenge on America."
In January 1993, President-elect Clinton wrote a private letter to the Massoud Rajavi, in which he set out his support for the organization. The organization has also received support United States officials including Tom Ridge, Howard Dean, Michael Mukasey, Louis Freeh, Hugh Shelton, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bill Richardson, James L. Jones, and Edward G. Rendell.
As Mukasey mentioned in The New York Times, in 2011 he had received $15,000 to $20,000 to present a lecture about "MEK-related events", as well as he listed as "a foreign agent lobbying pro bono for MEK’s political arm".
On 30 June 2018, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, lectured an MeK gathering in Paris, calling for regime change in Tehran. John McCain and John Bolton and he have met the MeK’s leader Maryam Rajavi or spoken at its rallies.
Ideological revolution and women's rights
The MEK is "known for its female-led military units". According to Ervand Abrahamian, the MEK "declared that God had created men and women to be equal in all things: in political and intellectual matters, as well as in legal, economic, and social issues." According to Tohidi, in 1982, as the government in Tehran led an expansive effort to limit women’s rights, the MEK adopted a female leadership. In 1987, the National Liberation Army (NLA), “saw female resistors commanding military operations from their former base at Camp Ashraf (in Diyala, Iraq) to Iran’s westernmost provinces, where they engaged alongside the men in armed combat with Iran’s regular and paramilitary forces.”
According to Ervand Abrahamian "the Mojahedin, despite contrary claims did not give women equal representation within their own hierarchy. The book of martyrs indicates that women formed 15 percent of the organization's rank-and-file, but only 9 percent of its leadership. To rectify this, the Mojahedin posthumously revealed some of the rank and file women martyrs especially those related to prominent figures, into leadership positions".
Shortly after the revolution, Rajavi married Ashraf Rabii, an MEK member regarded as "the symbol of revolutionary womanhood". Rabii was killed by Iranian forces in 1982. On 27 January 1985, Massoud Rajavi appointed Maryam Azodanlu as his co-equal leader. The announcement, stated that this would give women equal say within the organization and thereby 'would launch a great ideological revolution within Mojahedin, the Iranian public and the whole Muslim World'. Five weeks later, the MEK announced that its Politburo and Central Committee had asked Rajavi and Azondalu, who was already married, to marry one another to deepen and pave the way for the "ideological revolution. At the time Maryam Azodanlu was known as only the younger sister of a veteran member, and the wife of Mehdi Abrishamchi. According to the announcement, Maryam Azodanlu and Mehdi Abrishamchi had recently divorced in order to facilitate this 'great revolution'. According to Ervand Abrahamian "in the eyes of traditionalists, particularly among the bazaar middle class, the whole incident was indecent. It smacked of wife-swapping, especially when Abrishamchi announced his own marriage to Khiabani’s younger sister. It involved women with young children and wives of close friends – a taboo in traditional Iranian culture;" something that further isolated the Mojahedin and also upset some members of the organization. Also according to Ervand Abrahamian, "the incident was equally outrageous in the eyes of the secularists, especially among the modern intelligentsia. It projected onto the public arena a matter that should have been treated as a private issue between two individuals." Many criticized Maryam Azodanlu's giving up her own maiden name (something most Iranian women did not do and she herself had not done in her previous marriage). They would question whether this was in line with her claims of being a staunch feminist. According to Sepehr Zabih, Massoud Rajavi's "bizarre" marriage with Maryam Rajavi was shown as an "act of supreme sacrifice designed to promote collective leadership and appeal to the female half of the Iranian populace".
Maryam Rajavi became increasingly important over feminism-colored politics. The emancipation of women is now depicted in Maryam Rajavi's writings "as both a policy end and a strategy toward revolutionizing Iran. Secularism, democracy, and women's rights are thus today's leading themes in the group's strategic communications. As for Maryam Rajavi's leadership, in 2017 it appears to be political and cultural; any remnants of a military force and interest in terrorist strategies have faded away."
According to Kenneth Katzman, most analysts agree that MEK members tend to be "more dedicated and zealous" than those of other organizations.
According to George E. Delury, the organization was thought to have 5,000 hard-core members and 50,000 supporters in early 1980. In June 1980, at perhaps the height of their popularity, the Mojahedin attracted 150,000 sympathizers to a rally in Tehran. Pierre Razoux estimates MEK's maximum strength from 1981–1983 to 1987–1988, about 15,000 fighters with a few tanks and several dozen light artillery pieces, recoilless guns, machine guns, anti-tank missiles and SAM-7s. Jeffrey S. Dixon and Meredith Reid Sarkees estimate their prewar strength to be about 2,000, later peaking to 10,000.
The MEK was believed to have a 5,000–7,000-strong armed guerrilla group based in Iraq before the 2003 war, but a membership of between 3,000–5,000 is considered more likely.In 2005, the U.S. think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations stated that the MEK had 10,000 members, one-third to one-half of whom were fighters. According to a 2003 article by The New York Times, the MEK was composed of 5,000 fighters based in Iraq, many of them female.Reports by The Military Balance in 2003 and 2004, as well as BMI Research's 2008 report estimate MEK's armed wing strength 6,000–8,000 and its political wing around 3,000, thus a total 9,000–11,000 membership. In April 2003, US forces signed a cease-fire agreement of “mutual understanding and coordination” with the MEK. A 2013 article in Foreign Policy claimed that there were some 2,900 members in Iraq. In 2011, United States Department of Defense estimated global membership of the organization between 5,000 and 13,500 persons scattered throughout Europe, North America, and Iraq. Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the MEK's 2016 gathering attracted "over 100,000 Iranian dissidents" in Paris. Today, the MEK is considered a "fringe exiled group" by emphasizing to its sectarian feature make attempt for regime change in Iran.
Designation as a terrorist organization
The countries and organizations below have officially listed MEK as a terrorist organization:
|Currently listed by||Iran||Designated by the current government since 1981, also during Pahlavi dynasty until 1979|
|Iraq||Designated by the post-2003 government|
|Formerly listed by||United States||Designated on 8 July 1997, delisted on 28 September 2012|
|United Kingdom||Designated on 28 March 2001, delisted on 24 June 2008|
|European Union||Designated in May 2002, delisted on 26 January 2009|
|Canada||Designated on 24 May 2005, delisted on 20 December 2012|
|Other designations||Australia||Not designated as terrorist but added to the 'Consolidated List' subject to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 on 21 December 2001|
|United Nations||The group is described as "involved in terrorist activities" by the United Nations Committee against Torture in 2008|
In 1997, the United States put the MEK on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The Clinton administration reported the Los Angeles Times that “The inclusion of the People’s Mojahedin was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected president, Mohammad Khatami".
Since 2004, the United States also considered the group as "noncombatants" and "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions because most members had been living in a refugee camp in Iraq for more than 25 years. In 2002, the European Union, pressured by Washington, added MEK to its terrorist list. In 2008, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied MEK its request to be delisted, while MEK leaders then began a lobbying campaign to be removed from the list by promoting itself as a viable opposition to the clerical in Iran.
MEK had a "strong" base in U.S. who tried to remove the group from the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and consequently turning it into a legetimate actor. In 2011, several former senior U.S. officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, three former chairmen of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, two former directors of the CIA, former commander of NATO Wesley Clark, two former U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations, the former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former White House Chief of Staff, a former commander of the United States Marine Corps, former U.S. National Security Advisor Frances Townsend, and U.S. President Barack Obama's retired National Security Adviser General James L. Jones called for the MEK to be removed from its official State Department foreign terrorist listing on the grounds that they constituted a viable opposition to the Iranian government.
Hersh reported names of former U.S. officials paid to speak in support of MEK, including former CIA directors James Woolsey and Porter Goss; New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Vermont Governor Howard Dean; former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Louis Freeh and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
Removal of the designation
The United Kingdom lifted the MEK's designation as a terrorist group in June 2008, followed by the Council of the European Union on 26 January 2009, after what the group called a "seven-year-long legal and political battle". It was also lifted in the United States following a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 21 September 2012 and lastly in Canada on 20 December 2012.
In 2008, the Luxembourg European Court of First Instance upheld that there was no justification for including the MEK in the EU terrorist list and freezing its funds. The Court then allowed an appeal to delist the MEK from the EU’s terror list. An attempt by EU governments to maintain the MEK in the terror list was rejected by the European Court of Justice, with ambassadors of the 27 member states agreeing that the MEK should be removed from the EU terrorism list. The MEK was removed from the EU terror list on 26 January 2009, becoming the first organization to have been removed from the EU terror list.
The Council of the European Union removed the group's terrorist designation following the Court of Justice of the European Union's 2008 censure of France for failing to disclose new alleged evidence of the MEK's terrorism threat. Delisting allowed MEK to pursue tens of millions of dollars in frozen assets and lobby in Europe for more funds. It also removed the terrorist label from MEK members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
On 28 September 2012, the U.S. State Department formally removed MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, beating an 1 October deadline in an MEK lawsuit. Secretary of State Clinton said in a statement that the decision was made because the MEK had renounced violence and had cooperated in closing their Iraqi paramilitary base. An official denied that lobbying by well-known figures influenced the decision. Some former U.S. officials vehemently reject the new status and believe the MEK has not changed its ways.
The MEK advocated to remove itself from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, having paid high-profile officials upwards of $50,000 give speeches calling for delisting. Among them, Rendell who admitted himself being paid to speak in support of the MEK and Hamilton who said he was paid to "appear on a panel Feb. 19 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington". In February 2015, The Intercept published that Bob Menendez, John McCain, Judy Chu, Dana Rohrabacher and Robert Torricelli received campaign contributions from MEK supporters.
Ervand Abrahamian, Shaul Bakhash, Juan Cole and Gary Sick among others, published "Joint Experts' Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq" on Financial Times voicing their concerns regarding MEK delisting. The National Iranian American Council denounced the decision, stating it "opens the door to Congressional funding of the M.E.K. to conduct terrorist attacks in Iran" and "makes war with Iran far more likely". Iran state television also condemned the delisting of the group, saying that the U.S. considers MEK to be "good terrorists because the U.S. is using them against Iran".
Designation as a cult
According to a BBC article, the US government described the MEK as a "Cult", with one US colonel saying "the organisation was a cult", and yet another retired US general saying "Cult? How about admirably focused group?". United States Department of State describes MEK in a 2008 report as "cult-like terrorist organisation". Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaidaie, said in 2011 that the MEK was "nothing more than a cult". Some academics, including Ervand Abrahamian, Stephanie Cronin, Wilfried Buchta, and others have also made similar claims. Former French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal criticized the MEK for having a ″cult nature”; while Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that he was “ashamed” by this statement.
Allegations of cult-like characteristics in the MEK have been made by former members who have defected from the organization, including Massoud Khodabandeh and Masoud Banisadr among others, but also by journalists including Reese Erlich, Robert Scheer, and Elizabeth Rubin among others, who visited its military camps in Iraq.
More defectors have related their experiences recently. These include a ban on romantic relationships and marriages after a major military defeat. The leadership attributed that to the members being distracted by spouses and children. Mass divorce followed, and children were sent away, often to foster homes in Europe. Members said they had to write in a notebook any sexual moments, such as 'today in the morning, I had an erection'. Also, they had to write in the that notebook feelings such as wishing to have a child after seeing children on TV. These notebooks had to be read aloud in front of the leaders and comerades. Despite these, Rudy Guiliani, president Trump's personal lawyer, addressed a meeting of the MEK at their Tirana compound, saying: "And if you think that's a cult, then there is something wrong with you".
In 1990, following the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq and a quarter of his follower's absence, Rajavi declared the second phase of the “Ideological Revolution”. By his order, all members got a divorce from their spouses. A year later, Rajavi ordered all children (800) to be moved from Iraq to Europe and America to be adopted by MEK supporters.
An investigation by the European Parliament and the U.S. military concluded that the accusations of it being a cult were unfounded: "the European Parliament’s report uncovered falsified information traceable to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence". According to Raymond Tanter, "Tehran uses allegations that the MEK is a 'cult' as propaganda to target liberal democracies, attempting to persuade them to refrain from providing support to the MEK", not addressing claims of being a cult by various journalists.
A report commissioned by the US government, based on interviews within Camp Ashraf, concluded that the MEK had "many of the typical characteristics of a cult, such as authoritarian control, confiscation of assets, sexual control (including mandatory divorce and celibacy), emotional isolation, forced labour, sleep deprivation, physical abuse and limited exit options".
On 22 June 1981, IRGC and hezbollahis responded to anti-regime demonstrations against the dismissal of President Abolhassan Banisadr, to what came to be known as "reign of terror" in Iran. The Warden of Evin prison announced the firing squad executions of demonstrators, including teenage girls. On 28 June 1981, opponents of the regime retaliated by bombing IRP headquarters, killing Mohammad Beheshti and seventy people. Two days after the bombing, Ayatollah Khomeini blamed the MEK, who did not take or deny responsibility. The MEK was the first group carrying out suicide attacks in Iran.[which?] From 26 August 1981 to December 1982, it orchestrated 336 attacks.
During the fall of 1981, the MEK was in charge of 65 percent assassinations (approximately one thousand officials of the Khomeini establishment)  including police officers, judges, and clerics. Later, many low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards. MEK leader Massoud Rajavi stated that they did not target civilians:
I pledge on behalf of the Iranian resistance that if anyone from our side oversteps the red line concerning absolute prohibition of attacks on civilians and innocent individuals, either deliberately or unintentionally, he or she would be ready to stand trial in any international court and accept any ruling by the court, including the payment of compensation.
According to Chris Zambelis senior middle east analyst of Jamestown Foundation, the MEK "has never been known to target civilians directly, though its use of tactics such as mortar barrages and ambushes in busy areas have often resulted in civilian casualties."
The MEK also failed to assassinate some key figures, including Iran's current leader Ali Khameni. When the security measures around officials improved, MEK started to target thousands of ordinary citizens who supported the government and Hezbollahis.
In July 1982, 13 IRGC members and Ayatollah Sadduqi, a close advisor to Khomeini were killed by Ebrahimzadeh a member of MEK who detonated a hand grenade in a suicide attack.
On August 30, a bomb was detonated killing the popularly elected President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. An active member of the Mujahedin, Massoud Keshmiri, was identified as the perpetrator, and according to reports came close to killing the entire government including Khomeini. Kashmiri was a member of the MEK who infiltrated the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) and come up through the ranks, reaching the position of secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. He planted an incendiary bomb in his briefcase that blew up the Prime Minister's office in 1981. Victims of the explosion were President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar among others.
At first, it was thought that Keshmiri himself died in the explosion, however it was later revealed that he slipped through the dragnet. The reaction to both bombings was intense with many arrests and executions of Mujahedin and other leftist groups, but "assassinations of leading officials and active supporters of the regime by the Mujahedin were to continue for the next year or two."
The organization has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. The MEK also claimed responsibility of assassinating Ali Sayad Shirazi, Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran's prison system (1998). MEK also assassinated Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Mohammad-Javad Bahonar.
Hafte Tir Bombing
The MEK is accused of detonating a bomb at the Islamic Republican Party headquarters on On 28 June 1981. Two days later after the incident, Ruhollah Khomeini accused the MEK. The incident, called Hafte Tir bombing in Iran, killed 73, including Mohammad Beheshti, the party's secretary-general and Chief Justice of Iran, 4 cabinet ministers, 10 vice ministers and 27 members of the Parliament of Iran.
The responsibility of attack never directly was accepted by ME. According to Kenneth Katzman, "there has been much speculation among academics and observers that these bombings may have actually been planned by senior IRP leaders, to rid themselves of rivals within the IRP". According to Ervand Abrahamian, "whatever the truth, the Islamic Republic used the incident to wage war on the Left opposition in general and the Mojahedin in particular". According to the U.S department of state, the bombing was carried out by the MEK.
Intelligence and misinformation campaign against the MEK
According to Katzman, the Iranian regime is concerned about MEK activities and are a major target of Iran's internal security apparatus and its campaign as assassinating opponents abroad. The Iranian regime is believed to be responsible for killing NCR representative in 1993, and Massoud Rajavi's brother in 1990. The MEK claims that in 1996 a shipment of Iranian mortars was intended for use by Iranian agents against Maryam Rajavi.
The Shah's regime waged a propaganda campaign against the MEK, accusing them "of carrying out subversive acts at the behest of their foreign patrons" and claiming that "the shot-outs and bombings caused heavy casualties among bystanders and innocent civilians, especially women and children". It also obtained "public confessions" that accused former colleagues of crimes including sexual promiscuity. The regime claimed that the MEK were "unbelievers masquerading as Muslims", and used the Koranic term "monafeqin" (hypocrites) to describe them. This label was also later used by the Islamic Republic to discredit the MEK. According to hisotrian Ervand Abrahamian, the Iranian regime “did everything it could” to tarnish the MEK “through a relentless campaign by labeling them as Marxist hypocrites and Western-contaminated ‘electics’, and as ‘counter-revolutionary terrorists’ collaborating with the Iraqi Ba’thists and the imperialists”.
After the bombing at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad which killed 25 and wounded at least 70 people, the Iranian regime immediately blamed the MEK. A month after the attack, a Sunni group calling itself “al-haraka al-islamiya al-iraniya” claimed responsibility for the attack (as well as for the Makki Mosque attack in Zahedan in 1994). Despite this, the Iranian government continued to hold the MEK responsible for both attacks. According to the NCRI, in a trial in November 1999, interior minister Abdullah Nouri admitted that the Iranian regime had carried out the attack in order to confront the MEK and tarnish its image. According to an anonymous U.S. official, Ramzi Yousef built the bomb and MEK agents placed it in the shrine.
Yonah Alexander has stated that Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) agents have conducted "intelligence gathering, disinformation, and subversive operations against individual regime opponents and opposition governments. [...] According to European intelligence and security services, current and former MEK members, and other dissidents, these intelligence networks shadow, harass, threaten, and ultimately, attempt to lure opposition figures and their families back to Iran for prosecution".
According Abbas Milani, lobbyists paid for by the Iranian regime campaigned against delisting the MEK calling it a "dangerous cult". There have also been reports that the Islamic Republic has manipulated Western media in order to generate false allegations against the MEK.
According to terrorism specialist Yonah Alexander, in May 2005 Iran's Ministry of Intelligence ran a disinformation operation against the MEK by deceiving Human Rights Watch into "publishing a report detailing alleged human rights abuses committed by MEK leadership against dissident members. The report was allegedly based upon information provided to HRW by known Iranian MOIS agents who were former MEK members working for the Iranian Intelligence service."
In 2018, U.S. District Court charged two alleged Iran agents of "conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States and collecting intelligence on Americans linked to a political organization that wants to see the current Iranian government overthrown." During the court process, it was revealed that the two alleged agents of Iran had mostly gathered information concerning activities involving the MEK.
The two men pleaded guilty in November 2019 to several charges including conspiracy and "acting as an undeclared agent of the Iranian government". The Justice Department said that one of the men arrived in the US to gather "intelligence information" about the MEK (as well as Israeli and Jewish entities). The other admitted to taking photographs at a 2017 MEK rally in order to profile attendees.
Disinformation through recruited MEK members
A December 2012 report by the US library of Congress’s Federal Research Division profiling the MOIS describes how the MOIS recruited former MEK members and "used them to launch a disinformation campaign against the MEK." MOIS has also been known to recruit and extort non-Iranians to demonize the MEK.
In 2009, activists and MEK supporter Farzad and Sabham Madadzadeh were arrested by Iranian police. According to Farzad, Iranian officers tortured him and his sister, and wanted him to confess to crimes that he had not committed: "They told me, 'You come and do an interview against the PMOI, the MEK, and the NCRI [...]. They would throw me on the ground and treat me like a football between three people. [...] Several times they did this to me in front of Shabnam’s eyes in order to break her".
Assassination of MEK members outside Iran
From 1989 to 1993, the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out numerous assassinations of MEK members. Between March and June 1990, three MEK members were assassinated in Turkey. In 24 February 1990, Dr Kazem Rajavi (a National Council member) was assassinated in Geneva. In January 1993, an MEK member was murdered in Baghdad.
In March 1993, the NCRI’s spokesman was murdered in Italy. In May 1990, a MEK member was murdered in Cologne. In February 1993, a MEK member was murdered in Manila. In April 1992, a MEK member was murdered in the Netherlands. In August 1992, a MEK member was murdered in Karachi. In March 1993, two assassins on motorcycles murdered NCRI representative Mohammad Hossein Naqdi in Italy. This led to the European Parliament issuing a condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran for political murder.
In May 1994, Islamic Republic agents assassinated two MEK members in Iraq. In May 1995, five MEK members were assassinated in Iraq. In 1996, two MEK members were murdered in Turkey (including NCRI member Zahra Rajabi); in the same year two MEK members were killed in Pakistan and another one in Iraq.
In 23 September 1991, an attempt was carried out to assassinate Massoud Rajavi in Baghdad. In August 1992, a MEK member was kidnapped and brought to Iran. In September 1992, MEK offices in Baghdad were broken into. In January 1993, a MEK bus was bombed without casualties. Towards the end of 1993, anonymous gunmen attacked Air France offices and the French embassy in Iran after France allowed Maryam Rajavi and 200 MEK members to enter France.
Islamic Republic of Iran allegations against the MEK
Execution of Mohammad-Reza Sa’adati
In 1979, engineer Mohammad-Reza Sa’adati was arrested by Iranian security forces outside the Soviet embassy and charged with spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. Revolutionary Guards detained him while trying to enter the Soviet Embassy reportedly carrying sensitive documents about the Revolutionary Council. According to historian Abbas Milani, the MEK had informed the Soviets that they had obtained the documents and case of Ahmad Moggarrebi, an Imperial Iranian Army general who was executed for espionage for the Soviets by the Shah's regime.
The MEK claimed that Sa’adati, who was responsible for foreign relations on behalf of the MEK, had only interviewed officials from various nations and organizations, and had been arrested on false charges. Sa’adati also accused the Iranian regime of trying to link MEK operations to the Soviet Union. Sa'adati was tried and sentenced to serve ten years in prison. In June 1981 when conflicts escalated between the MEK and Khomeini’s government, Sa'adati was retried and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran for "allegedly managing the guerrilla war from inside the prison".
In April 1992, Iranian authorities carried out an air raid against MEK bases in Iraq. The IRI claimed that the attack had been in retaliation to the MEK targeting Iranian governmental and civilian targets. The MEK and Iraq denied the allegations, claiming that Iran had “invented this attack on its territory to cover up the bombardment of the Mojahedin bases on Iraqi territory”.
On 9 February 2012, Iran senior officer Mohammad-Javad Larijani alleged to NBC news that “MOSSAD and the MEK were jointly responsible for the targeted killing of Iranian scientists,” although the claim has never been backed up with evidence.
On 19 June 2017, the Alborz Central Prosecutor and Revolutionary Prosecutor announced the arrests of two people in Karaj in connection with the Mojahedin Khalq Organization. Those arrested confessed to have received money from the MEK for gathering information and pictures of the elections.
As Ali Shamkhani, national security chief mentioned in the saying to members of parliament the "Mujahedin-e-Khalq was behind the protests" which raised after increasing the price of petrol. Arab News reported that "key organizers of recent protests could be said to be associates of this oppositional group (MEK)".
Ties to foreign and non-state actors
On 7 January 1986, the MEK leaders sent a twelve-page letter to the "comrades" of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, asking for temporary asylum and a loan of $300 million to continue their "revolutionary anti-imperialist" actions. It is not clear how the Soviets responded, according to Milani. Israel's foreign intelligence agency Mossad maintains connections with the MEK, dating back to the 1990s.
Hyeran Jo, associate professor of Texas A&M University wrote in 2015 that the MEK is supported by the United States. According to Spiegel Online security experts say that U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel provide the group with financial support, though there is no proof for this supposition and MEK denies this.
According to Ervand Abrahamian, while dealing with anti-regime clergy in 1974, the MEK became close with secular Left groups in and outside Iran. These included the confederation of Iranian Students, The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, and the People's Front for the Liberation of Oman, among others. The MEK sent five trained members into South Yemen to fight in the Dhofar Rebellion against Omani and Iranian forces.
In April 2012, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command had trained MEK operatives at a secret site in Nevada from 2005 to 2009. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
Intelligence and operational capabilities
During the years MEK was based in Iraq, it was closely associated with the intelligence service Mukhabarat (IIS), and even had a dedicated department in the agency. Directorate 14 of the IIS worked with the MEK in joint operations while Directorate 18 was exclusively responsible for the MEK and issued the orders and tasks for their operations. The MEK offered IIS with intelligence it gathered from Iran, interrogation and translation services.
An unclassified report published by US Army's University of Military Intelligence in 2008, states that the MEK operates a HUMINT network within Iran, which is "clearly a MEK core strength". It has started a debate among intelligence experts that "whether western powers should leverage this capability to better inform their own intelligence picture of the Iranian regime’s goals and intentions". Rick Francona told Foreign Policy in 2005 that the MEK teams could work in conjunction with collection of intelligence and identifying agents. U.S. security officials maintain that the organization has a record of exaggerating or fabricating information, according to Newsweek. David Kay believes that "they’re often wrong, but occasionally they give you something".
The MEK is able to conduct "telephone intelligence" operations effectively, i.e. gathering intelligence through making phone calls to officials and government organizations in Iran. According to Ariane M. Tabatabai, the MEK's "capabilities to conduct terrorist attacks may have decreased in recent years".
According to Wilfried Buchta, the MEK has used propaganda in the West since the 1980s. In the 1980s and the 1990s, their propaganda was mainly targeted against the officials in the establishment. According to Anthony H. Cordesman, since the mid-1980s the MEK has confronted Iranian representatives overseas through "propaganda and street demonstrations". Other analysts have also alleged that there is a propaganda campaign by the MEK in the West, including Christopher C. Harmon, Wilfried Buchta, and others.
According to Kenneth Katzman, the MEK is able to mobilize its exile supporters in demonstration and fundraising campaigns. The organization attempts to publicize regime abuses and curb foreign governments’ relations with Tehran. To do so, it frequently conducts anti-regime marches and demonstrations in those countries.
A 1986 U.S. State Department letter to KSCI-TV described "MEK propaganda" as being in line with the following: "[T]he Iranian government is bad, the PMOI is against the Iranian government, the Iranian government represses the PMOI, therefore, the PMOI and its leader Rajavi are good and worth of support". According to Masoud Kazemzadeh, the MEK has also used propaganda against defectors of the organization.
Al Jazeera reported on an alleged Twitter-based MEK campaign. According to Exeter University lecturer Marc Owen Jones, accounts tweeting #FreeIran and #Iran_Regime_Change "were created within about a four-month window", suggesting bot activity. According to former MEK member Hassan Heyrani, "several thousand accounts are managed by about 1,000-1,500 MEK members".
In an article published by The Intercept on 9 June 2019, two people who have defected from MEK claimed that "Heshmat Alavi" is not a real person, and that the articles published under that name were actually written by a team of people at the political wing of MEK. Media outlets that have published the writings of "Heshmat Alavi" include Forbes, The Diplomat, The Hill, The Daily Caller, The Federalist and the English edition of Al Arabiya's website. One article of "Alavi" published by Forbes was used by the White House to justify Donald Trump Administration's sanctions against Iran. Since the article's publication, Twitter has suspended the "Heshmat Alavi" account, and the writings in the name of "Heshmat Alavi" were removed from The Diplomat and Forbes' website. A website purported to be a personal blog of "Heshmat Alavi" published a post with counterclaims.
Human rights record
In 2006, Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki told the MEK it had to leave Iraq, but the MEK responded that the "request violated their status under the Geneva Convention". Al-Maliki and the Iraqi Ministry of Justice maintained that the MEK had committed human rights abuses in the early 1990s when it aided Saddam Hussain's campaign against the Shia uprising. According to Time magazine, the MEK has denied aiding Saddam in quashing Kurdish and Shia rebellions.
In a 2004 public release, Amnesty International stated it continues to receive reports[by whom?] of human rights violations carried out by the MEK against its own members. In 2018, Amnesty International also condemned the government of Iran for executing MEK prisoners in 1988 and presented the MEK as being mainly peaceful political dissidents despite reports that they have killed thousands of Iranians and Iraqis since 1981.
In May 2005, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report named "No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps", describing prison camps run by the MEK and severe human rights violations committed by the group against its members, ranging from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture that in two cases led to death. However, disagreements over this provided evidence has been expressed.
The report prompted a response by the MEK and four European MPs named "Friends of a Free Iran" (FOFI), who published a counter-report in September 2005. They stated that HRW had "relied only on 12 hours [sic] interviews with 12 suspicious individuals", and stated that "a delegation of MEPs visited Camp Ashraf in Iraq" and "conducted impromptu inspections of the sites of alleged abuses". Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca (PP), one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, said that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was the source of the evidence against the MEK. In a letter of May 2005 to HRW, the senior US military police commander responsible for the Camp Ashraf area, Brigadier General David Phillips, who had been in charge during 2004 for the protective custody of the MEK members in the camp, disputed the alleged human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch released a statement in February 2006, stating: "We have investigated with care the criticisms we received concerning the substance and methodology of the [No Exit] report, and find those criticisms to be unwarranted". It provided responses to the FOFI document, whose findings "have no relevance" to the HRW report.
In July 2013, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, accused the leaders the group of human rights abuses, an allegation the MEK dismissed as "baseless" and "cover-up". The United Nations spokesperson defended Kobler and his allegations, stating: "We regret that MEK and its supporters continue to focus on public distortions of the U.N.'s efforts to promote a peaceful, humanitarian solution on Camp Ashraf and, in particular, its highly personalized attacks on the U.N. envoy for Iraq".
Hyeran Jo, in her work examining humanitarian violations of rebel groups to international law, states that the MEK has not accepted International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits to its detention centers. According to Ronen A. Cohen, the MEK controlled their people most importantly by "abuse of women". According to criticism of Human Right groups, marriage had been banned in the camp. Upon entry into the group, new members are indoctrinated in ideology and a revisionist history of Iran. All members are required to participate in weekly "ideologic cleansings".
According to Country Reports on Terrorism, in 1990 the second phase of the 'ideological revolution' was announced during which all married members were ordered to divorce and remain celibate, undertaking a vow of "eternal divorce", with the exception of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.The wedding rings of women were replaced with pendants engraved with Massoud’s face.Shortly thereafter, all children (about 800) were separated from their parents and sent abroad to be adopted by members of the group in Europe or North America.
In 1994, "self-divorce" was declared as the further phase of the 'ideological revolution'. During this process, all members were forced to surrender their individuality to the organization and change into "ant-like human beings", i.e. following orders by their instinct.
Allegations of sexual abuse
Journalist Jason Rezaian remarked in his detailing the connections between John R. Bolton and the MEK that "the few who were able to escape" were "cut off from their loved ones, forced into arranged marriages, brainwashed, sexually abused, and tortured." Members who defected from the MEK and some experts say that these Mao-style self-criticism sessions are intended to enforce control over sex and marriage in the organization as a total institution.
Batoul Soltani, one of three women to claim to have escaped from Camp Ashraf, alleged that Massoud Rajavi sexually assaulted her multiple times over the span of a number of years. Zahra Moini, another former female member who served as a bodyguard for Maryam Rajavi said that women were disappeared if they refused to "marry" Massoud. She also accused Maryam of being complicit in this practice. Fereshteh Hedayati, another defector, says that she avoided being "sexually abused". According to Guardian, MEK members forced to reveal any errant sexual thought publicly by its commanders. Hassan Heyrany, a defected member of MEK, stated that the MEK inhibited romantic relationships and marriage for members and that the members had a little notebook for recording "sexual moments". Heyrani added that it was hard for everyone to read the notes for their commander and comrades at the daily meeting.
In Germany, the MEK used a NGO to "support asylum seekers and refugees". Another alleged organization collected funds for "children whose parents had been killed in Iran" in sealed and stamped boxes placed in city centers. According to the Netjang Society, in 1988, the Nuremberg MEK front organization was uncovered by police. Initially, The Greens supported these organizations while it was unaware of their purpose.
In December 2001, a joint FBI-Cologne police operation discovered what a 2004 report calls "a complex fraud scheme involving children and social benefits", involving the sister of Maryam Rajavi. The High Court ruled to close several MEK compounds after investigations revealed that the organization fraudulently collected between $5 million and $10 million in social welfare benefits for children of its members sent to Europe.
In 2003, General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) claimed that Netherland charity that raises money for "children who suffer under the Iranian regime" (SIM (Dutch: Stichting Solidariteit met Iraanse Mensen) was fundraising for the MEK. A spokesperson for the charity said that SIM was unrelated to the MEK, and that these allegations were "lies from the Iranian regime". 'Committee for Human Rights' and 'Iran Aid', were two charities operated by MEK "claimed to raise money for Iranian refugees persecuted by the Islamic regime," but was later found to be a front for the National Liberation Army, MEK's military arm.
It also operated a UK-based charity Iran Aid which "claimed to raise money for Iranian refugees persecuted by the Islamic regime" and was later revealed to be a front for its military wing (according to conversations at the Nejat Society). In 2001, Charity Commission for England and Wales closed it down after finding no "verifiable links between the money donated by the British public [approximately £5 million annually] and charitable work in Iran".
As RAND Corporation policy reported, MEK supporters seek donations at public places, often showing "gruesome pictures" of human rights victims in Iran and claiming to raise money for them but funnelling it to MEK. A 2004 report by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that the organization is engaged "through a complex international money laundering operation that uses accounts in Turkey, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates".
In 1999, after a 2 1⁄2-year investigation, Federal authorities arrested 29 individuals in Operation Eastern Approach, of whom 15 were held on charges of helping MEK members illegally enter the United States. The ringleader was pleaded guilty to providing phony documents to MEK members and violation of Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
On 19 November 2004, two front organizations called the Iranian–American Community of Northern Virginia and the Union Against Fundamentalism organized demonstrations in front of the Capitol building in Washington, DC and transferred funds for the demonstration, some $9,000 to the account of a Texas MEK member. Congress and the bank in question were not aware that the demonstrators were actually providing material support to the MEK.
According to Abrahamian, by 1989 many foreign diplomats considered MEK to be "the largest, the best disciplined, and the most heavily armed of all the opposition organizations". In 1994 rival exiled groups question the organizations's claim that it would hold free elections after taking power in Iran, pointing to its designation of a "president-elect" as an evidence of neglecting Iranian people. Kenneth Katzman wrote in 2001 that the MEK is "Iran's most active opposition group". A 2009 report published by the Brookings Institution notes that the organization appears to be undemocratic and lacking popularity but maintains an operational presence in Iran, acting as a proxy against Tehran. The RAND Corporation policy report on the group suggests that between 1979 and 1981 it was the most popular dissident group in Iran, however, the former reputation is diminished to the extent that it is now "the only entity less popular" than the Iranian government. According to Ilan Berman, to its supporters, "it is the most organized and disciplined alternative to the current clerical regime in Tehran, and the only one that is truly capable of establishing a democratic, secular Iran."
By Iranian people
A wide range of sources state that the MEK has little or no popular support among Iranian people. The most frequent reason cited for it, is that their alliance with Saddam Hussein during Iran–Iraq War, is viewed as treason or betrayal within the homeland and attacking Iranian conscripted soldiers and civilians has made MEK unpopular among Iranians. These sources include journalism, academic works, as well as those written by analysts working for the government and think-tanks. However, this statement is difficult to prove considering MEK supporters are persecuted in Iran. According to Struan Stevenson: "The claim that the [MEK] is an irrelevant group or has no support within Iran is a myth". According to a 2009 Danish Immigration Service Report, "Even though the MKO has a worldwide network of members and supporters, it is an unpopular organisation among many Iranians because of its armed struggle against Iran during the past 30 years." Karim Sadjadpour believes the MEK is a "fringe group with mysterious benefactors that garners scant support in its home country", and that the population of its supporters in Iran "hovers between negligible and nill."
Although the MEK’s relocation to Iraq may have diminished its support in Iran, Ronen Cohen says that this hard to assess “because of the nature of the government in Iran”.
By other Iranian opposition parties
An October 1994 report by the U.S. Department of State notes that other Iranian opposition groups do not cooperate with the organization because they view it as "undemocratic" and "tightly controlled" by its leaders.
Due to its anti-Shah stance before the revolution, the MEK is not close to monarchist opposition groups and Reza Pahlavi, Iran's deposed crown prince. Commenting on the MEK, Pahlavi said in an interview: "I cannot imagine Iranians ever forgiving their behavior at that time [siding with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war]. [...] If the choice is between this regime and the MEK, they will most likely say the mullahs".
The National Resistance Movement of Iran (NAMIR), led by Shapour Bakhtiar, never maintained a friendly relationship with the MEK. In July 1981, NAMIR rejected any notion of cooperation between the two organizations and publicly condemned them in a communiqué issued following the meeting between Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz and Rajavi in January 1983 as well as the "Holy and Revolutionary" nature of Rajavis in April 1984.
- A Cult That Would Be an Army: Cult of the Chameleon (2007): Al Jazeera documentary directed by Maziar Bahari.
- The Strange World of the People's Mujahedin (2012): BBC World Service documentary directed by Owen Bennett-Jones and produced by Wisebuddah company. It won New York Festivals award for Best Investigative Report in 2013.
- Comrades in Arms: Ashraf Camp in Iraq Turned into a Harem for Leader (2014): Press TV documentary.
- The Secrets Behind Auvers-sur-Oise (2016): Press TV documentary.
- Chasing Iranian Spies: documentary directed by Michael Ware as an episode of the Uncensored with Michael Ware (S1E3), aired on 7 February 2017 by the National Geographic.
Series, films and documentaries by the Islamic Republic of Iran on the MEK
- Handwritings (Persian: دست نوشته ها, romanized: Dast Neveshteha): The 1987 action, Drama, Thriller film was directed by Mehrzad Minui, based on scenario of Behrouz Afkhami.
- The Wolves (Persian: گرگها, romanized: Gorg-ha): four-part eight-houred documentary series initially released in 2007 and reissued in 2013 as a 90-minutes documentary, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It includes footage from Ba'athist Iraq archives of confidential top-level meetings.
- An Unfinished Film for My Daughter, Somayeh (Persian: فیلم ناتمامی برای دخترم سمیه): 2014 documentary directed by Morteza Payeshenas, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
- The Insider (Persian: نفوذی, romanized: Nofoozi): 2008 feature film directed by Ahmad Kaveri and starring Amir Jafari as an MEK defector who returns to Iran in 2004.
- Cyanide (Persian: سیانور, romanized: Siyanor): 2016 feature film directed by Behrouz Shoaibi which portrays the organization during the 1970s. The cast includes Babak Hamidian, Behnoosh Tabatabaei, Hanieh Tavassoli, Atila Pesyani, Mehdi Hashemi and Hamed Komeili.
- Mina’s Choice (Persian: امکان مینا, romanized: Emkan-e Mina): 2016 drama about happy marriage of couple Mina and Mehran which tears apart. According to the director Kamal Tabrizi and producer Manouchehr Mohammadi, the film intends to "give warnings to families" about the MEK.
- The Midday Event (Persian: ماجرای نیمروز): 2017 political drama directed by Mohammad-Hossein Mahdavian, it features the MEK during the 1980s and was named the best film in the 35th Fajr International Film Festival.
- The Gift of Darkness (Persian: ارمغان تاریکی, romanized: Armaghan-e Tariki): 2011 drama series directed by Jalil Saman features the MEK during the 1980s.
- Parvaneh (Persian: پروانه): 2013 drama series directed by Jalil Saman about the MEK during the 1970s.
- Nafas (Persian: نفس): 2017 drama series directed by Jalil Saman features 1970s.
- Trace of blood, second season of "The Midday Event", political drama directed by Mohammad-Hossein Mahdavian, it features the MEK during Operation Mersad and was awarded in the 37th Fajr International Film Festival.
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Most observers of Iranian politics say the MeK has minimal support in Iran and is widely hated for its use of violence and close links to Israeli intelligence.
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On 20 June 1981, MEK organized a peaceful demonstration attended by up to 500,00 participants, who advanced towards parliament. Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards opened fire, which resulted in 50 deaths, 200 injured, and 1000 arrested in the area around Tehran University
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Unsurprisingly, the decision to fight alongside Saddam was viewed as traitorous by the vast majority of Iranians and destroyed the MKO's standing in its homeland.
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I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation. In many cases I personally led inspection teams on unannounced visits to the MEK facilities where the alleged abuses were reported to occur. At no time over the 12 month period did we ever discover any credible evidence supporting the allegations raised in your recent report. (...) Each report of torture, kidnapping and psychological depravation turned out to be unsubstantiated.
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