TORONTO – An Iranian terrorist group recruited teenaged children out of Canada and sent them to a guerrilla camp in Iraq, an investigation by the National Post has found.
The Mujahedin-e Khalq sent recruiters to Toronto to entice youths of Iranian heritage into joining an armed resistance campaign aimed at overthrowing the Iranian government.
A banned terrorist organization under Canadian law since 2005, the MEK worked out of a base in residential homes in Toronto, former members of the group said in interviews.
While the bases looked like ordinary households from the outside, inside everyone wore military uniforms and the walls were decorated with MEK flags and portraits of guerrilla leaders, they said.
The Canadian MEK network raised money, staged protests against Iran and lobbied politicians, but it also recruited underage youths to travel to a desolate guerrilla outpost near the Iran-Iraq border called Camp Ashraf.
Former MEK activists said the Canadian base worked closely with a similar U.S. outfit in Sleepy Hollow, Va., called the Pirayesh. The Post was able to view videos of recruiting sessions conducted there.
A Toronto man who spent five years at Camp Ashraf, beginning when he was 16, said in an interview he underwent military training but was imprisoned when he asked to return home.
The account is consistent with a recent report by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said the MEK had detained, tortured and killed "defectors" who had tried to leave the camp.
A Toronto human rights group, the Centre for Thought, Dialogue and Human Rights in Iran, says it has documented nine other cases in which children under the age of 18 were sent to Ashraf from Canada. They include youths from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Among them is Somayeh Mohamaddy, who was a 17-year-old Grade 10 student at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute when she was recruited into the MEK in 1998.
In a letter sent to the Canadian embassy in Jordan, she asked for the government’s help getting back to Toronto but she has since said she wants to stay with her fellow "holy warriors".
An immigration tribunal that looked into Mohamaddy case ruled this week that she had gone to the guerrilla camp "with her parents’ consent" and that she is a "committed member."
The family’s story is told in a five-part series that begins today in the National Post.
Camp Ashraf was captured and disarmed by the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But most of the "children of the resistance" remain there, either unwilling or unable to leave.
Of the roughly 4,000 MEK guerrillas at the camp, about 300 have returned to Iran and 200 have "defected" to an American-run camp called the Temporary International Presence Facility.
Stewart Bell, CanWest News Service- 23/09/2006