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Coordinates: 41°25′36″N 19°34′26″E / 41.42667°N 19.57389°E / 41.42667; 19.57389

The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran or the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران‎, romanizedsâzmân-e mojâhedīn-e khalq-e īrân, abbreviated MEK, PMOI or MKO) is an Iranian political–militant organization[27][28][29] based on Islamic and Socialist ideology and advocates overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership and installing its own government.[30][31][32] It was the "first Iranian organization to develop systematically a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam – an interpretation that deferred 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."[33] The MEK is considered the Islamic Republic of Iran's biggest and most active political opposition group.[33][34][35]

People's Mojahedin Organization

سازمان مجاهدين خلق
AbbreviationMEK, MKO, PMOI
LeaderMaryam Rajavi and Massoud Rajavi[a]
Secretary-GeneralZahra Merrikhi
Founded5 September 1965; 53 years ago (1965-09-05)
Split fromFreedom Movement
Headquarters
NewspaperMojahed[5]
Military wingNational Liberation Army (NLA)
Political wingNational Council of Resistance (NCR)
Membership (2011)5,000 to 13,500 (DoD estimate)
Political positionLeft-wing
ReligionShia Islam
Colours     Red
Party flag
Flag of the People's Mujahedin of Iran.svg

Flag of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (Yellow).svg
Website
www.mojahedin.org
Armed wing of MKO
National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA)[6]
Participant in Black September, Iranian Revolution,[7] Consolidation of the Iranian Revolution, Iran–Iraq War, 1991 uprisings in Iraq, 2003 invasion of Iraq, 2011 Camp Ashraf raid, 2013 Camp Ashraf attack, Iran–Israel proxy conflict, Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict
Ir-nla.gif
NLA flag used since 1987
Active1970[8]–1977[9]
1979[10]present[11]
Since 20 June 1987 as NLA[12]
Leaders
Area of operationsIran and Iraq
SizeBrigade (at peak)[16]
Allies
Opponent(s)
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 Mohammadreza Shah Pahlavi.[36][3] The organization engaged in armed conflict with the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1970s[31] and contributed to the overthrow of the Shah during the Iranian revolution, and it subsequently pursued the establishment of a democracy in Iran, particularly gaining support from Iran's middle class intelligentsia.[37][38][39][40] After the fall of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the MEK refused to take part in constitution referendum of the new government,[41] which led to Khomeini preventing Massoud Rajavi and other MEK members from running office in the new government.[19] This created conflicts with Ayatollah Khomeini,[citation needed] and by early 1981 authorities had banned the MEK, driving the organization underground.[42][31]

The MEK organized a peaceful demonstration against the Islamic Republic party (who they claimed had carried out a secret coup d’etat).[43][44] The protest led to arrests and executions of MEK members and sympathizers.[45][46][38] According to Sandra Mackey, the MEK targeted key Iranian official figures, attacking low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards, along with ordinary citizens who supported the new government.[47] Struan Stevenson and other analysts confirm that the MEK targets only included the Islamic Republic’s governmental and security institutions.[48][49][50] 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."[51][52] According to infoplease.com, more than 16,000 Iranian people have been killed by the MEK since 1979.[53][54] According to the MEK, over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[55][56][57] The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps then raided MEK safe houses killing Massoud Rajavi's first wife, Ashraf Rabi'i, and Musa Khiabani, MEK's second in-command at the time.[58]

The organization gained a new life in exile, founding the National Council of Resistance of Iran and continuing to conduct violent attacks in Iran. In 1983, they sided with Saddam Hussein against the Iranian Armed Forces in the Iran–Iraq War, a decision that was viewed as treason by the vast majority of Iranians and which destroyed the MEK's appeal in its homeland.[59] In 1986 the IRI requested France to expel the MEK from Paris,[60][61] so it took base in Iraq where it fought against Iran during the Iran–Iraq War alongside the Saddam Hussein's army,[62][63] and assisted Saddam's Republican Guard in suppressing the 1991 nationwide uprisings against Saddam.[64][65][66][51] In 2002, the MEK blew the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear program,[67] and in 2003, following the occupation of Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces, the MEK signed a ceasefire agreement with U.S. and put their arms down in Camp of Ashraf.[68]

The European Union, Canada and the United States formerly listed the MEK as a terrorist organization, but this designation has since been lifted, first by the Council of the European Union in 26 January 2009,[69][70][71] by the U.S. government on 21 September 2012, and lastly by the Canadian government on 20 December 2012.[72] The MEK is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq.[64] In June 2004, the U.S. designated the members of the MEK as ‘protected persons’ under the Geneva Convention IV relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,[73] which was expired in 2009 after full sovereignty of Iraq.[74] Many experts[75] various scholarly works, media outlets, UNHCR, HRW and the governments of the United States and France have described it as a cult built around its leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. An investigation by the European Parliament and the US military concluded that the accusations of it being a “cult” were unfounded, finding it "falsified information traceable to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence”.[76]

Contents

Other names

The group had no name until February 1972.[8]

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.[19] The organization has the appearance of a broad-based coalition; many analysts consider NCRI and MEK to be synonymous[6] and recognize NCRI as only "nominally independent" political wing of MEK.[77][78][79]
  • Monafiqeen (Persian: منافقین‎, lit. 'the hypocrites') – the Iranian government consistently refers to the organization with this derogatory name. The term is derived from 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".[80]
  • The Cult of Rajavi or Rajavi Cult[81][82]

Membership

According to Kenneth Katzman, most analysts agree that MEK members tend to be "more dedicated and zealous" than those of other organizations.[83]

1980s

According to George E. Delury, in early 1980 the organization was thought to have 5,000 hard-core members and 50,000 supporters. In June 1980, at perhaps the height of their popularity, the Mojahedin attracted 150,000 sympathizers to a rally in Tehran.[84] 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.[85] Jeffrey S. Dixon and Meredith Reid Sarkees estimate their prewar strength to be about 2,000, later peaking to 10,000.[86]

Post-2000

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.[87] 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.[88] 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.[81] 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.[89][90][91] A 2013 article in Foreign Policy claimed that there were some 2,900 members in Iraq.[92] 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.[93] Today, MEK as a “fringe exiled group” by emphasizing to its sectarian feature make attempt for regime change in Iran.[62]

History

Overview

It was founded on 5 September 1965 by leftist Iranian students affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran to oppose the Shah Pahlavi.[94][3] 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 was the first Iranian organization to develop systematically a modern revolutionary interpretation of Islam.[31] The MEK is considered to be Iran's "the largest and most active Iranian exile organization."[95][96][33]

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. The correspondents for 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 that 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 killed members of MEK, 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 fighter (mojahed)'. The MEK had managed to emerge from the underground onto the public arena. Although it would soon enter into conflict with Khomeini.[10] 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.”[97]

After the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the People's Mujahedin of Iran refused to participate in the referendum to ratify the constitution.[98] As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the Iranian presidential election, 1980.[99] Furthermore, despite the fact that the organization's top candidate received as much 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.[100] The MEK accused Khomeini of “monopolizing power”, “hijacking the revolution”, “trampling over democratic rights”, and “plotting to set up a fascistic one-party dictatorship”.[40] The MEK represented Islamic leftists who had fought the Shah's regime independently of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini denied the MEK participation in the new regime, forcing it into opposition.[101]

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."[43][102] In 1980-81, the MEK and other leftist and moderate groups rallied in favor of President Abolhassan Banisadr to resits 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.[101]

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.[5]

The organization gained a new life in exile, founding the National Council of Resistance of Iran and continuing to conduct violent attacks in Iran. In 1983, they sided with Saddam Hussein against the Iranian Armed Forces in the Iran–Iraq War, a decision that was viewed as treason by the vast majority of Iranians and which destroyed the MEK's appeal in its homeland.[59] In 1988, a fatwa by Khomeini led to the executions of political prisoners, including many MEK members.[103][104]

In 2003, the MEK signed a ceasefire agreement with U.S. and put their arms down in Camp of Ashraf.[68][105]

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.[106] The group was later relocated to former U.S. military base Camp Liberty in Iraq[107] and eventually to Albania.[108]

In 2002 the MEK revealed the existence of Iran's nuclear program. They have since made various claims about the programme, not all of which have been accurate.[109][110]

Many MEK sympathizers and middle-level organizers were detained and executed after June 1981.[111] There have also been documented cases concerning the Iranian government mounting campaigns aimed at eradicating MEK members and their influence, including assassinations abroad. Notably, in 1990, Professor Kazem Rajavi (brother of Massoud Raavi and human rights activist), was assassinated in Geneva. The Swiss government named thirteen Iranian officials, with ‘special mission’ stamped into their passports, as participants in the assassination.[68] According to Kenneth Katzman, the MEK is “a major target of Iran’s international security apparatus and its campaign in assassinating opponents abroad.”[112] 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.[53][113][54] In a 2010 report, the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom stated that In the 1980s and 1990s an estimated 120,000 of MEK members and supporters were executed, with 30,000 prisoners killed in the 1998 executions of Iranian political prisoners."[55] According to the MEK, over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[56][57]

Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr. has charted US and European diplomacy with Tehran with 'deliverables' involving the MEK as follows:[114]

Years Deliverables involving the MEK
1985-86: US-Iran Tower Commission Report on Iran-Contra affair includes 5-page letter to a regime contact from Manucher Ghorbanifar citing "[Insurance] of an official announcement terming the [MEK] terrorist and Marxist" as one of several US steps taken "as a sign of goodwill"; the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs had volunteered such a statement at a 1985 congressional hearing with the purpose to win the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.
1986: France-Iran Massound Rajavi and many exiled followers in Paris were expelled by France's government led by Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, in exchange for Iran's arranging the release of six French hostages held in Lebanon, although only two were released.
1987: France-Iran The Chirac government made a second attempt to gain the release of French hostages in Iran when it agreed to deport the remaining MEK from France to Gabon. MEK members fearing that they would be returned to Iran staged a 40-day hunger strike. The MEK members were allowed to remain in France.
1997: US-Iran A top policy aide to Secretary of State Albright confirmed that the US listing of the MEK as a terrorist group had been done as a gesture of goodwill to newly-elected President Mohammed Khatami of Iran, in the hopes of improved relations
1999: US-Iran US officials confirmed that the addition of MEK aliases and the NCRI to its FTO designation had been at Iran's request
2000: UK-Iran UK Foreign Minister Robin Cook reached an agreement with his Iranian counterpart: He characterized MEK as a terrorist group in a joint press conference; in return, Iran agreed not to enforce its fatwa against Salam Rushdie
2003: France-Iran French law enforcement authorities arrested MEK political leadership and staff in Paris as a "deliverable" in an arrangement involving award by Iran of an oil contract to Total arranged between the two countries' Foreign Ministers
2003: US/UK-Iran US officials meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva agreed that MEK sites would be targeted by US forces in "Operation Iraqi Freedom", in return for which Iran would not interfere with OIF; UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed the arrangement with Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi.
2003: US-Iran Top officials contemplated a 'swap' under which the US would offer to turn over more than 3,000 MEK exiles in Iraq to the custody of Iran, in return for which Iran would hand over to the US the relatives of Osama bin Laden believed to be resident inside Iran. The deal was not pursued.
2004: EU-Iran EU-3 (French, German, and British) diplomats negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue agreed to include in a joint communique a shared commitment between the EU and Iran to "combat... the activities of... terrorist groups such as the MEK" and to do so "irrespective of progress on the nuclear issue..."
2006: UK-Iran UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw told BBC Radio that he had agreed to a request from Iran's Foreign Minister to put the MEK on the UK's terrorist list

Foundation (1965–1971)

Hanifnejad (left) and Badizadegan (right), two of the founders of the organization

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 including nationalists, Marxists, and fundamentalists.[115]

The MEK opposed the rule of Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, considering him corrupt and oppressive, and considered the Liberation Movement too moderate and ineffective.[116] 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.[117]

In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work.[118] 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 Shii Islam. During the 1970s, the MEK propagated radical Islam through some of Ali Shariati's works (as opposed to their own prints, 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.[117] The MEK generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam.[119]

MEK's central committee members[120]
1971 1972 1973 1974 1975
Bahram Aram
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.[121] 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, at which time political prisoners were released.[122]

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.[123] 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.[121]

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 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 other received confinements up to ten years.[124][125]

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.[8]

Schism (1971-1979)

Although the Muslim MEK had rejected recruiting Marxists, the death and imprisonment of its leaders from 1971 to 1973 led to the inclusion of Marxist members to its Central Committee. In 1972, Zolanvar’s arrest led to the inclusion of Majid Sharif Vaquefi; and in 1973, Taqi Sahram replaced Rezai after his death. Reforms within the group started at this time, with Taghi Shahram, Hossein Rohani, and Torab Haqshenas playing key roles in creating the Marxist-Leninist MEK that would later become Peykar. By early 1972, Shah security forces had shattered the MEK, with most members being executed, killed, or imprisoned. The organization’s leader, Massoud Rajavi, was also held in prison until January 1979.[126]

By 1973, the members of the Marxist-Leninist MEK launched an “internal ideological struggle”. Members that did not convert to Marxism were expelled or reported to SAVAK.[127] This new group adopted a Marxist, more secular and extremist identity. These members 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."[128]

This led to two rival Mujahedin, each with its own publication, its own organization, and its own activities.[129] The new group was known initially as the Mujahedin M.L. (Marxist-Lenninist). 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 was a left-wing group in Saint Petersburg, founded by Vladimir Lenin in the autumn of 1895.[130] Later during the Iranian revolution, Peykar merged with some Maoist groups[which?].[131] From 1973 to 1979, the Muslim MEK survived partly in the provinces but mainly in prisons, particularly Qasr Prison where Massoud Rajavi was held.[132]

The group conducted several assassinations of U.S. military personnel and civilians working in Iran during the 1970s.[133][134] 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. Also in 1973 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 o Pan-Americal Oil company in protest of the Sultan of Oman’s state visit. A communiqué by the organization declared that the 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 May 25, they set off bombs in three multinational corperations.[135]

Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, was shot to death in front of his home in Tehran by two men on a motorcycle on June 2, 1973.[136][135] A car carrying three American employees of Rockwell International was attacked by MEK in August 1976.[137] William Cottrell, Donald Smith, and Robert Krongard were killed[19] working on the Ibex system.[citation needed] Leading up to the Islamic Revolution, members of the MEK, conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets.[138] After the revolution, some say that the group supported the U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979.[139] 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”.[40][51][52] In May 1972, an attack on Brig. Gen. Harold Price was attributed to the MEK.[19] MEK described the eventual release of the American hostages a "surrender".[137]

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 crippling Price for the rest of his life. Cave states that it was the first instance of a remotely detonating that kind of bomb.[140] MEK supporters have claimed that the assassinations and bombings were carried out by the Marxist leaning splinter group Peykar, who "hijacked" the name of the MEK, and were not under the control of imprisoned leaders such as Massoud Rajavi.[114]

In May 11, 1976, the Washington Post reported that in January of that year, “nine terrorists convicted of murdering the three American colonels… were executed. The leader of the group, Vahid Afrakhteh stated that he personally killed col. Lewis Lee Hawkins in Tehran in 1973 and led the cell that gunned down Col. Paul Shafer and Lt. Col. Jack Turner.” (p.A9) In November 16, 1976, a UPI story reported that the Tehran police had killed Bahram Aram, the person responsible for the killings of three Americans working for Rockwell International.[141] Bahram Aram and Vahid Afrakhteh both belonged to the (Marxist) rival splinter group Peykar that emerged in 1972, and not the (Muslim) MEK.[142] Despite this, some sources have attributed these assassinations to the MEK.[133][134]

In 2005, the Department of State also attributed the assasinations of Americans in Iran to Peykar. The Country Reports issued on April 2006 stated that "A Marxist element of the MEK murdered several of the Shah´s US security advisers prior to the Islamic Revolution". According to Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., Massoud Rajavi and the MEK under his leadership "had no involvement in the killings of Americans in Iran."[143] 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."[144][145]

The MEK also blames a Marxist splinter Peykar for these Americans killed in Iran. While in prison, after learning of these events, Massoud Rajavi wrote a book referring to Peykar as "pseudo-leftists opportunists" whose military operations had killed US citizens in a bid to "challenge" and outmaneuver the "genuine" MEK.[146]

"The 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."[33]

The group supported the revolution in its initial phases.[147] MEK launched an unsuccessful campaign supporting total abolition of Iran's standing military, 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.[148]

It participated in the referendum held in March 1979.[147] Its candidate for the head of the newly founded council of experts was Masoud Rajavi in the election of August 1979.[147] However, he lost the election.[147]

Later the People's Mujahedin of Iran refused to participate in the referendum to ratify the constitution where Ruhollah Khomeini had called upon "all good Muslims to vote 'yes'."[41] As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the Iranian presidential election, 1980.[149] 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".[150]

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.[151] Toward the end of 1981, several PMOI members and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France.[152]

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.[150] 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.[153]

Electoral history

Year Election/referendum Seats won/policy References
1979 Islamic Republic referendum Vote 'Yes' [5]
Assembly of Experts election
0 / 73 (0%)
[154]
Constitutional referendum Boycott [5]
1980 Presidential election Vote, no candidate [5]
Parliamentary elections
0 / 270 (0%)
[154]

Conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)

 
Protests against the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini (20 June 1981)

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".[150]

In February 1980 concentrated attacks by hezbollahi pro-Khomeini militia began on the meeting places, bookstores and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists[155] driving the Left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested.[citation needed]

On 20 June 1981, MEK organized a peaceful demonstration in Tehran. Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards surpressed the demonstration, which resulted in 50 deaths, 200 injured, and 1000 arrested.[102]

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.[36] 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.[99]

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."[156]

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."[51][52]

According to Masoud Banisadr, following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, MEK called Saddam Hussein an "aggressor" and a "dictator".[157] 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 occassions.[158]

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.[19]

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.[159]

Many MEK sympathizers or middle-level organizers were detained and executed after June 1981. 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.[52] Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield describes this period in an article in The National Interest Magazine "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."[160]

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:[161]

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.[54] 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."[55]

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."[161][162] 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."[163]

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.[164]

Operation Eternal Light and 1988 executions

 
Rajavi shaking hands with Saddam Hussein

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.[60]

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.[61]

Near the end of the 1980–88 war between Iraq and Iran, 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), went into action. On July 26, 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. 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 July 29 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.[165] The operation was called Foroughe Javidan (Eternal Light) by the MEK and the counterattack Operation Mersad by the Iranian forces.

Following the operation, a large number of prisoners from the MEK, and a lesser number from other leftist opposition groups were executed. A 2018 research by Amnesty International found that Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners through a secret fatwa. 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. On July 28, Iran’s Supreme Leader Rouhollah Khomeini, “used the armed incursion as a pretext to issue a secret fatwa” ordering the execution of all prisoners that were supportive of the MEK. Iranian authorities embarked on coordinated extrajudicial killings that were intended to eradicate political opposition. The killings were considered a crime against humanity as they operated outside legislation and trials were not concerned with establishing the guilt or innocence of defendants.[166][167] The Amnesty report has itself been criticized for whitewashing the MEK's violent past and its alliance with Saddam Hussein. It also failed to mention that thousands of MEK members were killed during Operation Mersad and not in prison.[168]

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 July 25 1988 incursion. 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.”[166][169]

The number of those executed remains a point of contention, with the numbers ranging between 1,400 and 30,000. The executions ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and carried out by several high-ranking members of Iran's current government.[170] Those executed also included women and children.[171] Prisoners were charged with “moharebeh” or “waging war on God,”[172] and those who said to be affiliated with the MEK were hanged from cranes.[173] 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.[166][167]

According to The Economist, "Iranians of all stripes tend to regard the group as traitors" for its alliance with Saddam during the Iran–Iraq War.[174] Co-founder of Unity for Democracy in Iran (UDI) Djavad Khadem said that the MeK’s “collaboration with Saddam against Iranian people will never be wiped out from the memory of Iranian people”.[62] Massoud Rajavi personally identified Iranian military targets for Iraq to attack, an act Elizabeth Rubin described as betrayal.[175][63] According to a US official in July 1988, although the MEK's popularity in Iran suffered as a result of its presence in Iraq, it continued to "attract large numbers of Iranian volunteers".[176] 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.[177]

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.[178]

Also, Operation Aftab was carried out by Army of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization in the western part of the country on 1988.[179]

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.[180] It previously operated Vision of Resistance analogue television in Iraq in the 1990s, accessible in western provinces of Iran.[181] They also had a radio station, Radio Iran Zamin, that was closed down in June 1998.[182]

In the following years the MEK conducted several high-profile assassinations of political and military figures inside Iran, including Asadollah Lajevardi, the former warden of the Evin prison, in 1998, and deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Brigadier General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, who was assassinated on the doorsteps of his house on April 10, 1999.[183]

In April 1992, the MEK attacked 10 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.[184]

The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) cracked down on MEK activity, carrying out what a US Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Report referred to as "psychological warfare."[185]

According to Katzman, many analysts believe that the MEK lacks sufficient strength or support to seriously challenge the Iranian government's grip on power; however the government is concerned about MEK activities such that the latter is 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.[citation needed]

According to the United States Department of State and the Foreign Affairs group of the Parliament of Australia, MEK, sheltered in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, assisted the Republican Guard in brutally suppressing the 1991 nationwide uprisings against Baathist regime.[64][66] 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."[186]

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.[187] 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.[188]

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.[189] After questioning, most of those detained were released, but 24 members, including Maryam Rajavi, were kept in detention.[190]

In response, 40 supporters began hunger strikes to protest the arrests, and ten immolated themselves in various European capitals[191] by lighting themselves on fire in front of French embassies.[192] 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".[191] Police found $1.3 million in $100 bills in cash in their offices.[193] The 160 MEK members arrested on terror charges in France in 2003 were investigated by courts and fully exonerated in 2011.[194]

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.[81]

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.[195] In 2014, prosecuting judges also dropped all charges of money laundering and fraud.[196]

Post-US invasion of Iraq (2003–2016)

During the Iraq War, the coalition forces bombed MEK bases and forced them to surrender in May 2003.[197] U.S. troops later posted guards at its bases.[198] 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.[199][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.[citation needed]

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.[200][201] 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.[citation needed]

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared MEK personnel in Ashraf protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. They were 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 military police (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.[19]

In 2010, Iranian authorities sentenced to death five members of the MEK who were arrested during 2009 Iranian presidential election protests .[202]

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.[203]

Iraqi government's 2009 crackdown

On 23 January 2009, and 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.[204]

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.[205] 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.[206] After the raid, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated the issue was "completely within [the Iraqi government's] purview."[207] 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.[208][209]

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.[210][211]

Journalists Seymour Hersh and Connie Bruck have written that the information was given to the MEK by Israel.[210] 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.[212][213] Similar accounts could be found elsewhere by others, including comments made by US officials.[211]

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".[211]

In 2010 the NCRI claimed to have uncovered a secret nuclear facility in Iran. These claims were dismissed by US officials, who did not believe the facilities to be nuclear. In 2013, the NCRI again claimed to have discovered a secret underground nuclear site.[214]

In 2012, US officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, stated that MEK was being financed, trained, and armed by Israel's secret service to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.[215][216][217] Former CIA case officer in the Middle East, Robert Baer argued that MEK agents trained by Israel were the only plausible perpetrators for such assassinations.[218][219]

NBC news reported that US officials under the condition of anonymity confirmed "Israel teamed with terror group to kill Iran's nuclear scientists."[215][220] Haaretz published that Mohammad Java Larijani made the "unsubstantiated allegation" to NBC-TV News that "Mossad and the MEK were jointly responsible for the targeted killing of Iranian scientists. Though never back up with evidence."[221]

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.[222]

Relocation from Iraq

On January 1, 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.[223]

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 February 9, 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.[224]

Settlement in Albania (2016–present)

In 2013, the United States pushed to MEK to relocate to Albania, but the organization rejected the offer.[225] 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.[226] On 9 September 2016, the more than 280 MEK members remaining were relocated to Albania.[108] In May 2018, MSNBC aired never-before-seen footage of the MEK's secret base in Albania, described as a "massive military-style complex".[227] The installation is located in Manëz, Durrës County, where they have been protested by the locals.[228]

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.[229]

By the 2018 over 4,000 MEK members had entered Albania, according to the INSTAT data.[230]

2018

As of 2018, MEK operatives are believed to be still conducting covert operations inside Iran[231] to overthrow Iran's government.[232] 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.[232]

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.[233] 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.[234] In October 2018, the French government officially and publicly blamed Iran's Intelligence Service for the failed attack against the MEK. US officials also condemned Iran over the foiled bomb plot that France blames on Tehran.[235]

In December 2018, Albania expelled two Iranian diplomats due to alleged involvement in a terror plot against the MEK, accusing the two of "violating their diplomatic status". The expulsion was applauded by the Trump administration even before it was officially announced by their Albanian counterparts. Some sources erroneously reported that the terrorist plot involved the foiled attack on an Albania-Israel World Cup qualifying football match in 2016.[236] This terror plot was planned however by the Islamic State group, which Iran opposes. The expulsion, according to Albanian officials, was in connection to an alleged "explosive attack" against the base or personnel of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which are headquartered in Tirana, and accused by Iran to also plan deadly terrorist attacks on Iranian institutions and officials. Two alleged Quds force operatives were detained and deported in March 2018 by Albanian police. Tensions between Iran and Albania have been on the rise as the country is increasingly a battleground for various intelligence services and militant groups.[237]

Ideology

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."[238]

Historian Ervand Abrahamian observed that 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."[239]

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."[240] According to James Piazza, MEK worked towards the creation, by armed popular struggle, of a society in which ethnic, gender, or class discrimination would be obliterated.[54]

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.”[148]

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."[241] The MEK, however, claim that this misrepresents their ideology in that Marxism and Islam are incompatible, and that the MEK has always emphasized Islam.(Katzman p. 99)

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."[242]

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."[243]

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."[244]

After the revolution

 
MEK demonstrators carrying Lion and Sun flags and those of 'National Liberation Army of Iran'

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.[245] It also claims to have disassociated itself from its former revolutionary ideology in favor of liberal democratic values, however they fail to "present any track record to substantiate a capability or intention to be democratic".[47] According to Kenneth Katzman, the organization publicly espouses principles that include "democracy, human rights protections, free market economics, and Middle East peace", however, some analysts dispute that are genuinely committed to what they state.[238] A 2009 U.S. Department of State annual report states that their ideology is a blend of Marxism, Islamism and feminism.[246] According to 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".[157] 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, PMOI uses violence in its campaign to overthrow the Iranian regime.[247]

View on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

In the beginning, MEK used to criticize the Pahlavi dynasty for allying with Israel and Apartheid South Africa,[248] calling them racist states and demanding cancellation of all political and economic agreements with them.[249] MEK opposed Israeli–Palestinian peace process[250] and was anti-Zionist.[157]

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 MEK spent several months in the PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon.[251] 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.[252]

After their exile, the MEK changed into an 'ally' of Israel in pursuit of its ideological opportunism.[157][253]

MEK leader Maryam Rajavi publicly met with the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas on 30 July 2016 in Paris, France.[254]

View on the United States

Before their exile, the MEK preached "anti-imperialism" both before and after revolution. The Mojahedin Organization praised writers such as Al-e Ahmad, Saedi and Shariati for being "anti-imperialist".[255] Rajavi in his presidential campaign after revolution used to warn against what he called the "imperialist danger".[256] 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".[257] However, after exile, Rajavi toned down the issues of imperialism, social revolution, and classless society. Instead he stressed on human rights and respect for "personal property",[258] as opposed to "private property", which capitalists consider to be identical to "personal property" while Marxists do not.[259]

Following the September 11 attacks, the organization publicly condemned the event but its members at the camps reportedly rejoiced and called it "God's revenge on America".[260]

Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) which is allied with MEK claimed that US-led airstrikes on alleged Syrian chemical weapons facilities saved many lives.[261]

In January 1993, President-elect Clinton wrote a private letter to the Massoud Rajavi, in which he set out his support for the organization.[262] 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.[263][264]

The 'ideological revolution' and the issue of women's rights

On 27 January 1985, 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'. 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'. As a result, the marriage further isolated the Mojahedin and also upset some members of the organization. This was mainly because, the middle class would look at this marriage as an indecent act which to them resembled wife-swapping. (especially when Abrishamchi declared his own marriage to Musa Khiabani's younger sister). The fact that it involved women with young children and the wives of close friends was considered a taboo in traditional Iranian culture. The effect of this incident on secularists and modern intelligentsia was equally outrageous as it dragged a private matter into the public arena. 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.[265]

According to Iranian-Armenian historian 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."[266]

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. Shortly thereafter, all children (about 800)[157] were separated from their parents and sent abroad to be adopted by members of the group in Europe or North America.[157][267]

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.[157]

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[268] since 1981, also during Pahlavi dynasty[269] until 1979
  Iraq Designated by the post-2003 government[203][270]
Formerly listed by   United States Designated on 8 July 1997, delisted on 28 September 2012[271]
  United Kingdom Designated on 28 March 2001,[271] delisted on 24 June 2008[271]
  European Union Designated in May 2002,[271] delisted on 26 January 2009[271]
  Canada Designated on 24 May 2005,[272] delisted on 20 December 2012[273]
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[274]
  United Nations The group is described as "involved in terrorist activities" by the United Nations Committee against Torture in 2008[275][276]

In 1997, the United States put the MEK on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.[64] 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."[277][278][279][64]

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.[280] In 2002 the European Union, pressured by Washington, added MEK to its terrorist list.[281] In 2008 the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied MEK its request to be delisted,[70] 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 US 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.[39] 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.[282]

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.[283]

The National Council of Resistance of Iran has rejected allegations of Hersh.[210]

According to Lord Alex Carlile, the organization was put on the terrorist list "solely because the mullahs insisted on such action if there was to be any dialogue between Washington and Tehran".[284]

Removal of the designation

The United Kingdom lifted the MEK's designation as a terrorist group in June 2008,[285] followed by the Council of the European Union on January 26, 2009, after what the group called a "seven-year-long legal and political battle."[70][69][71] It was also lifted in the United States following a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton[107] on September 21, 2012 and lastly in Canada on December 20, 2012.[72]

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.[271]

The US Appeals Court brief of July 16, 2010 cited the MeK’s petition arguing that more than a decade earlier, in 2001, it had ceased military operations against the Iranian regime, disbanded military units and renounced violence, and had turned over its weapons to US forces in Iraq in 2003.[286]

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.[69] Delisting allowed MEK to pursue tens of millions of dollars in frozen assets[71] and lobby in Europe for more funds. It also removed the terrorist label from MEK members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.[70]

On 28 September 2012 the U.S. State Department formally removed MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, beating an October 1 deadline in an MEK lawsuit.[107][287] 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.[288][289] Some former U.S. officials vehemently reject the new status and believe the MEK has not changed its ways.[290]

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.[291][292][232] Among them, Rendell who admitted himself being paid to speak in support of the MEK[293] and Hamilton who said he was paid to "appear on a panel Feb. 19 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington."[294] In February 2015, The Intercept published that Bob Menendez, John McCain, Judy Chu, Dana Rohrabacher and Robert Torricelli received campaign contributions from MEK supporters.[295]

In May 2018, Daniel Benjamin who held office as the Coordinator for Counterterrorism between 2009 and 2012, told The New York Times that the MEK offered him money in exchange for his support.[296]

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.[297] 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."[107] 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."[298]

Assassinations

 
Bomb debris after assassination of President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar in 1981

The Department of State’s report claims the MEK's armed conflicts took place in the early 1970s, after June 1981, the latter part of the 1980s, and the latter part of the 1990s until 2001, targeting the state (Iranian regime officials), security forces, and state-owned buildings.".[49] On June 22 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 June 28, 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.[299] The MEK was the first group carrying out suicide attacks in Iran.[300][which?] According to infoplease.com, more than 16,000 people have been killed in attacks by the MEK since 1979.[53] From 26 August 1981 to December 1982, it orchestrated 336 attacks.[301]

During the fall of 1981 more than 1,000 officials were assassinated including police officers, judges, and clerics. Later, many low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards.[47] Struan Stevenson and other analysts state that MEK targets only included the Islamic Republic’s governmental and security institutions.[49][48][50] MEK leader Masoud 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.”

[302]

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.[303]

The organization has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. The MEK is accused of assassinating Ali Sayad Shirazi,[304] Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran's prison system (1998). MEK assassinated [304] Mohammad-Ali Rajaei,[304] Mohammad-Javad Bahonar,.[304] Mohammad Beheshti.[305][306][307][308][309][299][310]Chief Justice of Iran

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.[311]

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”.[312]

According to Manshour Varasteh, VAVAK is directing and financing a misinformation campaign carried out through former opponents of the regime including the MEK.[313]

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.[314] 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.[315] According to an anonymous US official, Ramzi Yousef built the bomb and MEK agents placed it in the shrine.[316]

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."[317]

According Abbas Milani, lobbyists paid for by the Iranian regime campaigned against delisting the MEK calling it a "dangerous cult".[318] There have also been reports that the Islamic Republic has manipulated Western media in order to generate false allegations against the MEK.[319][320]

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.[321]

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."[322] One Iranian expatriate living in Europe provided court testimony detailing his prior work as a paid agent of the MOIS, including an assignment specifically supporting "an extensive campaign to convince Human Rights Watch that PMOI [MEK] is engaged in human rights abuses" in which the agents "encouraged them [HRW] to prepare a report in this regard”.[323] MOIS has also been known to recruit and extort non-Iranians to demonize the MEK.[324][325]

The Islamic Republic of Iran has also been known to kidnap and torture captured MEK members and their families.[326][327]

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.”[328]

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.[50]

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.[citation needed] This led to the European Parliament issuing a condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran for political murder.[50]

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.[50][329][330][331]

Assassination attempts

In September 23 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.[50]

Ties to foreign actors

State-sponsorship

 
letter in Persian requesting that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lend any amount of money (up to US$300,000,000) to the Mujahedin Organization and requesting that the supporters of the Mujahedin Organization be allowed to cross the Soviet-Iranian border and be granted a temporary asylum; memorandum to the TsK KPSS from Olfat[332]

Before exile

MEK was among the opposition groups receiving supports from Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia.[333]

After exile

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.[318]

Israel's foreign intelligence agency Mossad maintains connections with the MEK, dating back to the 1990s.[334] Several commentators including Richard Engel and Robert Windrem suggested that the assassinations have been the joint work of Israel and the then Foreign Terrorist Organization-listed group MEK.[335][336][337]

Hyeran Jo, associate professor of Texas A&M University wrote in 2015 that the MEK is supported by the United States.[338] 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.[192]

Non-state actors

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.[339] The MEK sent five trained members into South Yemen to fight in the Dhofar Rebellion against Omani and Iranian forces.[340]

Intelligence and operational capabilities

During the years MEK was based in Iraq, it was closely associated with the intelligence service Mukhabarat (IIS),[341][342] 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.[343][344] The MEK offered IIS with intelligence it gathered from Iran, interrogation and translation services.[19]

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".[345]Rick Francona told Foreign Policy in 2005 that the MEK teams could work in conjunction with collection of intelligence and identifying agents. US 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".[346] American government sources told Newsweek in 2005 that the Pentagon is planning to utilize MEK members as informants or give them training as spies for use against Tehran.[347]

MEK is able to conduct "telephone intelligence" operations effectively, i.e. gathering intelligence through making phone calls to officials and government organizations in Iran.[348]

According to Ariane M. Tabatabai, MEK's "capabilities to conduct terrorist attacks may have decreased in recent years", however, it is "suspected of having carried out attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists, with alleged support from Israel".[349]

Propaganda campaign

According to Wilfried Buchta, the MEK has used propaganda in the West since the 1980s.[350] In the 1980s and the 1990s, their propaganda was mainly targeted against the officials in the establishment.[351] According to Anthony H. Cordesman, since the mid-1980s the MEK has confronted Iranian representatives overseas through “propaganda and street demonstrations”.[352] Other analysts have also alleged that there is a propaganda campaign by the MEK in the West, including Christopher C. Harmon,[353] Wilfried Buchta,[354] and others.[355]

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.[67]

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."[356] According to Masoud Kazemzadeh, the MEK has also used propaganda against defectors of the organization.[357]

Certain analysts such as Kenneth R. Timmerman and Paul R. Pillar have also claimed that the group hires protesters.[358][359]

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".[360]

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 Shi'ite uprising.[361]

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.[362] 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.[363]

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.[364] However, disagreements over this provided evidence has been expressed.[271]

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.[365] 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.[365] 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.[366]

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.[367]

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".[368]

Hyeran Jo, in her work examining humanitarian violations of rebel groups to international law, states that MEK has not accepted International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits to its detention centers.[369] According to Ronen A. Cohen, MEK controlled their people most importantly by "abuse of women".[370] According to criticism of Human Right groups, marriage had been banned in the camp.[371] 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".[372]

Allegations of Sexual Abuse

Journalist Jason Rezaeian remarked in his detailing the connections between John 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."[373][374] 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.[246]

Batoul Soltani, one of three women to claim to have escaped from Ashraf Camp, alleged that Massoud Rajavi sexually assaulted her multiple times over the span of a number of years.[375][376][376] However, according to Col. Leo McCloskey (former JIATF commander at Camp Ashraf), Ms Soltani had been recruited by Iran as an agent of the Iranian government.[377] 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", though her subsequent allegations involve her suffering physical and psychological torture which included a forced hysterectomy.[376]

Fund raising

Germany

In Germany, the MEK used a NGO to raise money for "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. In 1988, the Nuremberg MEK front organization was uncovered by policew. Initially, The Greens supported these organizations while it was unaware of their purpose.[378]

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.[379] 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.[19]

Alleged Netherlands charity

According to four anonymous Iranians claiming to be ex-MEK members, the MEK operated a charity in the Netherlands called "Society for Solidarity with the Iranian People" (Dutch: Stichting Solidariteit met Iraanse Mensen) or simply SIM. In 2003, General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) claimed that SIM was fundraising for the MEK, a claim that the organization denied.[380]

United Kingdom

It operated a UK-based sham charity, namely "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.[47][381] In 2001, Charity Commission for England and Wales closed it down[382] after finding no "verifiable links between the money donated by the British public [approximately £5 million annually] and charitable work in Iran."[19]

United States

According to a RAND Corporation policy report, 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.[19] 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".[379]

In 1999, after a 2 1⁄2-year investigation, Federal authorities arrested 29 individuals in "Operation Eastern Approach",[383] of whom 15 were held on charges of helping MEK members illegally enter the United States.[384] The ringleader was pleaded guilty to providing phony documents to MEK members and violation of Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.[385][386]

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.[47]

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.[387][388] Revolutionary Guards detained him while trying to enter the Soviet Embassy reportedly carrying sensitive documents about the Revolutionary Council.[389] 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.[390]

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.[391][392] 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."[389][393]

Hafte Tir Bombing

On 28 June 1981, a bomb detonated at the Islamic Republican Party headquarters -called Hafte Tir bombing- in Tehran killed 73, including the party's secretary-general, 4 cabinet ministers, 10 vice ministers and 27 members of the Parliament of Iran.[53][394] Two days later, Ruhollah Khomeini accused the MEK who didn't disavow their role.[299] Iran's security forces blamed the United States and "internal mercenaries".[395] 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."[396] 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.[397]

1992 attacks

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”.[50]

Other

On February 9, 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.[221]

Status among Iranian opposition

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".[240] 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.[83] Kenneth Katzman wrote in 2001 that the MEK is "Iran's most active opposition group".[398] A 2009 report published by the Brookings Institution, concludes that the organization appears to be undemocratic and lacking popularity but maintains an operational presence in Iran, acting as a proxy against Tehran.[399]

Perception by Iranian people

A wide range of sources states 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, and attacking Iranian conscripted soldiers and civilians, is viewed as treason or betrayal within the homeland. These sources include journalism,[400][401] academic works,[402][403][404] as well as those written by analysts working for the government and think-tanks. However, this claim is difficult to prove considering MEK supporters are persecuted in Iran.[50] According to Struan Stevenson, "The claim that the [MEK] is an irrelevant group or has no support within Iran is a myth."[405]

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.[19]

Relationship with other Iranian opposition groups

The group kept a friendly relationship with the only other major Iranian urban guerrilla group, the Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas (OIPFG).[243]

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.[83]

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.[83] Commenting on 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."[406]

Iran's deposed president, Abolhassan Banisadr, ended his alliance with the group in 1984, denouncing its stance during the Iran–Iraq War.[83]

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, Tareq Aziz and Rajavi in January 1983, as well as the "Holy and Revolutionary" nature of Rajavis in April 1984.[407]

Designation as a cult

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has identified the MEK as having cult-like characteristics. Among governments of sovereign states, and Federal government of the United States[408] have officially described the MEK as a cult. Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaidaie, said in 2011 that the MEK was "nothing more than a cult".[409] Some academics, including Ervand Abrahamian,[410] Stephanie Cronin,[411] Wilfried Buchta,[412] and others have also made similar claims.[413]

Allegations of cult-like characteristics in the MEK have been made by former members who have defected from the organization (including Massoud Khodabandeh[414] and Masoud Banisadr[415] among others, but also by journalists including Reese Erlich,[416] Robert Scheer,[416] and Elizabeth Rubin[417] among others, who visited its military camps in Iraq.

In 1990, following to 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.[157][1]

An investigation by the European Parliament and the US 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”.[76] 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".[418]

Documentary films

  • A Cult That Would Be an Army: Cult of the Chameleon (2007): Al Jazeera documentary directed by Maziar Bahari[419]
  • The Strange World of the People's Mujahedin (2012): BBC World Service documentary directed by Owen Bennett-Jones and produced by Wisebuddah company.[420] It won New York Festivals award for Best Investigative Report in 2013.[421]
  • 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

See also

References

Notes
  1. ^ Since 1993, they are "Co–equal Leader"[1] however Massoud Rajavi has disappeared in 2003 and leadership of the group has practically passed to his wife Maryam Rajavi.[2]
Citations
  1. ^ a b Steven O'Hern (2012). Iran's Revolutionary Guard: The Threat That Grows While America Sleeps. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 208. ISBN 978-1-59797-701-2.
  2. ^ Stephen Sloan; Sean K. Anderson (2009). Historical Dictionary of Terrorism. Historical Dictionaries of War, Revolution, and Civil Unrest (3 ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 454. ISBN 978-0-8108-6311-8.
  3. ^ a b c Houchang E. Chehabi (1990). Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran Under the Shah and Khomeini. I.B.Tauris. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-85043-198-5.
  4. ^ "Durrës locals protest MEK members' burial in local cemetery", Tirana Times, 9 May 2018, retrieved 29 June 2018
  5. ^ a b c d e Peter J. Chelkowski, Robert J. Pranger (1988). Ideology and Power in the Middle East: Studies in Honor of George Lenczowski. Duke University Press. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-8223-8150-1.
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  7. ^ Pipes, Daniel (May 27, 1980). "Khomeini, the Soviets and U.S.: why the Ayatollah fears America". New York Times.
  8. ^ a b c Vahabzadeh, Peyman (2010). Guerrilla Odyssey: Modernization, Secularism, Democracy, and the Fadai Period of National Liberation In Iran, 1971–1979. Syracuse University Press. pp. 100, 167–168.
  9. ^ Stephanie Cronin (2013). Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left. Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-134-32890-1.
  10. ^ a b Abrahamian, Ervand (1989). Radical Islam: The Iranian Mojahedin. I.B. Tauris. pp. 171–172. ISBN 978-1-85043-077-3.
  11. ^ Mary Ann Tétreault; Ronnie D. Lipschutz (2009). Global Politics as if People Mattere. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7425-6658-3. US. military leaders in Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement with the MKO in April 2003 that allowed it to keep all its weapons, including hundreds of tanks and thousands of light arms, as long as it did not attack US. forces
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