Iranians captive in Iraq
Canadian government officials visited a former Iranian guerrilla base north of Baghdad last month and met with dozens of detained members of a militant group who say they come from Canada.
After reports U.S. troops were holding several Canadian members of an outlawed faction called Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), Ottawa dispatched two envoys to the group’s headquarters.
Thirty-seven of the MEK members told the officials they were Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. In all, 81 are claiming links to Canada, a lawyer said.
Authorities are trying to verify their immigration status. They are being held at Camp Ashraf, which was the MEK’s military headquarters until U.S. forces captured and disarmed it last year.
The MEK is a militant group that has been fighting for more than two decades to overthrow the Iranian government. Saddam Hussein financed the group and gave it a military base for staging attacks against his neighbour.
Thousands of Iranian expatriates made the trek to the camp 100 kilometres west of the Iran-Iraq border to wage war against Tehran’s hardline Islamic regime .Among them were a handful of Canadians.
The camp was disarmed by U.S. troops in June, 2003, and the 4,000 inhabitants are now being detained there by a battalion while the U.S. and Iraqi governments decide their fate. Tehran wants them deported to Iran.
The MEK, or People’s Combatants, is a designated terrorist organization in the United States and Britain but it has not been banned by the Liberal Cabinet, although the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) calls it a "militant Marxist Islamic movement" dedicated to violence.
From Iraq, MEK units conducted scores of cross-border raids, assassinations and bombings in Iran. CSIS has estimated the group has 13 large offices and 170 smaller ones worldwide, including one in Canada.
"The MEK has also evolved into a form of cult, strongly devoted to its chief, [Massoud] Rajavi," says a CSIS report, adding, "The MEK’s 29-year record of behaviour does not substantiate its capability or intention to be democratic."
The MEK presence in Canada came to public attention on April 5, 1992, when about 40 people armed with sticks, crowbars and mallets attacked the Iranian embassy in Ottawa hours after Iranian bombers struck the MEK’s Iraq base.
In 1993, Robab Farahi-Mahdavieh, whom CSIS called a "leading female member of the MEK" and the alleged mastermind of the Ottawa embassy raid, was deported for reasons of national security.
Another MEK leader, Mahnaz Samadi, was arrested in Ottawa in 1999. A CSIS report said she "was responsible for directing some MEK operations in Iraq" and that she was sent to Canada "to act in an organizational capacity."
Shortly after French counterterrorism authorities arrested Maryam Rajavi, the wife of the MEK leader and herself a prominent figure in the movement, Neda Hassani, 25, of Ottawa set herself on fire in protest and died.
U.S. forces who took control of Camp Ashraf last year in a truce agreement seized 300 tanks, 250 armoured personnel carriers, 250 artillery pieces and 10,000 small arms from MEK fighters.