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Sputnik interview with Anne Khodabandeh about MEK in Albania

Originally published in Serbian in Two Parts

In Tirana, the capital of Albania, an interesting workshop called “Conflicts in the Middle East – Radical Groups and Ideologies” was held at the end of November.

The conference was organized by the Free Media Institute in Tirana, because the country has increasingly become the new focus for violent extremism and terrorism experts in recent months, primarily in security circles, which see it as a “gathering center” for extremists who are either returning or sent to the Balkans from armed conflicts in the Middle East.

It is known that Edi Rama’s government has long been working in direct cooperation with the US military and security structures – working on the establishment of specialized “deradicalization centers” in Albania, about which Sputnik has written on several occasions in the last three years.

It appears that Rama’s “hard work” paid off. An article published in the Huffington Post in early December, says that there are already about three thousand members of MEK, Iranian Mojahedin (the Rajavi cult), who are violent opponents of Iran.

They were transferred to Albania from Iraq by the end of 2016, with a cash injection by the US authorities to the Rama government, and, according to the Huffington Post, under the cover of “humanitarian intervention”, ie, with the supervision of the UNHCR. The payment, according to the US outlet, was at least twenty million dollars.

Well-informed circles in Albania claim that there are already strong indications that the next group, which will also be moved to the country for “humanitarian reasons”, will be the families – widows and children – of DAESH fighters who have either left Iraq and Syria, or have been killed in fighting over the past few years.

Sputnik’s interviewee, British Anne Khodabandeh, is an expert in anti-terrorist activities and a long-standing activist in the field of deradicalization of extremists. She has written several articles and books on this subject, along with her husband, who is of Iranian origin. For years they have been working with radicalized individuals, helping them to leave terrorist organizations and reintegrate into society.

Anne is well acquainted with the situation in Albania and the movement of members of the Mojahedin, and some time ago, she reportedly received information that members of the MEK, stationed in the former building of the University of Tirana, started actively recruiting the Albanian youth into their movement – and she decided to react.

[The rest of this interview is provided below as unedited Google Translation]

For starters, it might not be a bad idea to explain to Sputnik’s readers from what kind of life and family environment these “radicalized individuals” with whom you are working come.

– They come from all layers of society. It is a mistake to assume that only some uneducated people have gone to Syria – most foreign fighters of DAES are from the middle class – mostly students, educated people … Terrorism is a global phenomenon today – there is no person whom he cannot guess. But it’s pure politics. Going to jihad is a political act. In addition, everyone has a personal reason why it becomes extremist, there is no formula, no recipes … Otherwise, it’s hard to radicalize people who have some goal in life; The escape in the extreme is the easiest thing for poor people, without a target, “casual”, “lost cases” … Their best-quality members of the extremists, they say, are recruited among violent football fans. My job today is to go around and explain to people how “radical” works. I keep repeating – no one is born as a terrorist. It’s not a talent, it’s not a career, it’s not a conscious choice. I think that I, personally, is a great example that anyone, at any time, can be radicalized, if he finds himself at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Can you explain it a bit? How is this “you, personally” example?

– When I enrolled in college, at the end of the seventies, I met an interesting group of people at the University of Manchester. There were many foreigners among students, we would all be sitting in a student club and talking mostly about politics. The Iranians then came in large numbers in England. They were friendly, different from my surroundings, they attracted me … They kept occasional meetings, I went to one of them out of curiosity, with their then boyfriend, and it turned out they were actually the mujahedin – MEK – what we call today the Raji cult . I did not understand much at that time, but I remember that they had a wonderful attitude towards me. Today, I would say that the techniques they used to attract me were, at the very least, interesting (laughing). I did not know their language, but I felt the energy. They were active, they not only sat down and talked about politics, and that attracted me. The revolution began in Iran, and I, thanks to them, had a “seat in the first place”! I was 19 years old, the boy was also in that, I was a great idealist. I was not a girl who was interested in shopping. I wanted to change the world! And this has not changed, to this day. Radicalization affects the psyche, but does not affect the type of personality. If you enter an organization as a certain person, the same will be, essentially, out of it and you go out.

Wait, you shocked me with that story … And what happened next? How long did it take?

– Twenty years. The first ten, until 1989, I practically lived a double life. I worked, I had a job, a house, a car, my normal everyday “English” life, but I spent all my free time working – for the mujahedeen. I dealt with what we call pi-ar activities today, but all friends thought that something was wrong with me. I did not want to hear anyone. I thought I was smarter than all of them. It’s part of the tactic – we are the smartest, we have others that have an incomprehensible vision, a higher goal. Separation from the family is crucial. Each radical group is organizing it with its members. At one point, my boyfriend then became violent, our relationship changed, and I turned to them. They became practically my only family. I was a computer programmer with a great salary, but I left it all because of them. I was first in the office in London – I was watching the news, writing the press … And then I went to the Middle East. Imagine !? An English woman twenty years old, from a middle class. Who would say?

Incredibly. How did that happen to you? And how is it possible that you did not have any problems with the British authorities? Still, it was an extreme group …

– Well, first and foremost, I did not choose in whom I will fall in love (laughter), it all just happened … It began with my beginning that their ideology is like “Islamic Marxism.” They began with activities during the Iranian Revolution, fought shah, they wanted to carry out a coup after the revolution; that plan failed, and they were expelled. They represented us as fighters for democracy, even as advanced, feminists – but essentially, the only “business” of ordinary members of us was to respect the leader. We should not have thought, to ask questions – you just do what they tell you. It can hardly be understood by someone who has not experienced it. You asked me about the problems with the British authorities? Well, MEK has always had the support of Western governments because we were working against Iran. That’s why they left us alone. I knew they were violent, but it did not prevent me – even though I am by the nature of the pacifist, I am very calm, I do not like violence … It only shows how they can “gain” you no longer think your head. Today, of course, I would say to them that they are a criminal organization. Only one single government ever officially recognized them – it was the government of Saddam Hussein. All others helped them “black” – politically, financially, yes, but never officially. If you would ask the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or German or French service, everyone would just be crazy – they would say they do not know what you’re talking about.

(continued tomorrow)

EXCLUSIVE charm offensive: Slave jihadists reveals the plan of the Islamic invasion of the Balkans

British En Kodabande is an expert in anti-terrorist activities and a longtime activist in the field of deradicization of extremists, for years before it was a pier of the terrorist movement, worked with the mujahedin, and barely, she says, pulled out of their claws.

We wrote about this part of the life of En Kodabande yesterday, and today we will give that part of the conversation that explains her life as a fighter against jihad.

You say that you spent 20 years with them. How did you go?

– My current husband was the bodyguard. We fell in love with one another, but we were forbidden to have a relationship. We started slowly to understand where we are. We believed that we were fighting against dictatorship and human rights in Iran. I worked in the office. I contacted the media, with the politicians, we called in all those talks on the UN declaration on human rights … This document, otherwise, has 16 members. When I, as we say, “lighted the light bulb”, after many years I read the Declaration, all 16 members, and realized that none of the only ones has anything to do with my work, life, position at that time. I did not have a passport, I did not have my own money, I did not dare to marry. I was their slave. Gladiator. Then I decided to withdraw. I told my husband he would have to seek asylum in Britain. And we did it. We are back. We live in Leeds, north of England. But I knew well that, if we do not oppose them publicly as soon as we go, we will flee from them all our lives. That’s why I went straight to the police. I told them who we are, what we did – of course, they sent people … they were questioning us, they wanted to know who we were, where we were … But soon they left us alone. And we decided not to hide. We have published all of our information on the Internet so that anyone who wants to make us any problems or threatens us can easily find out where we are. In some cases, the fact that you are not hiding can save your head.

Then what happened?

– My husband and I quickly decided to start working with families of members who want to leave MEK. We made a foundation, I went to Iraq, we asked for donors … I spoke with the Maliki family. We had meetings with NGOs, with government officials in Britain … And we realized very early in this process that the problem will not be solved by politics or human rights, but that we have to work on the ground, practically – but for that there was no political will, No money. Or the mujahedin was too small an organization to try the state around them, or the authorities did not have a strong desire to “settle them”.

You did not think about quitting?

– Not. After a while we infiltrated them, we began to submerge them from within. We found a way to get into all the “pores” of that group. In the meantime, I have become a “engaged activist” in Britain, as it is now known – I started publicly speaking about my experiences. We have managed to get, up to now, over a thousand people from MEK. Among other things, I also deal with prevention – by preventing extremists from recruiting new members. Not only in terrorist organizations, but also in sects … The methodology is completely the same, and the process of radicalization, through which I myself went through, almost certainly does not differ. The biggest problem is that MEK, mujahedins still exist. They regrouped. Now they are a new, reformed extreme group that operates on several levels – and that’s why I came to Albania – because they were transferred here! They have already been paid by some deputies, they have joined the Albanian mafia, and now, here in this country, they want to go to their “offensive charm” – to try to gain new supporters. According to information I have, over US $ 20 million the Americans paid to the Albanian government to transfer this group of several thousand mujahedin from Iraq here.

What do you think is the intention of the US government and the Albanian authorities? What are the possible consequences?

– Unfortunately, these people can not just “descend” to Albania just like that. They simply have to be deradicalized, otherwise the damage will be immeasurable. The public only sees the so-called. the concrete result of terrorist attacks – explosions, casualties and material damage … But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below is a lot of things. The main activities are recruiting and collecting money. In the recruitment process, the logic is – the more people, the better. It is very dangerous when you place one such group in any country, in any environment, because they soon begin to “naturally” radicalize their environment.

This program that you are applying in the process of derading … How does it work?

– You can not deradicalize someone if you do not know how it is radicalized. These people are literally “brainwashed”. The whole process begins with a deep understanding of their position. A functional primary or secondary family is one of the basic conditions for successful deradicization. We made a foundation and we managed to pull out about a thousand people from MEK so far. But the key was that these people had already intend to leave. They themselves wanted to leave the mujahedeen – without it, nothing would make sense. So – to get back to the thesis from the beginning of the conversation – “how you enter, such a way out” – I am in the depths of the soul and still the most active activist (laughter), only now with another goal. I’ll be, I hope, such for the rest of my life.

And what are the concrete results? Let’s say, in what number of cases does the process of deradicization work?

– Many people returned to normal life. The process of “removing” someone can be very short or very long, no rules. When people leave the extremist group, they should first understand what was happening to them. Some of them, but remain radicalized for years – remain what they were while they were with extremists. Certainly, specialist help is needed. If you leave the group because you have “turned on the light bulb”, if you “woke up”, as it happened to me and my husband, only in that case do not have much effort to make you understand what happened to you, that you lied and exploited. But almost always help is needed.

You mentioned “recruiting staff”. Tell us more about them. Who are these people?

– I think everything starts and ends with some kind of attraction. Examples are groups that fight for animal rights; first organize a public protest. Then someone suggests something radical, let’s say, let’s call them individually. You can easily “slip” it into an extreme version of belief. Extremes are attractive. Those people, those who do not think like you, actually need to – die. There, say, all those who torture animals … Let them die! Then the real plan is to put a bomb under the car? From the idea, through firm belief, to concrete action. Through this process, this “recruitment staff” is guided by you – but it is an emotional journey, you pass it together, and you’re getting closer. The real “recruitment officers” are people who absolutely believe in the idea of ​​leadership, think that this idea should attract as many followers; they are convincing; they know how to instill people into something that they would not otherwise be at the edge of their minds. Let’s say – to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the jihadists. The key is intuition. Questions about you. The problems that you have – they signal what the target is, where the man is “thin”, where he can be “pressed” harder. They like to use what we call “car sales techniques” – the so-called “lifestyle sails”. “You have to think about this, imagine how cool it would be to drive this car!” But, with the car, there’s always the option to change your mind – but the belief system is sold so you do not even know that they sold you. I like to say that the extremist group as an arc – many layers, a very clear, closed structure, within which everything is under absolute control. And every bow is very different from the outside, as every extreme organization is very different, but from within, they all have, in essence, the same structure.

Part One https://rs-lat.sputniknews.com/intervju/201712101113756669-bila-sam-pi-ar-terorista-/

Part Two https://rs-lat.sputniknews.com/intervju/201712111113766247-En-Kodabande/

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