The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (the MKO/ MEK/ PMOI/ the Cult of Rajavi) is not in the western lists of terrorist groups rather it is designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq. The documented history of the MEK indicates that it has committed several acts of violence against civilian and has been involved in massacring innocent people of Iraq and Iran. It has carried out bombings against the Iranian shah’s government in the 1970s and later against Iran’s post-revolution Islamist rulers in the 1980s and 1990s. The United States designated MEK as a terrorist organization in 1997, citing those attacks, including 1970s-era bombings that killed several U.S. contractors.
However, the MEK was removed from the terrorist list in 2012 following a heavy multi-million dollar campaign and lobbying by prominent American figures. Their reason for delisting of the group was based on the group’s alleged renunciation of violence. Yet, there are many reasons to consider the MEK as a terrorist group.
1. The MEK’s army structure
In June 1981, the MEK leaders announced armed struggle against the Iranian government. This date is celebrated every year by the group glorifying the start of armed struggle against Iranians who soon became the target of this terrorist army. The MEK established a military force which was financially and logistically supported by Saddam Hussein. Actually they formed “Saddam’s private army” but they named it “National Liberation Army”.
Units of the so-called NLA received military training and eventually launched several cross border operations against Iran killing a large number of Iranian civilians and governmental figures. They aided Saddam Hussein in suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings. Maryam Rajavi is notoriously known for telling her forces: “Take the Kurds under your tanks; save your bullets for Iranian revolutionary guards”.
The MEK is still directed in a hierarchical army structure. There are various units of an army like battalion, brigade, division and commanders who are appointed to control the rank and file. This army was physically armed until the fall of Saddam Hussein. Then, the US military decided to disarm the group.
The MEK was apparently disarmed but the military structure did not change. The MEK’s cult-like structure did not allow members to think freely out of the army establishment.
2. The MEK’s cult-like structure
Although the MEK is not officially called a cult but it has been repeatedly considered a cult-like organization. It was first called “The cult of Rajavi” by Elizabeth Rubin the correspondent of the New York Times Magazine who wrote a documented report of the life in Camp Ashraf, Iraq after she visited the camp in 2003. Rubin was allowed to interview the rank and file observing their daily routine life in the Camp. Eventually, she published a detailed report of what she called “a fictional world of female worker bees” even though the group’s leaders had tried hard to show off a nice portrait of the life in the camp for Rubin.
Since then, there have been various reports, testimonies and documentaries that confirmed Rubin’s article on group’s cult-like behavior, consequently the group is now widely regarded as a cult. Report commissioned by the US Defense Department (RAND Report), based on interviews within Camp Ashraf, later concluded that the MEK had “many of the typical characteristics of a cult, such as authoritarian control, confiscation of assets, sexual control (including mandatory divorce and celibacy), emotional isolation, forced labour, sleep deprivation, physical abuse and limited exit options”.
Cult-like structure of the MEK has been established around the personality of its couple leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. They are considered as absolute leaders to whom the rank and file should dedicate their life. According to the group’s regulations, members are constantly brainwashed and indoctrinated to sacrifice themselves not only for the cause of the group but also for the leaders.
3. MEK Members always prepared to commit suicide
MEK’s violent past is coincident with their suicide operations. From the early years of armed struggle, MEK operators were always ready to commit suicide. They were trained to swallow the cyanide capsule in case they were at risk of being arrested. In several assassination operations the MEK member had to commit suicide in order to kill his victim. For example, in December 1981 woman named Gohar Adab-Avaz killed the representative of Ayatollah Khomeini in Shiraz, Abdol Hossein Dastgheib in a suicide attack in Shiraz. She was praised by MEK propaganda as a “Great Mujahed”.
The cult jargon that requires members to commit suicide got its top notch when Maryam Rajavi was arrested by French Police alongside some 150 MEK members for preparing to commit or finance acts of terrorism in June 2003. A dozen of MEK members set themselves on fire to protest the arrest of their leader “Sister Maryam”. Two women named Neda Hassani and Sedighe Mojaveri died from the injuries. They were then glorified as “martyrs” by the group’s propaganda.
It is normally expected that those few thousand Mujahed members who are residing in Albania now have been coerced to commit suicide and/or homicide whenever the group orders them to do so.
4. Having no public support the MEK has to resort to violence
As Saddam’s private army, under their disillusioned leader Massoud Rajavi, the MEK staged attacks against civilian and military targets across the border in Iran and helped Saddam to suppress his own domestic enemies. But after siding with Saddam – who was in a bloody war with Iran that cost the lives of thousands Iranians – the MEK lost almost all the support it had inside Iran. Members are now widely regarded as traitors.
The new Iranian generations hardly ever know who the MEK are. However, their parents and grandparents remember the group’s atrocities against their own country fellow men which is a good reason for their hatred against the group. Therefore, the MEK is so notoriously known inside Iran that it can never enjoy the support of Iranian public thoughts.
Nevertheless the MEK claims that its main objective is the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Maryam Rajavi uses a controversial expression: peaceful regime change. How can she succeed to change the regime in Tehran peacefully without the support of the Iranian people? It is absolutely undisputable that the group has to resort to violence in order to achieve its objective as it has been involved in recent violent acts against Iranian nuclear scientists.
5. MEK a proxy force for enemies of Iran
After the collapse of the MEK’s main sponsor, Saddam Hussein, the group tended to offer services to super powers such as the United States and Israel. The group cooperated with the Israeli Intelligence agency Mossad to assassinate the Iranian nuclear scientists. NBC News reported that the MEK agents were Mossad’s operational arms to injure and kill a dozen of the Iranian scientists.
It was also investigated by Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, that the MEK operators received spying, military and other special trainings in Nevada desert, the United States, under the command of the US military.
This indicates that the MEK has still the capacity to commit acts of violence. Actually, the MEK members have turned into brainwashed bombers, assassins and suicides. They should be considered terrorists.