Born into a middle class family in Tehran in 1956, I completed my elementary schooling in Alborz High School, in 1974. A year later I joined my brother, Ebrahim Khodabandeh in the UK where he was already studying Electrical Engineering in Newcastle University (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).
I graduated from Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumberland University) in Electrical and Electronic engineering and spent another year in Leeds (UK) to gain my Chartered Engineering Diploma, before moving to Loughborough University to study for a Master’s degree.
I was first introduced to politics in Iran, but became more interested in the various opposition groups while a student in Newcastle. I joined groups of students opposing the Shah’s regime, and in the last years of my stay in Newcastle became more and more interested in the so-called ‘revolutionary groups’, one of which was the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation of Iran (MKO).
In 1978, when Ayatollah Khomeini moved from Iraq to Paris, I joined a group of young people who went to visit him. This had, of course, a profound effect on me. On my return, I started a Society for Iranian Students in Newcastle Polytechnic, and soon joined with another group of people who were supporting the Mojahedin and who were in contact with them. By doing so, I was able to establish a strong ‘foothold’ in our university. In those days the Mojahedin comprised no more than a group of martyred or imprisoned young people who were following Ayatollah Khomeini – or at least that’s what they told people like me!
Later on I became more involved and was instrumental in the foundation of the “Committee for the Support of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation”. The Committee was founded and led by a known member of the organisation, Dr. Reza Ra’eesi, who had come to London a few years previously; a man of principle, with a wealth of philosophical, political and organisational skills and knowledge. (Shortly after the Revolution, Ra’eesi left the organisation due to his belief that the organisation was no longer following the minimum standards of democratic practices.)
During the course of the revolution in Iran the Committee went through dramatic changes. The name changed to the Moslem Iranian Students’ Society, and the members, who studied and followed the teachings of the Mojahedin literature, became full-time ‘Revolutionaries’. Demonstrations, printing and distributing publications, fundraising, and etc became not just part of my (and my colleagues’) life, but all of it. Individual rooms and flats were given up and we were now living in communal houses, incorporating offices and dormitories. I was soon transferred from Loughborough, where I was studying a research course, to London, and was given the task of heading the organisation in the north of England.
In 1980, I and another 51 members occupied the Iranian embassy in London for which we were sentenced to some months of imprisonment. Dr. Ra’eesi had already left the organisation by this time and had returned to Iran, and we were now receiving direct orders from the Mojahedin HQ in Tehran. I believe that the Mojahedin ordered attacks on Iranian embassies to all of the branches in different European and north American countries as a last show of power before Massoud Rajavi fled Iran following his failed coup d’etat on June 20, 1981.
When I was released from prison, Massoud Rajavi had already arrived in Paris. I joined him and the other Mojahedin after a few days, and spent a few months in the Paris base handing over my responsibilities as head of all the Societies outside Iran. The Moslem Iranian Students’ Society was the only asset left for the Mojahedin outside Iran, and it was rapidly transforming itself into the “Union of Moslem Iranian Students’ Societies” with the HQ in Paris. I was being relieved from all my responsibilities in order to start my next assignment: to go to Iran for a specific mission.
I met with Mr. Saeed Shahsavandi in Germany. (Shahsavandi was a well-known member of the Mojahedin who had suffered in the prisons of SAVAK. He later left the organisation due to disagreements with Massoud Rajavi; in particular over the Internal Revolution of Massoud and Maryam.) Shahsavandi headed a team tasked with purchasing a 10 Kilowatts radio transmitter as well as other telecoms equipment – intended to connect Iran to the Paris HQ – and other materials and to transfer them to Iranian Kurdistan where the new Iranian Government could not exert its power. I was appointed as technical advisor and subsequently, the technical head of broadcasting once the stations were installed in Kurdistan.
Saeed and I ended up in Baghdad airport the same day that Mousa Khiabani and Ashraf Rabiee (who had been left in Iran after Massoud Rajavi had fled to Paris) were killed in a gun battle with the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran. We had with us a huge load of telecoms and other equipment. We were working under the protection of the Kurdish Democratic Parity (KDP) which would allow us passage from Iraqi into Iranian Kurdistan. The equipment was shipped by the Iraqi military to Soleimanieh – where the Iraqis would go no further – and from there we were taken towards the border of Iran by Kurdish people sympathetic to the KDP. It was winter and it took us several months to transfer the dismantled pieces of radio equipment into the mountains of Sardasht (in Iran) from where the transmitter started broadcasting the clandestine short and medium wave ‘Radio Mojahed’ into Iran. The transmitter (and therefore me and my team) had to change place in the mountains of Kurdistan more than 7 times over the next two years in order to survive the air attacks. We survived as a team (though of course some individuals didn’t) and continued our broadcasting successfully.
When we first arrived in Iranian Kurdistan, the Mojahedin base was inside the KDP compound just outside Sardasht. But our numbers were growing rapidly. Kurdistan was becoming the HQ for training terror teams to carry out operations inside Iranian cities and it was the major transit route for transferring Mojahedin executives from Iran to France (via Turkey or Iraq/Jordan).
It took two years of military battles during the summers and fighting with nature in the mountains of Kurdistan in the winters before the Iranian army reached the ‘Free Zone’ of Iranian Kurdistan. After a few days of battle, we had no other choice than to abandon everything and, crossing the border river Zab, to retreat into Iraq. We had to blow-up everything we had in order not to let them fall in the hands of enemy but managed to bring the transmitter with us and even managed to get it up and running again in only a few days to broadcast Radio Mojahed. But now we were living alongside an Iraqi military base with direct connection to roads, and after two years I enjoyed the luxury of moving around with cars instead of mules! It didn’t take long before I was given the go-ahead to return to Paris. Now that transmission was taking place from Iraqi territory with the help of the Iraqi Government, I was perhaps needed more in Europe than in Iraq. So, I went back to Paris.
With fluent English and a little French, I was assigned to a team specifically taking care of Rajavi’s personal affairs. He was then married to Firoozeh Banisadr and my main job was partly her protection and partly working with the Mojahedin intelligence system which was mainly occupied with intelligence gathering about other opposition forces outside Iran. My boss for the specific matters involving Firoozeh was Maryam Azodanloo (who was the head of a team providing personal needs of Massoud Rajavi. She later became the 3rd wife of Massoud and co-leader of the organisation), and for the intelligence section I had Bijan Rahimi as my boss. When Massoud divorced Firoozeh and married Maryam (then the wife of his friend Mehdi Abrishamchi), I was freed from my other responsibilities to move into the HQ of Auvers-sur-Oise to become an overt member of the personal protection of the Leadership, which meant Massoud and his new wife (my old boss) Maryam. My responsibilities were mainly security, liaison with French Security and above all, updating and reforming the system of security according to the available resources in Europe. Technical aspects of the matter were my main focus. This continued until the departure of the organisation to Iraq.
I travelled to Baghdad a few weeks before the arrival of Massoud Rajavi from Paris. I took Maryam with us and she prepared for his arrival.
I was now in a new environment. We were now working in a totally different atmosphere. In Paris everything was systematic and at the end of the day we were a force outside the government. In Paris, security meant a totally different thing than in Iraq. Here we desperately needed training in every aspect if we were going to work and survive with the Iraqi security. But I could also see that there were a lot of things we had brought with us that the Iraqis hadn’t known about. We were now expected to be confident, very confident with arms. We needed to adjust ourselves and become a military force. We were going to be trained to become part of Saddam’s apparatus and that’s what we did.
During the years to come I never separated myself from telecoms, IT and electronics. It was needed both for security and for the army. I would make a few trips to Europe every year to update myself on security and telecoms issues. I would attend Interpol and other security exhibitions and meetings, and of course buy and import the necessary materials for ourselves and for the Iraqis, from simple closed circuit cameras to metal and explosive detectors, up to sophisticated surveillance and counter surveillance equipment, coders, decoders,…, . I also became the person entrusted with arranging for the personal needs of Massoud and Maryam, providing them with whatever was necessary for the ‘Leadership’. During the years of my stay in Iraq I participated in many joint projects and training with the Iraqi army. These included military and security training, special forces training specific to the Republican Guards of Saddam Hussein, as well as joint projects in VIP Shelter technology and infrastructural projects in electrical and telecommunication grids. During these years I even escorted Maryam Rajavi on her holidays to European as well as Arab countries across the world. And of course, every now and then, I would be part of the team carrying messages between Iraq and whichever country they were destined for. I have been responsible for the telecommunication of all the major military operations of the MKO, sitting in the command room connecting Rajavi and his top commanders to the field commanders from his HQ (usually part of an Iraqi military base near the border). Many memories from the four days of the Forough-e Javidan operation (aka Mersad or Eternal Light), the few months of the First Gulf War (Kuwait), and many other events, perhaps need more time and space. I have to bring myself to start writing about them but not right now.
In 1994, after two years of push and pull by Massoud to convince a few remaining non Mojahed members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to accept Maryam as ‘the President Elect'(!!), he sent her to Europe to “create a foothold for Massoud if things don’t go as well as they should” (maybe he was thinking about a rainy day like today!). As usual it was up to me to bring her to Paris. We were supposed to take her to the USA where she could impose herself as a refugee, but by over-estimating the connections we had, she insisted on getting a valid visa for the US before departure. (She of course, did not even have valid papers for France and the French did not know that she had again been brought to Paris.) The visa application alerted the Americans, and of course after they rejected her we had to surface Maryam in Paris. That was annoying enough, but not as annoying as the fact that she tried to put the blame on Mohammad Mohaddessin (Rajavi’s Pentagon contact who after being arrested in Paris in 2003 and awaiting trial alongside Maryam, has now been replaced by Alireza Jafarzadeh), accusing him of not using his influence with the Americans enough.
In 1995, after a period of disagreements, now directly conducted with Maryam Rajavi, over what was going on in Iraq as well as her increasingly un-diplomatic and un-political and in many cases inhumane conduct, the culmination of years of disagreement was reached and I demanded to leave. Being in Paris was of course to my advantage. But even so, I was forcefully kept and even injected with sleeping and other drugs to the point that even a few days after they stopped the injections I still could not stand up for more than a few minutes. This was of course the minimum just to keep me quiet. After some compromise, agreements and accepting some of my criticisms at face value, I was sent back to Iraq (I was told that the VIP (anti nuclear) shelter compound in Ashraf camp had malfunctioned, which they could not sort out and the engineers had asked for me). In Iraq, I found out that I was being checked by Massoud himself and there I realised that I would lose everything (including my life!) if I continued to insist on my criticisms. I acted compliant for a few weeks until I got my Iraqi and Jordanian documents back and was allowed to get out of Iraq once more. This time I left for London. Soon I contacted Maryam (and later Massoud) and told them of my final decision to have noting to do with them any more.
I presented myself to the British authorities (and later the French authorities) and told them about my exit from the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation. (In those days they had not yet been proscribed as terrorists). In the same year (1996) Maryam Rajavi went back to Iraq after a totally disastrous failure in achieving what she came for. The money Saddam had invested was spent on dinner meetings promoting the ‘Ideological Revolution’ and expensive gatherings “teaching feminism to Western women” and the human resource which went back to Iraq was considerably less than what she had come out with.
Having left the Mojahedin with nothing but a few pounds in my pocket, I went to an old student friend of mine in the north of England for help. To his lasting credit, he gave me more than just financial help at a time when I needed every help possible to stand on my feet again. Rajavi tried a few times to get me back and even called to convince me to go back to Iraq for a few days (we both knew he would not let me out again!) But as soon as he became convinced that I am no longer his man, he started announcing that I am, and had been for some time, working for the Iranian Intelligence ministry, a label he has used for more than 800 ex members and critics of the MKO among Iranian opposition forces in Europe and America. In one way this was good news. It meant he has accepted the fact that I have escaped him. Now the problems he would make for me could not be more than some annoyance in the western security services or the British Home Office. I had run away safely. I was much luckier than many of my friends. I couldn’t believe it myself.
When I left the Mojahedin, I was a high ranking commander of the National Liberation Army in charge of the security of the leadership. I was a member of the Executive Committee of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation and I was a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the so called political wing of the Mojahedin. My departure coincides with the departure of many, many others including high profile people Dr. Massoud Banisadr, Dr. Bahman Etemad and Dr. Hedayat Matindaftary and Mrs. Maryam Matindaftary and … . later Rajavi even blamed me for the departure of others!
It was not surprising that one year after we came out, in 1997 the US government despite all their grievances with the Iranian government, added the name of the Mojahedin in their list of terrorist entities. In the year 2000, Britain followed suit and announced the MKO as a proscribed terrorist organisation. In 2002 the European Union announced them as terrorists and in 2005, Canada officially listed the organisation. In May of the same year, Human Rights Watch published a 40 page report about human rights abuse inside the Mojahedin. I always consider myself one of the luckiest ones. Those who stayed after me have gone through a much harsher experience, many lost their lives, many their sanity.
After leaving the Mojahedin, it took me a few years to retrain myself, get a proper job and stand on my own feet. In 1997 I met Anne Singleton whom I had seen a couple of times before in the Mojahedin’s bases. She had also left them alongside many others outside Iraq. Later we married and now have a son called Babak.
I started working with my friend in his factory for a year and after retraining got back to my main line of work, Telecoms. I have since worked for a variety of companies in direct employment and/or subcontracting, including Ericsson in the UK, Alcatel in Germany and France, and a range of smaller companies outsourcing parts of their Intercontinental Terrestrial Transmission projects.
In 2001 together with Anne we founded Iran Interlink organisation to help the people who leave the organisation to come to terms with their experiences inside the organisation. Now our organisation along with many other similar organisations throughout the world are of themselves a noticeable weight among the opposition forces outside Iran – opposed to the Mojahedin and to the Islamic regime. Many of my friends have been killed during the past two decades, but the ones whose backs did not break under the cruelties of Rajavi and Saddam have now grown even stronger.
In 2002 I joined the centre de recheche sur le terrorisme in Paris as an analyst on terrorism, with which I still work closely. I have widened my circle ever since and now have very good friends across the world from Tel Aviv to Riyadh and from Moscow to Washington. In 2003, after the fall of Saddam and the arrest of Maryam Rajavi I added my own complaints against her to the court case in Paris. The investigations are still ongoing but I certainly hope that one day the truth about what has happened will come out whether in a court room or elsewhere.
After the fall of Saddam many of my friends have managed to leave Iraq and the Mojahedin; some from Abu Ghraib prison. Their stories are horrifying. To think that one day I was a member of such an organisation sends shivers down my back. Now over a thousand people have freed themselves from the cult. Some have gone back to Iran, and some live in western countries. Of course many have lost their lives and many are still trapped inside – about 3500 in Iraq and about 300 outside Iraq in western countries and of course none in Iran. Their average age is approaching 50. You can guess about their morale yourselves. I can’t ignore the number of Iranians killed during the Mojahedin’s so called operations either. To come to terms with these events – on whichever side you find yourself – will certainly take a generation if not more.
As a brief biography, I have tried my best not to enter into specific events and/or specific instances, each of which will need their own article or even book.
One day I may enjoy the luxury of having the time to write a thorough biography of my life (or even write about the Mojahedin), but for the time being I see my time as more beneficially spent putting more time in my work as a consultant, supporting my family and raising my child Babak as best as I can, and of course sparing all the effort possible to help those people who joined the Mojahedin with the sole purpose of helping bring about prosperity and democracy to Iran, but who found themselves siding with the enemies of their own country and with no escape.