People's Mujahedin of Iran
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|Abbreviation||MEK, MKO, PMOI|
|Leader||Maryam Rajavi and Massoud Rajavi[a]|
|Founded||5 September 1965|
|Split from||Freedom Movement|
|Military wing||National Liberation Army (NLA)|
|Political wing||National Council of Resistance (NCR)|
|Membership (2011)||5,000 to 13,500 (DoD estimate)|
|Slogan||Arabic: فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا "God Has Preferred The Mujahideen Over Those Who Remain [behind] With A Great Reward." [Quran 4:95]|
|Armed wing of MKO
National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA)
|Participant in Black September, Iranian Revolution, Iran hostage crisis, 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|
NLA flag used since 1987
Since 20 June 1987 as NLA
|Area of operations||Iran and Iraq|
|Size||Brigade (at peak)|
|Battles and wars||Operation Forty Stars
Operation Eternal Light
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran or the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران, translit. Sāzmān-e mojāhedin-e khalq-e irān, abbreviated MEK, PMOI or MKO) is an Iranian political–militant organization in exile that advocates the violent overthrow of the current regime in Iran, while claiming itself as the replacing government in exile. Its headquarters have been located in France (1981–1986; Since 2003), Iraq (1986–2016) and Albania (Since 2016).
Founded in 1965, the organization is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq, and was considered a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom and the European Union until 2008 and 2009 respectively, and by Canada and the United States until 2012.
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.
Various scholarly works, media outlets, and the governments of the United States and France have described it as a cult. The organization has built a cult of personality around its leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.
A wide range of sources state that the MEK has little or no popular support among Iranian people.
- 1 Other names
- 2 Membership
- 3 History
- 3.1 Overview
- 3.2 Before the Revolution (1965–1979)
- 3.3 "The political phase" (1979–1981)
- 3.4 Armed conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)
- 3.5 Post-war Saddam era (1988–2003)
- 3.6 Post-US invasion of Iraq (2003–present)
- 4 Ideology
- 5 Propaganda campaign
- 6 Human rights record
- 7 Fraud and money laundering
- 8 Assassinations
- 9 Status among Iranian opposition
- 10 Designation as a cult
- 11 Designation as a terrorist organization
- 12 In the media
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The group had no name until February 1972.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran is known by a variety of names including:
- Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK)
- The National Liberation Army of Iran (the group's armed wing)
- National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – the MEK is the founding member of a coalition of organizations called the NCRI. The organization has the appearance of a broad-based coalition; however, many analysts consider NCRI and MEK to be synonymous and recognize NCRI as only "nominally independent" political wing of MEK.
- Monafiqeen (Persian: منافقین, lit. 'the hypocrites') – the Iranian government consistently refers to the organization with this derogatory name. The term is derived from Quran, which describes it as people of "two minds" who "say with their mouths what is not in their hearts" and "in their hearts is a disease".
- The Cult of Rajavi or Rajavi Cult
Note: The acronym MEK is used throughout this article, as it is commonly used by the media and national governments around the world to refer to the People's Mujahedin.
According to Albert V. Benliot, most analysts agree that MEK members tend to be "more dedicated and zealous" than those of other organizations.
According to George E. Delury, in early 1980 the organization was thought to have 5,000 hard-core members and 50,000 supporters, with the Paykar faction capable of attracting 10,000 in university areas. In June 1980, at perhaps the height of their popularity, the Mojahedin attracted 150,000 sympathizers to a rally in Tehran. Pierre Razoux estimates MEK's maximum strength from 1981–1983 to 1987–1988, about 15,000 fighters with a few tanks and several dozen light artillery pieces, recoilless guns, machine guns, anti-tank missiles and SAM-7s. Jeffrey S. Dixon and Meredith Reid Sarkees estimate their prewar strength to be about 2,000, later peaking to 10,000.
The MEK was believed to have a 5,000–7,000-strong armed guerrilla group based in Iraq before the 2003 war, but a membership of between 3,000–5,000 is considered more likely. In 2005, the U.S. think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations stated that the MEK had 10,000 members, one-third to one-half of whom were fighters. According to a 2003 article by The New York Times, the MEK was composed of 5,000 fighters based in Iraq, many of them female. BMI Research's 2008 report estimates MEK's armed wing strength 6,000–8,000 and its political wing around 3,000, thus a total 9,000–11,000 membership. A 2013 article in Foreign Policy claimed that there were some 2,900 members in Iraq. In 2011, United States Department of Defense estimated global membership of the organization between 5,000 and 13,500 persons scattered throughout Europe, North America, and Iraq.
It was founded on 5 September 1965 by six Muslim students who were affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran. The organization engaged in armed conflict with the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1970s and played an active role in the downfall of the Shah in 1979, however in a coup-style ideological transformation, leftist members hijacked the Muslim group and adopted a Marxist platform in 1975. The MEK, however, has never described itself as a socialist, communist, Marxist, or eshteraki (lit. collective) organization.
They hailed "His Highness Ayatollah Khomeini as a glorious fighter (Mojahed)" and urged all to remain united behind him against plots by royalists and imperialists. Following the revolution, they participated in March 1979 referendum and strongly supported the Iran hostage crisis, but boycotted the Islamic Republic constitutional referendum in December 1979, being forced to withdraw their candidate for the Iranian presidential election in January 1980 as a result. 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. 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.
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. In 1988, a fatwa by Khomeini led to the executions of political prisoners, including MEK members.
The group says it renounced violence in 2001. However, the MEK has been accused by numerous commentators of being financed, trained, and armed by Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and educators.
While the MEK's leadership has resided in Paris, the group's core members were for many years confined to Camp Ashraf in Iraq, particularly after the MEK and U.S. forces signed a cease-fire agreement of "mutual understanding and coordination" in 2003. The group was later relocated to former U.S. military base Camp Liberty in Iraq and eventually to Albania.
Masoud Banisadr has described the MEK's "metamorphism" as follows:
|1965–1978||Guerilla||Syncretic, Islam and Marxism||Armed struggle||Terrorism||Democratic centralism|
|1985–2003||Terrorist destructive cult||No public utterance after 'ideological revolution', subject to Survivalist doctrine||Terrorism / War||Terrorism||Despotism|
|2003–2012||Provocation for military action against Iran||Remain in Iraq|
Before the Revolution (1965–1979)
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 opposed the rule of Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, considering him corrupt and oppressive, and considered the Liberation Movement too moderate and ineffective. They were committed to the Ali Shariati's approach to Shiism. 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 early 1970s.
In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, their thinking aligned with what was a common tendency in Iran at the time – a kind of radical, political Islam based on a Marxist reading of history and politics. The group's main source of inspiration was the Islamic text Nahj al-Balagha (a collection of analyses and aphorisms attributed to Imam Ali). Despite some describing a Marxist influence, the group never used the terms "socialist" or "communist" to describe themselves, and always called themselves Muslims – arguing along with Ali Shariati, that a true Muslim – especially a true Shia Muslim, that is to say a devoted follower of the Imams Ali and Hossein – must also by definition, be a revolutionary. However, they generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, it was the first Iranian organisation 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 Ayatollay Khomeini and his disciples.” 
|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. However, the operation failed to destroy the MEK whose surviving members quickly restructured the group by replacing the central cadre with a three-man central committee. Each of the three central committee members led a separate branch of the organization with their cells independently storing their own weapons and recruiting new members. Two of the original central committee members were replaced in 1972 and 1973, and the replacing members were in charge of leading the organization until the internal purge of 1975.
In October 1975, the MEK underwent an ideological split. While the remaining primary members of MEK were imprisoned, some of the early members of MEK formed a new organization that followed Marxist, not Islamic, ideals; these members appropriated the MEK name to establish and enhance their own legitimacy. This was expressed in a book entitled Manifesto on Ideological Issues, in which 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."
The organization saw an internal purge, with two of the three members of the central council who adopted Marxism killing the Muslim one and eradicating those loyal to him. According to Torab Haghshenas, purged members constituted "over 50 percent of the cadres", and to Muslim faction's own account only 20 percent of the members sided with it.
Thus after May 1975 there were two rival Mujahedin, each with its own publication, its own organization, and its own activities. A few months before the Iranian Revolution the majority of the Marxist Mujahedin renamed themselves "Peykar", on 7 December 1978 (16 Azar, 1357); the full name is: Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. This name was after 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.
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.
The kidnapping plan was followed by an assassination attack in May 1972 against USAF Brig. Gen. Harold Price. Price survived the attack but was wounded. 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 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.
Hours later after the attack on Price, the MEK had a plan to assassinate United States President Richard Nixon. They blasted a bomb at Reza Shah's mausoleum, where Nixon was scheduled to attend a ceremony just 45 minutes after the explosion.
In the years between 1973 and 1975, armed operations within the MEK intensified, while primary members of the MEK remained imprisoned. In 1973 ten major American-owned buildings were bombed including those of the Plan Organization, Pan-American Airlines, Shell Oil Company, Hotel International, and Radio City Cinema.
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. A car carrying U.S. Air Force officers Col. Paul R. Shaffer and Lt. Col. Jack Turner was trapped between two cars carrying armed men. They told the Iranian driver to lie down and then shot and killed the Americans. Six hours later a woman called reporters to claim the MEK carried out the attack as retaliation for the recent death of prisoners at the hands of Iranian authorities. A car carrying three American employees of Rockwell International was attacked in August 1976. William Cottrell, Donald Smith, and Robert Krongard were killed. They had been working on the Ibex system for gathering intelligence on the neighboring USSR. Leading up to the Islamic Revolution, members of the MEK, conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets. According to the U.S. Department of State and the presentation of the MEK by the Foreign Affairs group of the Australian Parliament, the group conducted several assassinations of U.S. military personnel and civilians working in Iran during the 1970s. After the revolution the group actively supported the U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979.
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.
Relations with foreign leftists
The MEK found their best friends among secular left-wing groups.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) and South Yemen's Marxist state also provided the MEK with radio stations and printing presses. The MEK sent five trained members into South Yemen to fight in the Dhofar Rebellion against Omani and Iranian forces.
"The political phase" (1979–1981)
The group supported the revolution in its initial phases. 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.
It participated in the referendum held in March 1979. Its candidate for the head of the newly founded council of experts was Masoud Rajavi in the election of August 1979. However, he lost the election. The group also supported for the occupation the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979. In January 1980, Rajavi announced his candidacy for the presidency, but he was banned, since he was regarded by Ayatollah Khomeini as ineligible. In February 1980, concentrated attacks by Hezbollahi members began on the meeting places, bookstores, and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists, driving the left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested. Ultimately, the organization called for a massive half-a-million-strong demonstration under the banner of Islam on June 20, 1981, to protest Iran's new leadership, which was also attacked. Following the June 20 protests, Massoud Rajavi formed the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Tehran.[self-published source?]
In the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the MEK was suppressed by Khomeini's revolutionary organizations and harassed by the Hezbollahi, who attacked meeting places, bookstores, and kiosks of the Mujahideen. Toward the end of 1981, several PMOI members and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France.
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."
|1979||Islamic Republic referendum||Vote 'Yes'|||
|Assembly of Experts election||
0 / 73 (0%)
|1980||Presidential election||Vote, no candidate|||
0 / 270 (0%)
Armed conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)
Following the 1979 revolution, the newly established theocratic government of Ayatollah Khomeini moved to squash dissent. Khomeini attacked the MEK as elteqati (eclectic), contaminated with Gharbzadegi ("the Western plague"), and as monafeqin (hypocrites) and kafer (unbelievers). In February 1980 concentrated attacks by hezbollahi pro-Khomeini militia began on the meeting places, bookstores and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists driving the Left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested.
On 30 August a bomb was detonated killing the popularly elected President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. An active member of the Mujahedin, Massoud Keshmiri, was identified as the perpetrator. 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."
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.
Eventually, the majority of the MEK leadership and members fled to France, where it operated until 1986, when tension arose between Paris and Tehran over the Eurodif nuclear stake and French citizens kidnapped in the Lebanon hostage crisis. After Rajavi flew to Baghdad, the hostages were released.
Suppression by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran
After the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, 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’." As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the Iranian presidential election, 1980.
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".
Historian Ervand Abrahamian observed that MEK were “consciously influenced by Marxism, both modern and calssical”, 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.”
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.
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.
Operation Eternal Light and 1988 executions
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.
The MEK transferred its headquarters to Iraq. 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 the 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. 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. 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.
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. Massoud Rajavi personally identified Iranian military targets for Iraq to attack, an act the New York Times describes as betrayal.
Post-war Saddam era (1988–2003)
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.
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.
2003 French arrest
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. In response, 40 supporters began hunger strikes to protest the arrests, and ten immolated themselves in various European capitals. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement) declared that the MEK "recently wanted to make France its support base, notably after the intervention in Iraq", while Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of France's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the group was "transforming its Val d'Oise centre [near Paris]... into an international terrorist base". Police found plenty of cash in their offices, $1.38 million in $100 notes and 150,000 euros.
U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on South Asia, then accused the French of doing "the Iranian government's dirty work". Along with other members of Congress, he wrote a letter of protest to President Jacques Chirac, while longtime MEK supporters such as Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat from Texas, criticized Maryam Radjavi's arrest.
Following orders from MEK and in protest to the arrests, about ten members set themselves on fire in front of French embassies abroad and two of them died. French authorities released MEK members as a result.
Post-US invasion of Iraq (2003–present)
During the Iraq war, the coalition forces bombed MEK bases and forced them to surrender in May 2003. U.S. troops later posted guards at its bases. The U.S. military also protected and gave logistical support to the MEK as U.S. officials viewed the group as a high value source of intelligence on Iran.[page needed]
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, MEK camps were bombed by the U.S., resulting in at least 50 deaths. It was later revealed that the U.S. bombings were part of an agreement between the Iranian regime and Washington. In the agreement Tehran offered to oust some al-Qaeda suspects if the U.S. came down on the MEK.
In the operation, the U.S. reportedly captured 6,000 MEK soldiers and over 2,000 pieces of military equipment, including 19 British-made Chieftain tanks. The MEK compound outside Fallujah became known as Camp Fallujah and sits adjacent to the other major base in Fallujah, Forward Operating Base Dreamland. Captured MEK members were kept at Camp Ashraf, about 100 kilometers west of the Iranian border and 60 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared MEK personnel in Ashraf protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. 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].
In July 2010, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal issued an arrest warrant for 39 MEK members, including Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, for crimes against humanity committed while suppressing the 1991 uprisings in Iraq.
Iraqi government's 2009 crackdown
On 23 January 2009, 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 organisation would no longer be able to base itself on Iraqi soil and stated that the members of the organisation would have to make a choice, either to go back to Iran or to go to a third country, adding that these measures would be implemented over the next two months.
On 29 July 2009, eleven Iranians were killed and over 500 were injured in a raid by Iraqi security on the MEK Camp Ashraf in Diyala province of Iraq. U.S. officials had long opposed a violent takeover of the camp northeast of Baghdad, and the raid is thought to symbolize the declining American influence in Iraq. After the raid, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated the issue was "completely within [the Iraqi government's] purview." In the course of attack, 36 Iranian dissidents were arrested and removed from the camp to a prison in a town named Khalis, where the arrestees went on hunger strike for 72 days, 7 of which was dry hunger strike. Finally the dissidents were released when they were in an extremely critical condition and on the verge of death.
Iran's nuclear programme
The MEK and the NCRI revealed the existence of Iran's nuclear program in a press conference held on 14 August 2002 in Washington DC. MEK representative Alireza Jafarzadeh stated that Iran is running two top-secret projects, one in the city of Natanz and another in a facility located in Arak, which was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Journalists Seymour Hersh and Connie Bruck have written that the information was given to the MEK by Israel. Among others, it was described by a senior IAEA official and a monarchist advisor to Reza Pahlavi, who said before MEK they were offered to reveal the information, but they refused because it would be seen negatively by the people of Iran. Similar accounts could be found elsewhere by others, including comments made by US officials.
However, all of their subsequent claims turned out to be false. For instance, on 18 November 2004, MEK representative Mohammad Mohaddessin used satellite images to falsely state that a new facility exists in northeast Tehran, named "Center for the Development of Advanced Defence Technology".
In late 2005, they held a conference and announced that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and atomic work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near Qom. Commenting on the allegations, Mohamed ElBaradei, then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “We followed whatever they came up with... And a lot of it was bogus.” Frank Pabian, a senior adviser at Los Alamos National Laboratory, however said “they’re right 90 percent of the time... That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.”
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.
In 2012, the MEK were accused by the Iranian government and US officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, of being financed, trained, and armed by Israel's secret service to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. 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.
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 Iranian government.
Alleged involvement in Syrian Civil War
According to the official Iran newspaper, in August 2012, a number of MEK members detained by the Syrian government confessed that the MEK is training militants on Turkish soil near the border with Syria. The report also said they cooperate foreign-backed militants in Syria through the Jordanian borders and are stationed at a base called ‘Hanif’, which is "disguised as a hospital".
On 30 May 2013, Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro wrote that two members of the organization were found dead in Idlib, citing a "European parliamentarian in contact with the anti-government rebels".
In June 2014, when Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took Mosul, MEK website gave a triumphalist account of the conquest, referring to ISIS as “revolutionary forces”. However in April 2015, it called the former an “extremist group” and asked the United States to fight ISIL by regime change in Iran.
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.
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.
Settlement in Albania
In 2013, the United States pushed to MEK to relocate to Albania, but the organization rejected the offer. The MEK eventually accepted to move about 3,000 members to Albania, and the U.S. donated $20 million to the U.N. refugee agency to help them resettle. On 9 September 2016, the more than 280 MEK members remaining were relocated to Albania. In May 2018, MSNBC aired never-before-seen footage of the MEK's secret base in Albania, described as a "massive military-style complex".
As of 2018, MEK operatives are believed to be still conducting covert operations inside Iran. Iranian official news agency reported in January that four members of a sleeper cell were arrested in Boroujerd, one of them wounded in the clash with security forces. Another member was detained in Mashhad in May.
Before the revolution
The MEK's ideology of revolutionary Shiaism is based on an interpretation of Islam so similar to that of Ali Shariati that "many concluded" they were inspired by him. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, it is clear that "in later years" that Shariati and "his prolific works" had "indirectly helped the Mujahedin."
In the group's "first major ideological work," Nahzat-i Husseini or Hussein's Movement, authored by one of the group's founders, Ahmad Reza'i, it was argued that Nezam-i Towhid (monotheistic order) sought by the prophet Muhammad, was a commonwealth fully united not only in its worship of one God but in a classless society that strives for the common good. "Shiism, particularly Hussein's historic act of martyrdom and resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture."
As described by Abrahamian, one Mojahedin ideologist argued
"Reza'i further argued that the banner of revolt raised by the Shi'i Imams, especially Ali, Hassan, and Hussein, was aimed against feudal landlords and exploiting merchant capitalists as well as against usurping Caliphs who betrayed the Nezam-i-Towhid. For Reza'i and the Mujahidin it was the duty of all muslims to continue this struggle to create a 'classless society' and destroy all forms of capitalism, despotism, and imperialism. The Mujahidin summed up their attitude towards religion in these words: 'After years of extensive study into Islamic history and Shi'i ideology, our organization has reached the firm conclusion that Islam, especially Shi'ism, will play a major role in inspiring the masses to join the revolution. It will do so because Shi'ism, particularly Hussein's historic act of resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture."
After the revolution
The MEK 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". A 2009 U.S. Department of State annual report states that their ideology is a blend of Marxism, Islamism and feminism.
View on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
In the beginning, MEK used to criticize the Pahlavi dynasty for allying with Israel and Apartheid South Africa, even calling them racist states and demanding cancellation of all political and economic agreements with them. MEK opposed Israeli–Palestinian peace process and was anti-Zionist.
The Central Cadre established contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), by sending emissaries to Paris, Dubai, and Qatar to meet PLO officials. In one occasion, seven leading members of MEK spent several months in the PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon. On 3 August 1972, they bombed the Jordanian embassy as a means to revenge King Hussein's unleashing his troops on the PLO in 1970.
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". Rajavi in his presidential campaign after revolution used to warn against what he called the "imperialist danger". The matter was so fundamental to MEK that it criticized the Iranian government on that basis, accusing the Islamic Republic of "capitulation to imperialism" and being disloyal to democracy that according to Rajavi was the only means to "safeguard from American imperialism". 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" (as opposed to "private property", which capitalists consider to be identical to "personal property" while Marxists do not).
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.
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."
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) were separated from their parents and sent abroad to be adopted by members of the group in Europe or North America.
In 1994, "self-divorce" was declared as the further phase of the 'ideological revolution'. During this process all members were forced to surrender their individuality to the organization and change into "ant-like human beings", i.e. following orders by their instinct.
From the very beginning, the MEK pursued a dual strategy of using armed struggle and propaganda to achieve its goals, and its "prolific" international propaganda machine has been successful in misleading a considerable portion of the Western media since the 1980s. In the 1980s and the 1990s, their propaganda was mainly targeted against the officials in the establishment. According to Anthony H. Cordesman, by 1999 the campaign occasionally used "terrorist violence".
The organization has made its propaganda campaign global since the beginning of the 21st century, using its "extensive overseas support structure".
Ivan Sascha Sheehan conducted a content analysis research on opinion pieces of major news publications between 2003 and 2012, examining how the group promoted its framing in the media, concluding that "even marginalized actors who persist and strategically nurture small opportunities [e.g. MEK] can exert influence and expand the discourse".
Christopher C. Harmon and Randall G. Bowdish, in a case study on the MEK's propaganda campaign published by the Brookings Institution Press in 2018, argue that today the organization spends an unspecified but considerable amount of their money –estimated to be in millions of Euros– annually on propaganda, in order to influence officials in various countries and "focuses its propaganda more upon audiences outside Iran than in, despite their dream of liberating that country from the current government".
A U.S. State Department work summarizes the MEK "propaganda line" roughly as follows: "[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."
Their propaganda aims to present them as a "democratic alternative" to the current Iranian government which defends Western values such as secularism and women's rights. It also to tries erase its history of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, as well as totalitarian ideology and terrorist practices. As part of its public propaganda campaign, the MEK distributes numerous publications, reports, books, bulletins, and open letters to influence the media and Western parliamentarians. "Like so many politically successful violent organizations, MEK ranges widely in its public relations work", by shipping books, brochures, CDs and T-shirts with their leaders' photos to influential offices around the world they have made themselves known to newspaper offices, parliamentarians, lobbyists and government experts.
A portion of the campaign is also targeted against the MEK defectors and critics of the Rajavis inside the organization, making personal attacks against them and spreading false rumors that they collaborated with the intelligence apparatus of Iranian regime.
The organization owns a free-to-air satellite television network named Vision of Freedom (Sima-ye-Azadi), launched in 2003 in England. It previously operated Vision of Resistance analogue television in Iraq in the 1990s, accessible in western provinces of Iran. They also had a radio station, Radio Iran Zamin, that was closed down in June 1998.
In order to buy legitimacy, MEK sometimes combines the features of the leaflet and the extended interview with purchasing usually full page, thus expensive ad space for their propaganda in major-circulation newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. Harmon and Bowdish describe the advertisements as "well-designed" and "distinctive".
The organization is active on social media, most notably Twitter. It runs an isolated cluster of apparently "full-time activists" and spambots, which interact only with each other. The cluster makes efforts to position itself as an organisation of human rights defenders. However, these efforts are rarely reciprocated, signaling their insularity. According to digital research by the UK-based Small Media Foundation, the cluster's "dependence on automated bots to disseminate information demonstrates that although the MEK is taking social media sites seriously as a platform for broadcasting news and propaganda, they lack the supporter network necessary to make a significant impact within the Iranian Twittersphere. As a result, the MEK is making use of automated bots to artificially inflate its follower count, and create an illusion of influence amongst Iranian Twitter users". National Council of Resistance of Iran, Mohajedin.org, Maryam-Rajavi.com, Hambastegi Meli, Iran News Update and Iran Efshagari are among accounts openly affiliated with the group.
Zaid Jilani and Paul R. Pillar have also cited similar observations. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has published diaries of a Kyrgyz student based in Prague who was recruited to travel to Paris for a MEK rally, in which most of the "protesters" were like her. Michael Rubin has described the story as indicative of a lack of support for the MEK.
However according to Cheryl Benard et al, despite impressiveness of the group's financial and logistical abilities, such mobilizations are unlikely and implausible because all demonstrators cannot be bought in exchange for exhausting rallies and public figures attending may face "vituperation" for supporting the group.
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". 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.
MEK is known for its long-term lobbying effort, especially in the United States, where it competes against the National Iranian American Council. It spent heavily to remove itself from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, having paid high-profile officials upwards of $50,000 for each appearance to give speeches calling for delisting. DiGenova & Toensing and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld are among the advocacy groups paid by the organization. The actual sum paid is vague, but the total could be in the millions of dollars. The propaganda campaign used for delisting the MEK as an FTO has been described as "unique" among similar organizations.
According to investigative work by Scott Peterson and acknowledged by Scott Shane, Glenn Greenwald and Joby Warrick, some prominent US officials from both political parties have received substantial sums of cash to give speeches in favor of MEK, and have become vocal advocates for the group, specifically for removing them from the terrorist list. They include Democrats Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Lee Hamilton, and Republicans Elaine Chao, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Fran Townsend, Tom Ridge, Michael Mukasey, and Andrew Card. There are also advocates outside the government, such as Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel. Among them, Hamilton and Rendell have themselves admitted being paid to support the MEK.
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, as they try "to buy pretty much anyone".
Human rights record
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.
The report prompted a response by the MEK and four European MPs named "Friends of a Free Iran" (FOFI), who published a counter-report in September 2005. They stated that HRW had "relied only on 12 hours [sic] interviews with 12 suspicious individuals", and stated that "a delegation of MEPs visited Camp Ashraf in Iraq" and "conducted impromptu inspections of the sites of alleged abuses." Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca (PP), one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, alleged that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was the source of the evidence against the MEK. In a letter of May 2005 to HRW, the senior US military police commander responsible for the Camp Ashraf area, Brigadier General David Phillips, who had been in charge during 2004 for the protective custody of the MEK members in the camp, disputed the alleged human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch released a statement in February 2006, stating "We have investigated with care the criticisms we received concerning the substance and methodology of the [No Exit] report, and find those criticisms to be unwarranted". It provided responses to the FOFI document, whose findings "have no relevance" to the HRW report.
In July 2013, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, accused the leaders the group of human rights abuses, an allegation the MEK dismissed as "baseless" and "cover-up". The United Nations spokesperson defended Kobler and his allegations, stating "We regret that MEK and its supporters continue to focus on public distortions of the U.N.'s efforts to promote a peaceful, humanitarian solution on Camp Ashraf and, in particular, its highly personalized attacks on the U.N. envoy for Iraq".
Hyeran Jo, in her work examining humanitarian violations of rebel groups to international law, states that MEK has not accepted International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits to its detention centers.
Fraud and money laundering
Other than funds provided by foreign states (such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq under Saddam Hussein), the organization raises money through fraud and money laundering. According to a RAND Corporation policy conundrum, MEK supporters seek donations at public places, often showing "gruesome pictures" of human rights victims in Iran and claiming to raise money for them but funnelling it to MEK. A 2004 report by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that the organization is engaged "through a complex international money laundering operation that uses accounts in Turkey, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates".
In 2003, French judiciary charged twenty four members of the group including Maryam Rajavi for "associating with wrongdoers in relation with a terrorist undertaking", lifting the probes in 2006 except for nine members still investigated for possible money laundering. All charges including money laundering were dropped in 2014.
In Germany, a sham charity was used by the MEK to support "asylum seekers and refugees" but the money went to MEK. Another front organization collected funds for "children whose parents had been killed in Iran" in sealed and stamped boxes placed in city centers, each intaking DM 600–700 a day with 30 to 40 people used in each city for the operation. In 1988, the Nürnberg MEK front organization was uncovered by police, and the tactic was exposed. Initially, The Greens supported these organizations while it was unaware of their purpose.
In December 2001, a joint FBI-Cologne police operation discovered what a 2004 report calls "a complex fraud scheme involving children and social benefits", involving the sister of Maryam Rajavi. The High Court ruled to close several MEK compounds after investigations revealed that the organization fraudulently collected between $5 million and $10 million in social welfare benefits for children of its members sent to Europe.
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. In 2001, Charity Commission for England and Wales closed it down after finding no “verifiable links between the money donated by the British public [approximately £5 million annually] and charitable work in Iran.”
Seven supporters were detained by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for funnelling more than $1 million to the organization through another sham charity, Committee for Human Rights in Iran. They were later charged in a 59-count indictment with "providing and conspiring to provide material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization".
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 of that the demonstrators were actually providing material support to the MEK.
During the fall of 1981 alone more than 1,000 officials were assassinated to take revenge, including police officers, judges and clerics. Their most notorious assassination was the Hafte Tir bombing in June 1981. Later, many low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards were also targeted. It also failed to assassinate some key figures, including Iran's current leader Ali Khameni. When the security meseares around officials improved, MEK started to target thousands of ordinary citizens who supported the government and Hezbollahis.
The organization has claimed responsibility for the following assassinations, among others:
- Lt. Gen. Ali Sayad Shirazi, deputy chief of Iran's armed forces general staff (1999)
- Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran's prison system (1998)
- Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, President of Iran (1981)
- Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, Prime Minister of Iran (1981)
- Mohammad Beheshti, Chief Justice of Iran (1981)
Timeline of assassinations
|President of Iran||1|
|Prime Minister of Iran||1|
|Chief Justice of Iran||1|
|Members of Parliament||19|
- August 1972: Tehran's chief of police assassinated.
- June 1973: Assassination of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lewis L. Hawkins.
- March 1975: General Zandipour, a warden assassinated at the Anti-sabotage Joint Committee prison.
- 5 May 1975: Part of a purge, central cadre member Majid Sharif Vaghefi was shot dead by fellow MEK members and his body was burnt in order not to be identified.
- 21 May 1975: Assassinations of two U.S. Army officers, Col. Paul Shaffer and Lt. Col. Jack Turner, as well as an Imperial Iranian Air Force officer.
- 3 July 1975: Iranian employee at Embassy of the United States, Tehran was killed.
- 28 August 1976: Three U.S. civilian contractors of Rockwell International named Robert R. Krongrad, William C. Cottrell, Jr., and Donald G. Smith assassinated by four gunmen on their way to Doshan Tappeh Air Base to work on Project IBEX.
- 11 September 1980: Ayatollah Asadollah Madani assassinated in Tabriz during Friday prayers.
- 28 June 1981: A bomb detonated at the Islamic Republican Party headquarters in Tehran killed 73, including the party's secretary-general, 4 cabinet ministers, 10 vice ministers and 27 members of the Parliament of Iran.
- 1 July 1981: A prison guard shouting MEK slogans killed governor of Evin Prison.
- 6 July 1981: Chief prosecutor of Gilan Province assassinated.
- 5 August 1981: MP Hassan Ayat assassinated by gunmen in Tehran.
- 30 August 1981: A bombing killed five, including the incumbent president, prime minister and chief of national police.
- 29 September 1981: MP Abdulkarim Hasheminejad killed in a grenade explosion in Mashhad.
- 11 December 1981: Ayatollah Abdulhossein Dastgheib and several others killed in a suicide attack in Shiraz during Friday prayers.
- 28 December 1981: MP Mohammad Taqi Besharat assassinated.
- 21 January 1982: MP Mojtaba Esteki assassinated.
- 26 February 1982: Assassination of a senior cleric in Tehran.
- 7 March 1982: Chief of national police assassinated.
- 2 July 1982: Ayatollah Mohammad Saduqi assassinated in Yazd during Friday prayer.
- 15 October 1982: Ayatollah Ata'ollah Ashrafi Esfahani assassinated in Kermanshah during Friday prayers.
- December 1993: The MEK admitted it killed a Turkish diplomat in Baghdad, Iraq, claiming he was mistaken for an Iranian official.
- 20 February 1996: Two former members assassinated by MEK in Istanbul.
- June 1998: A senior cleric assassinated in Najaf, Iraq.
- 1 May 2000: A senior IRGC commander assassinated in Tehran.
- Failed attempts and other attacks
- November 1970: The group hijacked an airplane flying from Dubai to Bandar Abbas, because British-controlled Bahrain extradiated six members to Iran.
- October 1971: In the group's first operation, they failed to kidnap son of Ashraf Pahlavi and the Shah's nephew Shahram Shafiq.
- May 1972: U.S. Air Force General Harold price was wounded in attempted assassination. Attacks on Tehran police station, In Hafteh (This Week) journal, U.S. Information Office, Hotel International, Iran-American Society, the mausoleum of Reza Shah, and offices of General Motors, Pepsi Cola, and the Marine Oil Company.
- 3 August 1972: Bombing of Jordanian embassy in Tehran during King Hussein's state visit.
- September 1972: Bombings of Civil Defense Organization Center, Imperial Club, Municipal Department Store, Dept. of Military Industries exhibition hall, and police armory in Qom.
- June 1973: Bombing of facilities of Pan-Am Airlines, Shell Oil, Radio City Cinema, Hotel International, and an export company.
- February 1974: Attack on police station in Isfahan.
- April 1974: Bombing of offices of Oman Bank and Pan-American Oil and of gates of British embassy; attempted bombing of SAVAK center at Tehran University.
- June 1974: Bombing of gendarmerie post in Tehran and offices of U.S. company ITT.
- February 1975: Bombing of gendarmerie post in Lahijan.
- 5 May 1975: MEK member Morteza Samadiyeh-Labbaf was injured in attempted assassination by fellow MEK members, taken to hospital, arrested by SAVAK and eventually executed on 24 January 1976.
- June 1975: Failed to assassinate an American diplomat in Tehran.
- 22 June 1981: A bomb blast at Qom railway station killed eight and injured twenty-three.
- 1 July 1981: MEK plan to blow up the Parliament building was foiled.
- 20 July 1981: MEK gunmen failed to kill MP Habibollah Asgaroladi.
- 2 August 1981: Two explosions in Kermanshah and Tehran killed twenty.
- 12 August 1981: An overruned attack on IRGC headquarters in Tehran with machin guns and rockets.
- 21 August 1981: Twelve people died in a Tehran IRGC contingent skirmish.
- 27 September 1981: Hundreds of MEK members clashed with IRGC near University of Tehran campus. It left seventeen killed and forty wounded.
- 15 April 1982: Attack on during Friday prayers on an Imam in Rasht.
- 18 February 1983: Assassination attempt on a Khomeini representative in Khorasan province.
- 2 July 1987: Iranian diplomat in Madrid, Spain, survived a car bomb, as well as an injured bystander.
- April 1992: Bombing at a Tehran public building killed two children.
- 16 July 1992: Iran's FM Ali Akbar Velayati who was visiting Potsdam, Germany was attacked by MEK.
- 20 August 1992: A MP from Kuhdasht survived grenade explosion at his house.
- 11 October 1992: Destruction of six IRGC vehicles in Qom; bombing of gas station and office of Tehran IRGC commander.
- 12 October 1992: Bomb exploded at the mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini.
- May 1993: Two guards were killed in the attack on communications facility of the National Iranian Oil Company in Kermanshah.
- 2 November 1994: An Iranian diplomat on mission in Denmark attacked.
- June 1995: Bombed oil refineries and other sites in west and south Iran.
- 7 May 1998: Attack on Iran's deputy FM in Austria.
- June 1998: Mortar attack on Defense Industries Organization; bombing of Revolutionary Prosecutor’s office and Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
- July 1998: Bombing of Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran; armed attack on Iranian official in Rome, Italy.
- 14 September 1998: Attempt to kill Gen. Mohsen Rafighdoost failed.
- January 1999: Ali Razini, head of Tehran's judiciary, was wounded after motorcyclist hurled a hand grenade at his car. The explosion killed one and injured three. Mortar attack on Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran.
- 25 November 1999: Mortar attack at Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz.
- 5 February 2000: President Mohammad Khatami was unharmed in mortar attack on his residency in Pasteur Street, which reportedly killed a print shop worker and injured five others.
- March 2000: Mortar attack on residential housing complex; cross-border mortar attack on Iranian territory; attack on Iranian military forces near border.
- April 2000: Attempt to assassinate the commander of Nasr Headquarters, interagency board responsible for coordinating Iran's policies on Iraq.
- May 2000: In several powerful explosions in Kermanshah, MEK claimed "dozens of agents had been killed or wounded". Six people were injured in a mortar attack near Tehran's police headquarters.
- June 2000: Plot to assassinate Ali Akbar Velayati was foiled. Rocket attack on Ministry of Defense.
- October 2000: A mortar attack targetting the command centre of special anti-riot forces in northern Tehran, left no casualties.
- August 2000: Mortar attack on city of Mehran; rockets fired near Salehabad and Khoramshahr.
- November 2000: Mortar attack near Musian and on Kermanshah.
- January 2001: Gen. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf survived a mortar attack on the headquarters of Law Enforcement Force. Five rockets fired at IRGC base in Tehran; mortar attack on Supreme Court and other government buildings in Tehran.
- March 2001: Rocket attack on Iranian security forces headquarters in Tehran and regional office in Shahr-e ziba, Tehran.
- 19 August 2003: MEK bombed the United Nations compound in Iraq, prompting UN withdrawal from the country.
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".
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.
Rival exiled groups question the organizations's claim that it would hold free elections after taking power in Iran, pointing to its designation of a "president-elect" as an evidence of neglecting Iranian people.
Kenneth Katzman wrote in 2001 that the MEK is "Iran's most active opposition group".
A wide range of sources state that the MEK has little or no popular support among Iranian people. The most frequent reason cited for it, is that their alliance with Saddam Hussein during Iran-Iraq war, and attacking Iranian conscripted soldiers and civilians, is viewed as treason or betrayal within the homeland. These sources include journalism, academic works, as well as those written by analysts working for the government and think-tanks.
A 2011 U.S. Department of State document entitled 'Iranian Popular Attitudes towards the MEK' says Iranians unanimously dislike the organization:
Showing a unanimity rare among Iranians, anecdotal information gleaned from both ordinary Iranians living inside Iran and abroad and from Iran analysts strongly indicates that the 'Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group has no significant popular support inside Iran. To the extent that Iranian respondents are familiar with the MEK they express severe dislike for this group, primarily due to its alliance with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
The RAND Corporation policy conundrum 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 regime.
A 2013 survey of Iranian-Americans conducted by George Mason University's Center for Social Science Research found that 79% of respondents did not support any Iranian opposition groups or figures. Of the 15% that did, only 5% supported the MEK.
Relationship with other Iranian opposition groups
An October 1994 report by the U.S. Department of State notes that other Iranian opposition groups do not cooperate with the organization because they view it as "undemocratic" and "tightly controlled" by its leaders.
Due to its anti-Shah stance before the revolution, the MEK is not close to monarchist opposition groups and Reza Pahlavi, Iran's deposed crown prince. Commenting on 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 mostly likely say the mullahs."
The National Resistance Movement of Iran (NAMIR), led by Shapour Bakhtiar, never maintained a friendly relationship with the MEK. In July 1981, NAMIR rejected any notion of cooperation between the two organizations and publicly condemned communique 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.
Designation as a cult
The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has identified the MEK as having cult-like characteristics. Among governments of sovereign states, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Federal government of the United States 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".
Allegations of cult-like characteristics in the MEK have been made not only by former members who have defected from the organization (including Massoud Khodabandeh and Masoud Banisadr among others), but also by journalists, including Reese Erlich, Robert Scheer, and Elizabeth Rubin among others, who visited its military camps in Iraq.
A policy conundrum published by RAND Corporation, investigating "Application of Cult Theory to the MEK", describes authoritarian and charismatic leadership, psychological manipulation, intense ideological exploitation and isolation, sexual control, emotional isolation, degrading peer pressure, deceptive recruitments, forced labor, sleep deprivation, physical abuse, and lack of exit options within the group as cultic tendencies.
Academics specializing in a wide variety of the social sciences believe that the MEK is an example of a cult. Such scholars include the following:
- Ervand Abrahamian, Iranian-born historian
- Alexandra Stein, South African social psychologist
- Stephanie Cronin, British historian
- Wilfried Buchta, German scholar of Islamic studies
- Rick Alan Ross, American deprogrammer and cult specialist
- John Andrew Morrow, Canadian scholar of Islamic studies
- Michael Axworthy, British historian
- Masoud Kazemzadeh, Iranian political scientist
- Ahmad Sadri, Iranian-born sociologist
- Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Mahan Abedin, of the Jamestown Foundation
- Mehdi Khalaji, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
- Ariane Tabatabai, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Michael Rubin, of the American Enterprise Institute
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 regime since 1981, also during Pahlavi dynasty until 1979|
|Iraq||Designated by the post-2003 government|
|Formerly listed by||United States||Designated on 8 July 1997, delisted on 28 September 2012|
|United Kingdom||Designated on 28 March 2001, delisted on 24 June 2008|
|European Union||Designated in May 2002, delisted on 26 January 2009|
|Canada||Designated on 24 May 2005, delisted on 20 December 2012|
|Other designations||Australia||Not designated as terrorist but added to the ‘Consolidated List’ subject to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 on 21 December 2001|
|United Nations||The group is described as "involved in terrorist activities" by the United Nations Committee against Torture in 2008|
The United States put the MEK on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997. However, since 2004 the United States also considered the group as "noncombatants" and "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions because most members had been living in a refugee camp in Iraq for more than 25 years. In 2002 the European Union, pressured by Washington, added MEK to its terrorist list.
MEK leaders then began a lobbying campaign to be removed from the list by promoting itself as a viable opposition to the mullahs in Tehran. In 2008 the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied MEK its request to be delisted despite its lobbying.
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.
In April 2012, Seymour Hersh reported that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command had trained MEK operatives at a secret site in Nevada from 2005 to 2009. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site until President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Hersh also reported additional 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.
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". National Iranian American Council rejects the idea, citing that the organization was listed since the United States State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations was established in 1997 and it was also listed on Patterns of Global Terrorism report prior to 1997.
Removal of the designation
The United Kingdom lifted the MEK's designation as a terrorist group in June 2008, followed by the Council of the European Union on January 26, 2009, after what the group called a "seven-year-long legal and political battle." It was also lifted in the United States following a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on September 21, 2012 and lastly in Canada on December 20, 2012.
The Council of the European Union removed the group's terrorist designation following the Court of Justice of the European Union's 2008 censure of France for failing to disclose new alleged evidence of the MEK's terrorism threat. Delisting allowed MEK to pursue tens of millions of dollars in frozen assets and lobby in Europe for more funds. It also removed the terrorist label from MEK members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
On 28 September 2012 the U.S. State Department formally removed MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, beating an October 1 deadline in an MEK lawsuit. Secretary of State Clinton said in a statement that the decision was made because the MEK had renounced violence and had cooperated in closing their Iraqi paramilitary base. An official denied that lobbying by well-known figures influenced the decision.
37 individuals including Ervand Abrahamian, Shaul Bakhash, Juan Cole and Gary Sick among others, published "Joint Experts’ Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq" on Financial Times voicing their concerns regarding MEK delisting. The National Iranian American Council denounced the decision, stating it "opens the door to Congressional funding of the M.E.K. to conduct terrorist attacks in Iran" and "makes war with Iran far more likely." Iran state television also condemned the delisting of the group, saying that the U.S. considers MEK to be "good terrorists because the U.S. is using them against Iran."
Some former U.S. officials vehemently reject the new status and believe the MEK has not changed its ways.
In the media
- A Cult That Would Be an Army: Cult of the Chameleon: 2007 Al Jazeera documentary directed by Maziar Bahari
- The Wolves (Persian: گرگها, translit. Gorg-ha): four-part eight-houred documentary series initially released in 2007 and reissued in 2013 as a 90-minutes documentary, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It includes footage from Ba'athist Iraq archives of confidential top-level meetings.
- The Strange World of the People's Mujahedin: 2012 BBC World Service documentary directed by Owen Bennett-Jones and produced by Wisebuddah company. It won New York Festivals award for Best Investigative Report in 2013.
- An Unfinished Film for My Daughter, Somayeh (Persian: فیلم ناتمامی برای دخترم سمیه): 2014 documentary directed by Morteza Payeshenas, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
- 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
Fictional films featuring MEK members and actions
- Cyanide (Persian: سیانور, translit. Siyanor): 2016 feature film directed by Behrouz Shoaibi which portrays the organization during the 1970s. The cast includes Babak Hamidian, Behnoosh Tabatabaei, Hanieh Tavassoli, Atila Pesyani, Mehdi Hashemi and Hamed Komeili.
- Mina’s Choice (Persian: امکان مینا, translit. Emkan-e Mina): 2016 drama about happy marriage of couple Mina and Mehran which tears apart. According to the director Kamal Tabrizi and producer Manouchehr Mohammadi, the film intends to “give warnings to families” about MEK.
- The Midday Event (Persian: ماجرای نیمروز): 2017 political drama directed by Mohammad-Hossein Mahdavian, it features MEK during the 1980s and was named the best film in the 35th Fajr International Film Festival.
Fictional series featuring MEK members and actions
- The Gift of Darkness (Persian: ارمغان تاریکی, translit. Armaghan-e Tariki): 2011 drama series directed by Jalil Saman features MEK during the 1980s.
- Parvaneh (Persian: پروانه): 2013 drama series directed by Jalil Saman about MEK during the 1970s.
- Nafas (Persian: نفس): 2017 drama series directed by Jalil Saman features 1970s.
- Guerrilla groups of Iran
- Organizations of the Iranian Revolution
- Governmental lists of cults and sects
- List of designated terrorist groups
- Order of battle during the Iran–Iraq War
- List of armed groups in the Syrian Civil War
- Splinter groups
- Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (Islamist only)
- Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class (Marxist only)
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...the ideological worldview of Mojahedin rested upon two of the main characteristics of Iranian social thought at the time: nationalism and populism.
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Thus the Mojahedin's opposition to Western influence and its call for economic freedom from the West led it to reject the system of capitalism and to present a radical interpretation of Islam. This was also true of the radical Islamic nationalist movement as a whole.
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To provide an Islamic justification for their populist program, Mojahedin often utilized the euphemism coined by Shariati.
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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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There is evidence that as earlt as 1969 it received arms and training from the PLO, especially Yasir Arafat's Fatah group. Some of the earliest Mojahedin supporters took part in black september in 1970 in Jordan.
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Aims/goals: • MEK aims for the violent overthrow of the Iranian government, with the group's ideology swinging all over the map.
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Third, the organization is able to mobilize substantial support internationally. Its annual rally in Paris attracts thousands of participants every year, including major public figures. Its detractors explain this attendance through the financial incentives it alleges the participants receive and the expensive machinery of preparation (multiple bus convoys ferrying attendees from other European cities and countries, rent of a huge hall, perfect choreography of the day-long event and glamorous speakers) but even assuming this is correct, this hardly diminishes the impressiveness of the group’s financial and logistical abilities, both of which are critical to effective political action. Moreover, it is unlikely that such large numbers of people would attend the rather exhausting day-long rally if they did not feel sincerely supportive of the group, or that all of the highly distinguished American and European dignitaries would compromise their reputations and subject themselves to the borderline slanderous vituperation of their critics if their support of the MEK cause were not sincerely meant. Given their biographies, positions and financial success in life, the accusation that all of these people can be bought for an airline ticket to Paris and a speaker’s honorarium seems implausible
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Mr. Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he had given seven or eight speeches since July calling for the M.E.K. to be taken off the terrorist list and estimated that he had been paid a total of $150,000 or $160,000. Mr. Rendell said he had been told that his fees came from Iranian-American supporters of the M.E.K., not from the group itself.
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Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee who headed the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Center for 12 years until last fall, told IPS that he had also been paid “a substantial amount” to appear on a panel Feb. 19 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
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The amusing thing is that the MEK will try to buy pretty much anyone, you know. I was approached to do events in support of the MEK. I know a number of other former government officials who found them truly detestable also were approached. You know, it's really something to have someone on the phone offering you 15,000$ of 20,000$ to appear at a panel discussion, because that doesn't happen for former diplomats everyday.
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I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation. In many cases I personally led inspection teams on unannounced visits to the MEK facilities where the alleged abuses were reported to occur. At no time over the 12 month period did we ever discover any credible evidence supporting the allegations raised in your recent report. (...) Each report of torture, kidnapping and psychological depravation turned out to be unsubstantiated.
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The group itself also appears to be undemocratic and enjoys little popularity in Iran itself. It has no political base in the country, although it appears to have an operational presence.
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The MEK’s supporters present the group as a viable alternative to Iran’s theocracy, though analysts say it is unpopular among Iranians for its past alignment with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and attacks on Iranian soldiers and civilians.
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The MEK, which is based in Paris, remains unpopular in Iran because of its support for the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
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In return, the PMOI made attacks on Iran itself, which is why Iranians of all stripes tend to regard the group as traitors.
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Unsurprisingly, the decision to fight alongside Saddam was viewed as traitorous by the vast majority of Iranians and destroyed the MKO's standing in its homeland.
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With regard to weakening the Iranian regime domestically, MEK failed to establish itself as a political alternative, its goals and violent activities were strongly opposed by the Iranian population–even more so its alignment with Iraq.
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The group is not popular in Iran because of its alliance with Saddam Hussein and Iran-Iraq war.
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...the MKO kept up its opposition and its violent attacks, but dwindled over time to take on the character of a paramilitary cult, largely subordinated to the interests of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
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The MEK, dedicated to overthrowing Iran's Islamic regime and considered a terrorist group by Iran ...
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the three civilian victims were killed by members of the same self-styled “Islamic Marxist” anti-Government terrorist group that was officially blamed for the assassination of two American colonels in Teheran last year
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But when the US military formally transferred control of Camp Ashraf back to the Iraqi government on Jan. 1, the MEK's fate suddenly became an issue. The group is a source of contention for Iran and the US, Iraq's two biggest allies, who are increasingly vying for influence as Baghdad's post–Saddam Hussein Shi'ite government asserts its independence. All three countries label the MEK a terrorist organization.
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What the government of Iraq is seeking is sovereignty over its entire territory. Camp Ashraf is an impediment against their goal. Plus, the Iraqi government acknowledges the MEK as a terrorist group and insists on their leaving of Iraq.
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The MEK has been involved in terrorist activities and is therefore a less legitimate replacement for the current regime.
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