People's Mujahedin of Iran

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

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[6]
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)[7]
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
Ir-nla.gif
NLA flag used since 1987
Leaders

The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran or the Mojahedin-e Khalq (Persian: سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران‎, translit. sâzmân-e mojâhedin-e khalq-e īrân, abbreviated MEK, PMOI or MKO) is an Iranian political–militant organization[11][12][13] based on Islamic and Socialist ideology and advocates overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership and installing its own government.[14][15][16] 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."[17] The MEK is considered the Islamic Republic of Iran's biggest and most active political opposition group.[17][18][19]

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,[20][21][22] by the U.S. government on 21 September 2012, and lastly by the Canadian government on 20 December 2012.[23] The MEK is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq.[24] 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.[25] which was expired in 2009 after full sovereignty of Iraq.[26] 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.

The MEK contributed in overthrowing the Shah during the Iranian revolution, and subsequently pursued establishing democracy in Iran, gaining support particularly from Iran's middle class intelligentsia.[27][28][29][30] This created conflicts with Ayatollah Khomeini,[citation needed] and by early 1981, authorities had banned the MEK driving the organization underground.[31][15] After the fall of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the MEK refused to take part in constitution referendum of the new government,[32] which led to Khomeini preventing Massoud Rajavi and other MEK members from running office in the new government.[33] The MEK organized a peaceful demonstration against the Islamic Republic party (who they claimed had carried out a secret coup d’etat).[34][35] The protest led to arrests and executions of MEK members and sympathizers.[36][37][28]

MEK targeted key Iranian official figures, with the bombing of the Prime Minister's office, attacking low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards, along with ordinary citizens who supported the new government.[38] According to infoplease.com, more than 16,000 Iranian people have been killed by the MEK since 1979.[39][40][41] According to the MEK, over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[42][43] 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.[44]

In 1986 the IRI requested France to expel the MEK from Paris,[45][46] so it took base in Iraq where it fought against Iran during the Iran–Iraq War alongside the Saddam Hussein's army,[47][48][49] and assisted Saddam's Republican Guard in suppressing the 1991 nationwide uprisings against Saddam.[24][50][51][52] In 2002, the MEK blew the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear program,[53] 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.[54]

Contents

Other names[edit]

The group had no name until February 1972.[55]

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.[33] The organization has the appearance of a broad-based coalition; however, many analysts consider NCRI and MEK to be synonymous[7] and recognize NCRI as only "nominally independent" political wing of MEK.[56][57][58]
  • 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".[59]
  • The Cult of Rajavi or Rajavi Cult - In a 2003 article, Elizabeth Rubin referred to the MEK as "The Cult of Rajavi".[60]

Membership[edit]

According to Kenneth Katzman, most analysts agree that MEK members tend to be "more dedicated and zealous" than those of other organizations.[61]

1980s[edit]

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.[62] 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.[63] Jeffrey S. Dixon and Meredith Reid Sarkees estimate their prewar strength to be about 2,000, later peaking to 10,000.[64]

Post-2000[edit]

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.[65] 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.[66] 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.[60] 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.[67][68][69] A 2013 article in Foreign Policy claimed that there were some 2,900 members in Iraq.[70] 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.[71] Today, MEK as a “fringe exiled group” by emphasizing to it’s sectarian feature make attempt for regime change in Iran.[47]

History[edit]

Overview[edit]

It was founded on 5 September 1965 by leftist Iranian students affiliated with the Freedom Movement of Iran to oppose the Shah Pahlavi.[72][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.[15] The MEK is considered to be Iran's "the largest and most active Iranian exile organization."[73][74][17]

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.[75]

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.[76] As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the Iranian presidential election, 1980.[77] 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.[78] The MEK accused Khomeini of “monopolizing power”, “hijacking the revolution”, “trampling over democratic rights”, and “plotting to set up a fascistic one-party dictatorship”.[79]

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."[34][80]

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.[6]

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.[81] In 1988, a fatwa by Khomeini led to the executions of political prisoners, including many MEK members,[82] who "remain steadfast in their support".[83]

The group says it renounced violence in 2001.[84] However, the MEK has been accused by numerous commentators of being financed, trained, and armed by Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and educators.[85]

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.[86] The group was later relocated to former U.S. military base Camp Liberty in Iraq[87] and eventually to Albania.[88]

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.[89][90]

Many MEK sympathizers and middle-level organizers were detained and executed after June 1981.[91] 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.[54] According to Kenneth Katzman, the MEK is “a major target of Iran’s international security apparatus and its campaign in assassinating opponents abroad.”[92] 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.[39][40][41] 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."[93] According to the MEK, over 100,000 of its members have been killed and 150,000 imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[42][43]

Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr. has charted US and European diplomacy with Tehran with 'deliverables' involving the MEK as follows:[94]

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)[edit]

Mohammad Hanifnejad
Ali-Asghar Badizadegan
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.[95]

The MEK opposed the rule of Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, considering him corrupt and oppressive, and considered the Liberation Movement too moderate and ineffective.[96] 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.[97]

In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work.[98] 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.[97] The MEK generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam.[99]

MEK's central committee members[100]
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.[101] 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.[102]

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.[103] 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.[101]

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.[104][105]

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.[55]

Schism (1971-1979)[edit]

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.[106]

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.[107] 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."[108]

This led to two rival Mujahedin, each with its own publication, its own organization, and its own activities.[109] 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.[110] Later during the Iranian revolution, Peykar merged with some Maoist groups[which?].[111] From 1973 to 1979, the Muslim MEK survived partly in the provinces but mainly in prisons, particularly Qasr Prison where Massoud Rajavi was held.[112]

The group conducted several assassinations of U.S. military personnel and civilians working in Iran during the 1970s.[113][114] 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.[115]

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.[116][115] A car carrying three American employees of Rockwell International was attacked by MEK in August 1976.[117] William Cottrell, Donald Smith, and Robert Krongard were killed[33] working on the Ibex system.[118] Leading up to the Islamic Revolution, members of the MEK, conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets.[119][120] After the revolution the group supported the U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979.[121] In May 1972, an attack on Brig. Gen. Harold Price was attributed to the MEK.[33]

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.[122] 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.[123]

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.[124] Bahram Aram and Vahid Afrakhteh both belonged to the (Marxist) rival splinter group Peykar that emerged in 1972, and not the (Muslim) MEK.[125] Despite this, some sources have attributed these assassinations to the MEK.[113][114]

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." [126] 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."[127][128]

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.[129]

"The political phase" (1979–1981)[edit]

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."[17]

The group supported the revolution in it's initial phases.[130] 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.[131]

It participated in the referendum held in March 1979.[130] Its candidate for the head of the newly founded council of experts was Masoud Rajavi in the election of August 1979.[130] However, he lost the election.[130] The group also supported for the occupation the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979.[130]

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'."[32] As a result, Khomeini subsequently refused Massoud Rajavi and PMOI members to run in the Iranian presidential election, 1980.[132] 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".[133]

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.[134] Toward the end of 1981, several PMOI members and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France.[135]

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.[133]

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.[136]

Electoral history[edit]

Year Election/referendum Seats won/policy References
1979 Islamic Republic referendum Vote 'Yes' [6]
Assembly of Experts election
0 / 73 (0%)
[137]
Constitutional referendum Boycott [6]
1980 Presidential election Vote, no candidate [6]
Parliamentary elections
0 / 270 (0%)
[137]

Conflict with the Islamic Republic government (1981–1988)[edit]

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".[133]

In February 1980 concentrated attacks by hezbollahi pro-Khomeini militia began on the meeting places, bookstores and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists[138] driving the Left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested.[139]

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.[80]

On 30 August a bomb was detonated killing the elected President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. A secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and active member of the Mujahedin, Massoud Keshmiri, was identified as the perpetrator.[72] 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."[140]

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."[141][142]

Following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, MEK called Saddam Hussein an "aggressor" and a "dictator".[143]

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.[33]

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.[144]

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.[145] 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."[146]

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:[147]

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.[41] 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."[93]

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."[147][148] 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."[149]

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.[150]

Operation Eternal Light and 1988 executions[edit]

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.[45]

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[disambiguation needed]. 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.[46]

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.[151] 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.[152]

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.[153] 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”.[47] Massoud Rajavi personally identified Iranian military targets for Iraq to attack, an act Elizabeth Rubin described as betrayal.[154][48] 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".[155] 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.[156]

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.[157]

Post-war Saddam era (1988–2003)[edit]

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.[158]

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.[159]

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."[160]

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.[24][51] 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."[161]

1998 FIFA World political banner plan[edit]

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.[162] 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.[163]

2003 French arrests[edit]

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 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".[164] Police found $1.3 million in $100 bills in cash in their offices.[165] The 160 MEK members arrested on terror charges in France in 2003 were investigated by courts and fully exonerated in 2011.[166]

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.[60]

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. French authorities released MEK members as a result.[143]

Post-US invasion of Iraq (2003–2016)[edit]

During the Iraq War, the coalition forces bombed MEK bases and forced them to surrender in May 2003.[167] U.S. troops later posted guards at its bases.[168] 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.[169][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.[170]

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.[171][172] 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.[173]

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].[174]

On 19 August 2003, MEK bombed the United Nations compound in Iraq, prompting UN withdrawal from the country.[33]

In 2010, Iranian authorities sentenced to death five members of the MEK who were arrested during 2009 Iranian presidential election protests .[175]

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.[176]

Iraqi government's 2009 crackdown[edit]

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.[177]

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.[178] 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.[179] After the raid, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated the issue was "completely within [the Iraqi government's] purview."[180] 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.[181][182]

Iran's nuclear programme[edit]

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.[183]

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.[184][185] Similar accounts could be found elsewhere by others, including comments made by US officials.[183]

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".[183]

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.[186]

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.[85][187][188] 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.[189]

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.[190]

Relocation from Iraq[edit]

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.[191]

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.[192]

Settlement in Albania (2016–present)[edit]

In 2013, the United States pushed to MEK to relocate to Albania, but the organization rejected the offer.[193] 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.[194] On 9 September 2016, the more than 280 MEK members remaining were relocated to Albania.[88] In May 2018, MSNBC aired never-before-seen footage of the MEK's secret base in Albania, described as a "massive military-style complex".[195] The installation is located in Manëz, Durrës County, where they have been protested by the locals.[196]

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.[197]

2018[edit]

As of 2018, MEK operatives are believed to be still conducting covert operations inside Iran [198] to overthrow Iran's government.[199] 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.[199]

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.[200] 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.[201] 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.[202]

Ideology[edit]

Before the revolution[edit]

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." [203]

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."[204]

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."[205] 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.[206]

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."[207] 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."[208]

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."[209]

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."[210]

After the revolution[edit]

2011 MEK demonstration in Sydney, Australia
MEK demonstrators carrying Lion and Sun flags and those of 'National Liberation Army of Iran'

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".[38] 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.[203] A 2009 U.S. Department of State annual report states that their ideology is a blend of Marxism, Islamism and feminism.[211] 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".[143] According to the guardian, in 1992 the state department declared that the leadership of MEK "never practices democracy within their organisation".Most Iranian people who were in communication with MEK said that the organization is not likely to be criticized by opposite opinion and power.[212]

View on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict[edit]

In the beginning, MEK used to criticize the Pahlavi dynasty for allying with Israel and Apartheid South Africa,[213] calling them racist states and demanding cancellation of all political and economic agreements with them.[214] MEK opposed Israeli–Palestinian peace process[215] and was anti-Zionist.[143]

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.[216] 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.[217]

After their exile, the MEK changed into an 'ally' of Israel in pursuit of its ideological opportunism.[143][218]

MEK leader Maryam Rajavi publicly met with the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas on 30 July 2016 in Paris, France.[219]

View on the United States[edit]

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".[220] Rajavi in his presidential campaign after revolution used to warn against what he called the "imperialist danger".[221] 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".[222] 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",[223] as opposed to "private property", which capitalists consider to be identical to "personal property" while Marxists do not.[citation needed]

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".[224]

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.[225]

In January 1993, President-elect Clinton wrote a private letter to the Massoud Rajavi, in which he set out his support for the organization.[226] The organization has also received support United States officials including Tom Ridge, Howard Dean, Michael Mukasey, Louis Freeh, Hugh Shelton, Rudolph Guiliani, John Bolton, Bill Richardson, James L. Jones, and Edward G. Rendell.[227][228]

The 'ideological revolution' and the issue of women's rights[edit]

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.[229]

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."[230]

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)[143] were separated from their parents and sent abroad to be adopted by members of the group in Europe or North America.[143][231]

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.[143]

Assassinations[edit]

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.".[232] The MEK was the first group carrying out suicide attacks in Iran.[233][234][which?] According to Hamid Reza[who?], more than 16,000 people have been killed in attacks by the MEK since 1979.[39] From 26 August 1981 to December 1982, it orchestrated 336 attacks.[235]

During the fall of 1981 alone 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.[38] Other analysts state that MEK targets only included the Islamic Republic’s governmental and security institutions.[232][52][236] 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.”

[237]

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.[238]

The organization has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. The MEK is accused of assassinating Ali Sayad Shirazi,[239] Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran's prison system (1998),[239] Mohammad-Ali Rajaei,[239] Mohammad-Javad Bahonar,[239] and Mohammad Beheshti.[240][241][242][8][243][60]Chief Justice of Iran

Disinformation campaign against the MEK[edit]

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.[244]

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.[75]

According to Manshour Varasteh, VAVAK is directing and financing a misinformation campaign carried out through former opponents of the regime including the MEK.[245] The Washington Examiner also stated that the MEK (and National Council of Resistance of Iran) have been the constant target of smear campaigns launched and managed by the Iranian regime. [246][247]

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in 1994 the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) was responsible for the bombing at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad. The bombing killed 25 and wounded at least 70 people. The Iranian regime blamed the MEK. 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.[248] According to an anonymous US official, Ramzi Yousef built the bomb and MEK agents placed it in the shrine.[249]

According to Yonah Alexander, 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."[250]

A December 2012 report by the US library of Congress’s Federal Research Division profiling the MOIS describes how the MOIS reruited former MEK members and “used the to launch a disinformation campaign against the MEK.”[251] 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”.[252]

According Abbas Milani, lobbyists paid for by the Iranian regime campaigned against delisting the MEK calling it a "dangerous cult"[253]

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.[254]

Assassination of MEK members outside Iran[edit]

From1989 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.[236]

In March 1993, theNCRI’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.[236]

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.[236][255][256][257]

Assassination attempts[edit]

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.[236]

Ties to foreign actors[edit]

State-sponsorship[edit]

Before exile[edit]

By 1978, Western intelligence agencies maintained that the MEK was supported by foreign states, based on evidence of receiving funds from Libya led by Muammar Gaddafi, as well as Iraq, then under control of Ba'athists. The MEK was also more remotely tied to the Soviet Union intelligence agency KGB, whose connections largely related to "weapons supply, techniques, electronic training, some funding and general support", according to the informed intelligence sources talking to The Washington Post.[258]

After 1979, the MEK developed ties with the KGB. There were "sufficient evidence" to assume that an alliance between KGB and Iranian Marxists including MEK was real.[259] According to Vladimir Kuzichkin, a KGB officer based in Tehran between 1977 and 1982 before defecting to the MI6, the Soviet agency put officer Vladimir Fisenko in charge of direct communication with the MEK. The organization tended to avoid contacts inside Iran, despite dedicating a safe house telephone line for "emergency meetings" and mainly maintained ties to the agency via European offices. Kuzichkin says the MEK asked them for arms.[260] According to historian Abbas Milani, In the course of a clandestine meeting, the MEK informed the Soviets that they have 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.[261] The KGB headquarters in Moscow ordered Tehran station to do a document exchange immediately, offering a list of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents in Iran to the group.[261] Mohammad Reza Sa'adati, a senior MEK member who was in charge of the liaison, met with KGB's Tehran operatives three times to rehearse the exchange; and he was provided with some equipment, including a special dark glasses that allowed him to see whether he was under surveillance.[261] But when the exchange meeting was taking place, Sa'adati and Soviets were arrested in a raid by security forces.[261] The Iranian intelligence may have been aware of the contact because the KGB contacted MEK over the embassy phone.[261] Fred Holliday says the event collapsed the links between the two,[262] while Shahram Chubin argues that it contributed to prosecution of Tudeh Party of Iran as well.[259]

After exile[edit]

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.[253] Anna Polishchuk, a student of Milani at Stanford University who made a research on Hoover Institution's documents containing the correspondence for the first time, states that the Soviets denied the request for money but offered limited support.[263]

Israel's foreign intelligence agency Mossad maintains connections with the MEK, dating back to the 1990s.[264]

Hyeran Jo, associate professor of Texas A&M University wrote in 2015 that the MEK is supported by the United States.[265]

Non-state actors[edit]

The MEK found their best friends among secular left-wing groups.[266]

Its members were trained and armed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah,[267] with whom they "fought side by side in Jordan during the events of Black September".[268]

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.[266] The MEK sent five trained members into South Yemen to fight in the Dhofar Rebellion against Omani and Iranian forces.[269]

Intelligence and operational capabilities[edit]

During the years MEK was based in Iraq, it was closely associated with the intelligence service Mukhabarat (IIS),[270][271] 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.[272][273] The MEK offered IIS with intelligence it gathered from Iran, interrogation and translation services.[33]

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".[274] 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".[275] 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.[276]

MEK is able to conduct "telephone intelligence" operations effectively, i.e. gathering intelligence through making phone calls to officials and government organizations in Iran.[277]

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".[278]

Propaganda campaign[edit]

From the very beginning, the MEK pursued a dual strategy of using armed struggle and propaganda to achieve its goals,[279] and its "prolific" international propaganda machine has been successful in misleading a considerable portion of the Western media since the 1980s.[280] In the 1980s and the 1990s, their propaganda was mainly targeted against the officials in the establishment.[281] According to Anthony H. Cordesman, by 1999 the campaign occasionally used "terrorist violence".[282]

The organization has made its propaganda campaign global since the beginning of the 21st century, using its "extensive overseas support structure".[283]

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".[284]

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".[285]

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."[286]

French Foreign Ministry condemned the group's "intense campaign of influence and disinformation" in 2014.[287]

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.[288] "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.[289]

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 government.[290]

Media activity[edit]

The organization owns a free-to-air satellite television network named Vision of Freedom (Sima-ye-Azadi), launched in 2003 in England.[291] It previously operated Vision of Resistance analogue television in Iraq in the 1990s, accessible in western provinces of Iran.[292] They also had a radio station, Radio Iran Zamin, that was closed down in June 1998.[293]

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".[293]

Social media[edit]

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.[294][295] The cluster makes efforts to position itself as an organisation of human rights defenders. However, these efforts are rarely reciprocated, signaling their insularity.[294] 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".[295] 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.[294]

Crowd renting[edit]

African-American rent-a-crowd people with People's Mujahedin of Iran banners in demonstrations in front of headquarters of the United Nations, New York City.

According to Kenneth R. Timmerman, the group regularly organizes rent-a-crowd protests worldwide and hires hecklers.[296] Zaid Jilani and Paul R. Pillar have also cited similar observations.[297]

In 2013 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 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.[298] Michael Rubin has described the story as indicative of a lack of support for the MEK.[299]

The Guardian reported that around half of the some 4,000 attendees of MEK's 2018 gathering were "bored-looking" Poles, Czechs, Slovakians, Germans and Syrians refugees, many of whom "snoozed under trees during speeches". The non-Iranians who were bussed in to the event, responded to a campaign on Facebook that promised a travel to Paris for a mere €25, food and accommodation.[300]

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.[301]

Allegations of Indoctrination[edit]

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".[302] 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.[211]

[edit]

MEK is known for its long-term lobbying effort, especially in the United States,[2] where it competes against the National Iranian American Council.[303] 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.[303] DiGenova & Toensing and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld are among the advocacy groups paid by the organization.[304] The actual sum paid is vague, but the total could be in the millions of dollars.[305][306] The propaganda campaign used for delisting the MEK as an FTO has been described as "unique" among similar organizations.[281]

According to investigative work by Scott Petersonsome prominent US officials from both political parties have received substantial sums of cash to give speeches in favor of MEK.[306][307][199][308] Among them, Rendell who admitted himself being paid to speak in support of the MEK[309] and Hamilton who said he was paid to "appear on a panel Feb. 19 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington."[310] In February 2015, The Intercept published that Bob Menendez, John McCain, Judy Chu, Dana Rohrabacher and Robert Torricelli received campaign contributions from MEK supporters.[311]

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".[312]

Human rights record[edit]

Iraqi Ministry of Justice maintains that the MEK had committed human right abuses in the 1990s against Iraqi dissidents.[313]

In a 2004 public release, Amnesty International stated it continues to receive reports of human rights violations carried out by the MEK against its own members.[314]

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.[315]

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.[316] 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.[316] 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.[317]

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.[318]

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".[319]

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.[320]

Fraud and money laundering[edit]

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.[33] 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.[33] 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".[321]

French case[edit]

From 1981 to 1986, the MEK headquarters was placed in France, then expelled to Iraq and in 2003 returned to France in order to the compound in Auvers sur Oise France. The extensive property and cash holdings of People’s Mujahideen Khalq led French police to invade the compound in June 2003. A police superintendent within the Interior Ministry’s OCLCIFF pointed to the organization’s 2003 arrival in Auvers sur Oise and the financial fraud by MEK based on ongoing observation.[211]

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.[322]

Germany[edit]

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 taking DM 600–700 a day with 30 to 40 people used in each city for the operation. In 1988, the Nuremberg 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.[323]

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.[321] 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.[33]

The Netherlands[edit]

MEK operated a sham charity in the Netherlands, called "Society for Solidarity with the Iranian People" (Dutch: Stichting Solidariteit met Iraanse Mensen) or simply SIM. In 1992, Wageningen police officers briefly arrested two SIM money-collectors for aggressive behavior. In 1993, SIM unsuccessfully tried to obtain license from the Central Bureau for Fundraising (CBF).[324] In 2003, General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) revealed that SIM was in fact fundraising for the MEK, and its bank accounts were frozen.[325]

United Kingdom[edit]

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.[38][305] In 2001, Charity Commission for England and Wales closed it down[326] after finding no "verifiable links between the money donated by the British public [approximately £5 million annually] and charitable work in Iran."[33]

United States[edit]

In an investigation known as "Operation Eastern Money",[327] seven MEK members 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".[33][328] They were later charged in a 59-count indictment with "providing and conspiring to provide material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization".[38]

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.[38]

Forgery[edit]

An annual report by California Department of Justice in 2004, asserts that "[m]embers of the MEK were arrested for operating a Los Angeles-based immigration and visa fraud ring, which enabled members of the group to enter the United States illegally... By using forged documents and fictitious stories of political persecution, the ring was able to assist hundreds of individuals entering the United States."[329]

In 1999, after a 2 1⁄2-year investigation, Federal authorities arrested 29 individuals in "Operation Eastern Approach",[330] of whom 15 were held on charges of helping MEK members illegally enter the United States.[331] The ringleader was pleaded guilty to providing phony documents to MEK members and violation of Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.[332][333] Before the operation, FBI has reportedly long suspected that the MEK used "false visas, false passports, or fake political asylum travel documents".[334]

Islamic Republic of Iran allegations against the MEK[edit]

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.[39][335] Two days later, Ruhollah Khomeini accused the MEK who didn't disavow their role.[243] Iran's security forces blamed the United States and "internal mercenaries".[336] 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."[337] 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."[338] The bombing was carried out by MEK, according to the U.S department of state.[339]

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”.[236]

Status among Iranian opposition[edit]

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".[205] 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.[61] Kenneth Katzman wrote in 2001 that the MEK is "Iran's most active opposition group".[340] 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.[341]

Perception by Iranian people[edit]

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,[342][343] academic works,[344][345][346] 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.[236]

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 government.[33]

Relationship with other Iranian opposition groups[edit]

The group kept a friendly relationship with the only other major Iranian urban guerrilla group, the Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas (OIPFG).[209]

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.[61]

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.[61] 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."[347]

Iran's deposed president, Abolhassan Banisadr, ended his alliance with the group in 1984, denouncing its stance during the Iran–Iraq War.[61]

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.[348]

Designation as a cult[edit]

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[349] and Federal government of the United States[350] 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".[351]

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[352] and Masoud Banisadr[353] among others, but also by journalists, including Reese Erlich,[354] Robert Scheer,[354] and Elizabeth Rubin[355] 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.[143][1]

Scholarly views[edit]

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.[33]

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:

Designation as a terrorist organization[edit]

The countries and organizations below have officially listed MEK as a terrorist organization:

Currently listed by  Iran Designated by the current government[370] since 1981, also during Pahlavi dynasty[371] until 1979
 Iraq Designated by the post-2003 government[176][372][373]
Formerly listed by  United States Designated on 8 July 1997, delisted on 28 September 2012[374]
 United Kingdom Designated on 28 March 2001,[374] delisted on 24 June 2008[374]
 European Union Designated in May 2002,[374] delisted on 26 January 2009[374]
 Canada Designated on 24 May 2005,[375] delisted on 20 December 2012[376]
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[377]
 United Nations The group is described as "involved in terrorist activities" by the United Nations Committee against Torture in 2008[378]

In 1997, the United States put the MEK on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.[24] 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."[379][380][381][24]

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.[382] In 2002 the European Union, pressured by Washington, added MEK to its terrorist list.[383] In 2008 the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied MEK its request to be delisted,[21] 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.[29] 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.[384]

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.[385] 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.[385][386]

The National Council of Resistance of Iran has rejected allegations of Hersh.[387][388][389]

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".[390] 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.[391]

Removal of the designation[edit]

The United Kingdom lifted the MEK's designation as a terrorist group in June 2008,[392] 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."[21][20][22] It was also lifted in the United States following a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton[87] on September 21, 2012 and lastly in Canada on December 20, 2012.[23]

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.[393]

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.[20] Delisting allowed MEK to pursue tens of millions of dollars in frozen assets[22] and lobby in Europe for more funds. It also removed the terrorist label from MEK members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.[21]

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.[87][394] 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.[395][396] Some former U.S. officials vehemently reject the new status and believe the MEK has not changed its ways.[397]

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.[398] 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."[87] 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."[399]

Documentary films[edit]

  • A Cult That Would Be an Army: Cult of the Chameleon (2007): Al Jazeera documentary directed by Maziar Bahari[400]
  • The Strange World of the People's Mujahedin (2012): BBC World Service documentary directed by Owen Bennett-Jones and produced by Wisebuddah company.[401] It won New York Festivals award for Best Investigative Report in 2013.[402]
  • 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[edit]

See also[edit]

Splinter groups
Installations

References[edit]

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.
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