The State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism on April 30 released the list of designated terrorist organizations. Once again Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) continues to occupy the status it has been designated since 1997.
MEK is also active under a variety of other pseudonyms known as MKO; Mujahedin-e Khalq; Muslim Iranian Students’ Society; National Council of Resistance; National Council of Resistance (NCR); Organization of the People’s Holy Warriors of Iran; The National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA); The People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI); National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI); Sazeman-e Mujahedin-e Khalq-e Iran.
Although the designation is not new, but a reference to its activities contributes to the EU decisiveness to keep it on its terror list. One of the reasons contradicting MEK’s claim of renouncing terrorist activities since June 2001 is well defined by the State Department’s explanation of the group’s activities:
"In 2003, French authorities arrested 160 MEK members at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks. Upon the arrest of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, MEK members took to Paris’ streets and engaged in self-immolation. French authorities eventually released Rajavi." [Rajavi was released on bail and is currently awaiting trial on terrorism charges.]
The report reads:
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK)
a.k.a. MKO; Mujahedin-e Khalq; Muslim Iranian Students’ Society; National Council of Resistance; National Council of Resistance (NCR); Organization of the People’s Holy Warriors of Iran; The National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA); The People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI); National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI); Sazeman-e Mujahedin-e Khalq-e Iran
The MEK advocates the violent overthrow of the Iranian regime and was responsible for the assassination of several U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970’s. MEK leadership and members across the world maintain the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United State, Canada, and beyond.
The MEK emerged in the 1960s as one of the more violent political movements opposed to the Pahlavi dynasty and its close relationship with the United States. MEK ideology has gone through several iterations and blends elements of Marxism, Islam, and feminism. Following its participation in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the group rapidly fell out of favor with the Iranian people. The new Iranian government under Supreme Leader Khomeini systematically arrested and targeted many MEK members, causing most MEK leadership to flee to Europe. In 1986, MEK leaders and operatives were evicted from France and provided a safe haven in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. The group has planned and executed terrorist operations against the Iranian regime for nearly three decades from its European and Iraqi bases of operations. Additionally, it has expanded its fundraising base, further developed its paramilitary skills, and aggressively worked to expand its European ranks. In addition to its terrorist credentials, the MEK has also displayed cult-like characteristics. Upon entry into the group, new members are indoctrinated in MEK ideology and revisionist Iranian history. Members are also required to undertake a vow of "eternal divorce" and participate in weekly "ideological cleansings." Additionally, children are reportedly separated from parents at a young age. MEK leader Maryam Rajavi has established a "cult of personality." She claims to emulate the Prophet Muhammad and is viewed by members as the "Iranian President in exile."
The group’s worldwide campaign against the Iranian government uses propaganda and terrorism to achieve its objectives and has been supported by reprehensible regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein. During the 1970s, the MEK assassinated several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the violent takeover in 1979 of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Despite U.S. efforts, MEK members have never been brought to justice for the group’s role in these illegal acts.
In 1981, MEK leadership attempted to overthrow the newly installed Islamic regime; Iranian security forces subsequently initiated a crackdown on the group. The MEK instigated a bombing campaign, including an attack against the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister’s office, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. These attacks resulted in a popular uprising against the MEK and an expanded Iranian government crackdown which forced MEK leaders to flee to France. For five years, the MEK continued to wage its terrorist campaign from its Paris headquarters. Expelled by France in 1986, MEK leaders turned to Saddam Hussein’s regime for basing, financial support, and training. Near the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad armed the MEK with heavy military equipment and deployed thousands of MEK fighters in suicidal, mass wave attacks against Iranian forces.
The MEK’s relationship with the former Iraqi regime continued through the 1990s. In 1991, the group reportedly assisted in the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime; press reports cite MEK leader Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to "take the Kurds under your tanks." In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key Iranian military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi.
In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during "Operation Great Bahman" in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One of those attacks included a mortar attack against a major Iranian leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved in regular mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids against Iranian military and law enforcement personnel, as well as government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border. Also in 2001, the FBI arrested seven Iranians in the United States who funneled $400,000 to an MEK-affiliated organization in the UAE which used the funds to purchase weapons. Following an initial Coalition bombardment of the MEK’s facilities in Iraq at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, MEK leadership negotiated a cease-fire with Coalition Forces and voluntarily surrendered their heavy-arms to Coalition control. Since 2003, roughly 3,400 MEK members have been encamped at Ashraf in Iraq, under the supervision of Coalition Forces.
In 2003, French authorities arrested 160 MEK members at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks. Upon the arrest of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, MEK members took to Paris’ streets and engaged in self-immolation. French authorities eventually released Rajavi. Although currently in hiding, Rajavi has made appearances via video-satellite to "motivate" MEK-sponsored conferences across the globe.
According to evidence which became available after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the MEK received millions of dollars in Oil-for-Food program subsidies from Saddam Hussein from 1999 through 2003, which supported planning and executing future terrorist attacks. In addition to discovering 13 lists of recipients of such vouchers on which the MEK appeared, evidence linking the MEK to the former Iraqi regime includes lists, as well as video footage of Saddam Hussein handing over suitcases of money to known MEK leaders, and video of MEK operatives receiving training from the Iraqi military.
Estimates place MEK’s worldwide membership in the several thousands, with large pockets in Paris and other major European capitals. In Iraq, roughly 3,400 MEK members are gathered under Coalition supervision at Camp Ashraf, the MEK’s main compound north of Baghdad, where they have been designated as "protected persons" under Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This status does not affect the group’s members outside of Camp Ashraf or the MEK’s designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. As a condition of the 2003 cease-fire agreement, the MEK relinquished more than 2,000 tanks; armored personnel carriers; and heavy artillery. A significant number of MEK personnel have voluntarily left Ashraf, and an additional several hundred MEK defectors have been voluntarily repatriated to Iran. Many MEK leaders and operatives, however, remain at large, and the number of at-large MEK operatives who received weapons and bomb-making instruction from Saddam Hussein’s regime remains a source of significant concern.
Location/Area of Operation
In the 1980s, the MEK’s leaders were forced by Iranian security forces to flee to France. Following France’s recognition of the Iranian regime in 1986, the group’s leadership was forced out of France and took up residence in Iraq. The MEK maintains its main headquarters in Paris and has concentrations of members across Europe, in addition to the large concentration of MEK located at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The MEK’s global support structure remains in place with associates and supporters scattered throughout Europe and North America. Operations target Iranian regime elements across the globe, including in Europe and Iran. MEK’s political arm, the NCRI, has a global support network with active lobbying and propaganda efforts in major Western capitals. NCRI also has a well-developed media communications strategy.
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003; the MEK received all of its military assistance and most of its financial support from Saddam Hussein. The fall of Saddam’s regime has led MEK to increasingly rely on front organizations to solicit contributions from expatriate Iranian communities.