Terrorism Profiles – Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
People’s Mujahedeen of Iran; PMOI; The National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA, the militant wing of the MEK), National Council of Resistance (NCR); the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI); Muslim Iranian Student’s Society.
Goals and Objectives.
The MEK is an Iranian dissident group whose ideology originally blended Marxism with a moderate interpretation of Islam. In the 1970s, the group opposed the regime of the Shah for its corruption and perceived susceptibility to U.S. and Western influence. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, MEK has opposed the religious Iranian regime, favoring a secular government in Iran. The group apparently supports the Arab-Israeli peace process and the rights of Iran’s minorities, although some believe the group takes these positions only to improve its image in Western countries.
The MEK was founded in the 1960s by leftist college students in Iran opposed to the Shah, who they believed was corrupt and too open to Western influences. During the 1970s, the group conducted several attacks against U.S. military personnel and civilians working with the Shah, as well as attacks against the Iranian government. The MEK participated in the 1979 revolution against the Shah, but quickly fell out of favor with Ayatollah Khomeini. Some of its original leadership was executed by the Khomeini regime.
In 1981, the MEK bombed several important government buildings, killing as many as 70 high-ranking Iranian officials. Under pressure from the government in Tehran, the group fled to France from 1981 to 1986, after which it took refuge in Iraq. While in Iraq, Saddam Hussein armed the group and sent it into battle against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. The group also provided various security services for the Saddam Hussein regime, including helping with the suppression of Kurdish and Shi’a revolts after the first Gulf War in 1991. It continued to attack the Iranian regime, conducting a 1992 bombing campaigning of Iranian embassies in 13 different countries. In early 2000, the group used mortars to attack the leadership complex in Tehran that houses the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the group has represented an important security threat to the Iranian regime.
U.S. and international policy toward the MEK has been ambivalent and controversial. Some see the group as a legitimate, pro-democracy resistance to the illiberal Iranian government, while others condemn the group’s earlier anti-Western attacks and regard the group as an anti-Western cult with a pro-democracy facade.
French authorities arrested more than 160 members, including the group’s leader Maryam Rajavi, in Paris in 2003, reversing the longstanding French policy of giving asylum to the group. Several high-profile figures have opposed the arrests.
During the 2003 Iraq war, U.S. forces bombed MEK bases in Iraq but later signed a cease-fire with the group. Finally in May 2003, the U.S. military disarmed the group.
The MEK’s tactics range from bombings to organized guerilla warfare.
The MEK has not attacked or targeted U.S. interests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. During the 1970s, it conducted several attacks against American military and civilian targets and participated in the capture of the U.S. embassy during the revolution.
Areas of Operation.
The MEK is primarily based in Iraq, near the border with Iran, but it has a global presence. The group conducted attacks in Iran and has also attacked Iranian interests in Europe and elsewhere. The group has affiliated lobbying organizations in the United States and Europe, and prior to a French crackdown in 2003, its members took refuge in France.
Strength and Composition.
The MEK is comprised of Iranian dissidents opposed to the Islamic regime in Iran. According to the State Department, the group possesses several thousand fighters in Iraq and additional members operating overseas. Within Iraq, the group has until recently controlled aging military equipment given to it by Saddam Hussein, including tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles. The U.S. military in Iraq recently disarmed the group.
Connections With Other Terrorist Organizations.
MEK has no known connections with other terrorist groups.
State Supporters and Other Sources of Funding.
Until the recent war to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the MEK received all of its military assistance and much of its financial support from the Iraqi regime. The group apparently uses front organizations to solicit contributions from Iranian expatriates and others, and may also raise funds among sympathizers within Iran .
Originally Designated as an FTO.
October 8, 1997.
October 8, 1999, October 5, 2001.
Legal Challenges to Designation.
In 1998, a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter challenging the State Department’s designation of MEK as an FTO. Some Members have suggested that the United States should support the group as an alternative to the Islamic regime in Iran. The debate over designation of the group has resurfaced in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war. Some believe that the group represents legitimate opposition to the regime in Iran, while others contend that the group is essentially a fanatical cult with a sophisticated public relations wing and that its pro-Western, pro-democracy overtures should not be trusted. The State Department continues to resist pressure to remove the MEK from the FTO list. On August 15, 2003, the State Department added the group’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) to the group’s designation. Previously, the NCR had operated in the United States as a legitimate, registered lobbying organization.
Issues of Concern for Congress.
In the recent past, this group has actively lobbied on Capitol Hill. Its political/lobbying arm is now also specifically cited by name as an alias for the MEK (and thus a foreign terrorist organization), and its assets have been frozen as a specially designated entity by the Treasury Department under Executive Order 13224. (See also Legal Challenges to Designation, above.)
American treatment of this group in the aftermath of active hostilities in Iraq was at first ambivalent, but the group is currently disarmed. The status of this group is an important issue in the relationship between the United States and Iran.
By Miguel Denyer , overwatchreport.com ,Fri, Oct 22, 2010