Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) presence in Albania highlights security risks for Europe
Advertising campaigns don’t come cheap and those paying want value for money. The Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) annual event at Villepinte in France to celebrate so-called armed struggle and promote violent regime change against Iran is about showcasing the MEK to build a brand presence in political and media circles. The Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) brand, like any other brand, depends for its success on advertisement and consumer support.
Support for the MEK is strongest in America where reports that the Trump administration will adopt a policy of regime change toward Iran has led to speculation this will involve the MEK. Clearly the anti-Iran elements which pay for the MEK believe they are getting value for money.
What does the MEK offer for their dollar?
First and foremost, anyone who believes the MEK has renounced violence and terrorism should revisit their recent history (perhaps consult their Farsi language websites for MEK narratives rather than the English language NCRI propaganda). After losing their benefactor Saddam Hussein in 2003 the MEK, from its Iraqi base in Camp Ashraf and headquarters in Paris, engaged in active support for the Saddamist led insurgency which was expanded by AQI and more recently the failed efforts of Daesh to overrun Baghdad.
It took twelve years for the government of Iraq to succeed in its demand that America remove the group from Iraq. Taking the MEK off America’s terrorism list in 2012 (followed by British and European Union terrorism lists) was a pragmatic move to allow the relocation of the group in third countries. Of course, the American government had no intention of relocating the group to the US. Why would they when France and Albania would host the group instead.
The MEK has never dropped its agenda of supporting terrorism. Even after arriving in Albania, the MEK’s support for Daesh and violent extremists has been fully in step with prominent war-mongers; those who don’t mind the violent imposition of an inhumane so-called caliphate on millions of citizens in the Middle East so long as Iran is contained.However, this US-centric view of the situation is not echoed by Europe. The visits by John Bolton and Senator John McCain to the MEK in Tirana remind us that Albania shares a land border with the EU via Greece and with other troubled Balkan states. Albania’s de facto role as a bridge between Europe and areas of conflict in the Middle East has been of concern for international security officials for some time. The relocation of 2700 radicalised MEK members there was hardly likely to offer them any comfort.
Indeed, conditions in Albania mean the group has a much more open hand to pursue its agenda now it has left Iraq. Although the MEK has given up on its own ability to force regime change on Iran, the group will, of course, work to harm Iran’s interests in any way it is able or as it is instructed. As a mercenary force, the MEK is equipped to train, advise and facilitate terrorist and intelligence activity. The recent ISIS attacks in Tehran which bear the hallmarks of MEK involvement at some stage are a stark example of this capability. Interpol warns of at least 173 suspected members of a Daesh suicide brigade heading for Europe. The MEK are experts in people smuggling.
So, when the well-paid speakers at the Villepinte event in France advocate violent regime change, it is this MEK mercenary paramilitary group which is being advertised, rather than a political wish list written in Washington.
Because of this, the participation of three members of Albania’s parliament in this event ought to be of great concern in Europe. In 2014 Albania became an official candidate for accession to the European Union. Notwithstanding efforts to combat the drug cartels, arms smuggling and people trafficking gangs which prevail there, corruption and organised crime are still a problem.
Although Albania’s officially stated foreign policy promotes non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, some deputies find advocacy for the MEK irresistible.
The head of the Republican Party Fatmir Mediu in a wonderful attempt to ignore the MEK’s totalitarian nature ludicrously encouraged MEK members in the audience to ‘vote for their future’. The MEK is a cult, its members are held in a state of modern slavery. They do not even have a say over their everyday lives let alone a vote. This makes the presence of Deputy Interior Minister Elona Gjebrea even more troubling. Europeans know her as the minister for anti-trafficking. However, she has turned a blind eye to the living conditions of the MEK members in her own country.
Socialist Party deputy and former Premier Pandeli Majko echoed the MEK’s demand for regime change and stated that these radicalised MEK members are now Albanian citizens. Was this simply rhetoric?
If the Rama government has truly provided MEK members with Albanian passports, their free movement across Europe will allow into the European Union and Schengen area a new army of radicalized extremists, which would be a new threat to the West. France, which has hosted the MEK headquarters for over three decades, always refused to give the members national passports.
While the EU views the MEK as a security threat which would damage accession, there are many other elements who actually benefit from the insecurity and corruption in the Balkan region which allows gangs and groups like the MEK freedom to operate outside any laws and norms. One thing can be agreed however, neither the US nor the EU want Albania to join the EU any time soon.
Indeed, with trade deals between European Union countries and Iran increasing, the continued presence of the MEK in EU countries is increasingly problematic.
However, although the MEK are experts at intimidation and propaganda, in reality the expulsion of the MEK from Europe should be neither controversial nor unexpected. No government in Europe supports the presence of extremists in their midst and the MEK has a long history of extremist behaviour and messaging. The self-immolations in western capitals are an example of their actual behaviour, while the Villepinte celebration of armed struggle and advocacy of violent regime change is incompatible with European countries’ values and wider approach to counter-terrorism.
Previously the MEK in Europe couldn’t be expelled to Iraq because their human rights could not be guaranteed. This is not the case in Albania. Maryam Rajavi happily spent some weeks there earlier this year. President Macron can either bite the bullet and expel this unwanted group at long last, or continue to tolerate the MEK on French soil as leverage to extract further concessions from the Trump administration. Either way, the fact remains that the real problem lies in Albania. A security and humanitarian problem that will not go away.
By MASSOUD AND ANNE KHODABANDEH, Balkans Post,