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France-Iran: the people’s Mujahedin in a vise

Alongside the nuclear issue, the presence of the MEK, Marxist-inspired movement opposed to the Iranian regime, in France, poisoned relations between Paris and Tehran.

Sheltered by France, opponents of the regime in Tehran are seeking to benefit from the strength of Nicolas Sarkozy against Iran on the nuclear issue to distract their terrorist past. Driven from their country shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, three to four thousand members of the Organization of the People’s Mujahedeen (PMOI/MEK/MKO), a movement of Marxist and Islamic, took refuge in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. From there they continue to work for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. "How France Can pretend to fight against terrorism, while it hosts a movement that it considers terrorist, and who stands for nothing among the opposition to our government?" offended a diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Paris.

Hard to believe that the Mujahideen can shake the Revolutionary Guards off from their humble headquarters in Auvers, with its two suburban houses and ten prefabricated buildings, hidden behind a green fence along the Oise. Protected and monitored by police, forty activists are employed full time. The morning of our visit, two women wearing khaki head scarves, made the day on the Internet. On the corner, a filmmaker was reporting propaganda from images broadcasted from London by their TV (Iran National TV) that the Iranians secretly watch on cable.

Since she had to renounce the armed attacks on Iranian soil in 2001, the MEK has decided on information war against Tehran. Before the visitor, old ladies tell tearful memories of their son, brothers or husbands, killed by the Iranian security services. At lunchtime, the small community is reflected in the canteen around a chello kebab (grilled lamb with rice), which recalls the homeland. " I have supported these terrorists For thirty years!" Smiles Jean-Pierre Guillou, a neighboring retired.

But let there be no mistake: behind the seeming modesty of its facilities, the MEK is a movement still rich. Especially well-organized. From their offices in London, Berlin or Washington, riding the wrong image of the Iranian regime, the Mujahideen seek to rebuild their virginity. And the results are significiant. Earlier this year, thanks to intense lobbying of MEPs, the MEK has got to be removed from the list of terrorist organizations of the European Union. In France, his support network is impressive: former head of the DST (Yves Bonnet), the widow of a former President of the Republic (Danielle Mitterrand), a former Prime Minister (Édith Cresson) and a host of deputies and senators, signed numerous petitions addressed the press.

While the street go up in flames in Tehran, the Mujahideen are dreaming to harvest a share of the firmness displayed by Nicolas Sarkozy against the Iranian government. He is the former Minister of Interior, which launched in 2003, the vast police operation against their headquarters in Auvers. "We welcome today Nicolas Sarkozy, there is no other option facing a dictatorship," says Mohammad Mohandessine, one of the leaders. "But if he was rational with himself, the president should release the pressure on us.

Unfortunately, the hostility of France towards us has not changed, "laments that also. Officially, the Mujahideen are a dangerous cult, able to use the sacrifices, as in 2003 near DST’s headquarters in Paris. The influence of their leader, Maryam Rajavi, its supporters said then frightened police, who were placed in custody. "She threatened us, claiming she was more a mother to them, it was enough to lift a finger for them to sacrifice themselves by fire, said a police officer. When, at our request, ordered her troops to stop their protests, she made them pass a coded message, which was immediately acted upon. It is not income."

Human Torches

Between France and the Mujahideen, the dispute remains heavy. From Auvers, the MEK sent its fighters with GPS to infiltrate into Iran from their home base at Ashraf in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was protecting them, while using them as his tools. Opponents also claim for France since the anti-Iranian operations in the United States that still regards the group as a terrorist organization. Worse, during the police operation in 2003, DST put his finger on their war treasury: communication equipments, encrypted documents, but also a part of their archives, with descriptions of their equipments, and – icing on the cake – the details of their participation in anti-Kurdish repression conducted by the regime of Saddam Hussein in spring 1991. Documents placed on file with the judge on terrorism crimes Marc Trévidic was welcomed at the highest point by the Iranian authorities, whose discrete offers of cooperation have been rebuffed by the French courts. Lastly found: nine million dollars in cash, some freshly cut out of the Central Bank of Iraq, their main sponsor at the time.

And today? Tehran accuses the Mujahideen have created fictitious computer companies for money laundering and engaged in a real racket through NGOs. But it is only in France that their funds are blocked. Some Gulf Arab countries hostile to Iran, could still finance them. The movement’s leaders deny these "accusations of terrorism and terrorist financing." A cult? "We must defend ourselves properly. Iranian agents are trying to infiltrate." The money? "It comes from the Iranians themselves, and it is quite legitimate for an opposition movement in exile." The sacrifices by fire? "They were the work of individuals, who responded to the disproportionate use of force by the French police."

Iran and its enemies are at least agree on one point: why six years after the police operation in Auvers, and the indictment of 17 leaders of the Mujahideen, the French Justice Has not yet delivered his trial? "If the French do not want trial, they speak at least one non-place," insists Afshin Alavi, another of their leaders, for whom the investigation file is empty. "Unfortunately, the shadow of politics hangs over this matter," says, for his part, the Iranian diplomat cited.

For twenty years, the Mujahideen are a card in the hands of French authorities. In 1987, to curry favor with Iran pulling the strings of the hostage situation in Lebanon, the government of Jacques Chirac expelled their leader, Massoud Rajavi, to Ashraf. Fifteen years later, in 2003 exactly, again to appease Tehran, before a major tour devoted to nuclear power, the Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for "shutdown" of Auvers. Now that France is engaged in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, not about to discard, without consideration of this map. But in case of abandonment, it is due to fear of seeing human torches in the streets of Paris again. In the immediate future, citing reasons of security, France has said no to U.S. demands to host Mujahideen, which Iraq does not want to stay in Ashraf. Galvanized by the Iranian revolt, the MEK swear that the "big night" is near. "Our men are on the march to protest against the rigged election of Ahmadinejad as President of the Republic," says Afshin Alavi.

Network of supporters

If the Mujahideen have no operational capability within Iran, they have preserved, however, a network of supporters, whose recruitment has been facilitated through the opening under the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). "unhappy people are easier to enlist," says Mohammad Mohandessine. The MEK had its heyday August 14, 2002, when it revealed the existence of the plant to enrich uranium at Natanz, 200 km south of Tehran.
A scoop relayed by Ali Reza Jafarzadeh, an analyst assigned to the American channel Fox News, and member of the Mujahideen. A real scoop or information delivered by a Western service to enhance the credibility of opponents of the mullahs? Doubt persists. One thing is certain: Iran sees red at the mere declaration on the Mujahideen. "Why such a fixation on us if we do not represent any threat?" Wondered Afshin Alavi.
In the wake of the U.S. war in Iraq, the Iranian regime proposed the U.S. an exchange: "We deliver the members of al-Qaida that we recovered while fleeing Afghanistan after September 11, 2001; in exchange, you submit the 3 000 Mujahideen Ashraf."Washington turned a deaf ear, preferring to keep the MEK card for all practical purposes. 

Georges Malbrunot

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