The Arena show with journalist Dritan Hila this week also discussed the Iranian Mojahedin (MEK) organization. The speakers invited to discuss this issue were: Olsi Jazexhi – Historian, Ermir Gjinishi – Educator and former vice deputy of the Muslim Community of Albania, Ylli Zyla – former Director of Albania’s Military Intelligence Service, and Hajro Limaj – retired general and former Military Attaché of Albania in Turkey, currently he is Director of the National Security Institute of Albania.
The Iranian Mojahedin, the MEK organization, was discussed in the last part of the show. The following is the part of the show about the Iranian Mojahedin who have been living in Albania for some time as a refuge.
Olsi Jazexhi: Yesterday I was speaking in the European Parliament, invited by two MEPs, Ana Gomes and Patricia Lalonde. We were a group of experts on the Mojahedin, the MEK situation. There were people from Britain as well as Dr Nicola Pedde from Italy. There were also some de-radicalized Mojahedin there. In the EU parliament there are Deputies who feel disturbed by the presence of the Iranian Mojahedin there. The Mojahedin have a history in Albania since 2013, the year when the government of Berisha brought the first group of them. In February 2016, we had a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, when he was announced that there will be about 3000 people. According to a recently published police report, there are about 2745 Mojahedin in Albania, out of which about 11 have died, 80 have left using regular documents and 65 have fled as illegals from Albania.
Dritan Hila: Will they stay here, will they be naturalized?
Olsi Jazexhi: Since 2014, with the encouragement of American partners, Albania has modified the penal code and Albanians in Albania have become very serious about terrorist organizations. In a debate with former deputy Foreign Minister Edit Harxhi in Top Channel, I asked why he brought these people here. What was said then was that these are war refugees and Albania will accommodate them. The problem with them is different from the war refugees coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine etc, who are assimilated, integrated and marry in our society. This is a paramilitary organization, listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US, and later because of American policy changes toward Iran they were removed from the list. But the problem is what is happening inside them? First, the organization itself is in crisis; about 200 members have abandoned the organization. I have followed their case and have met some of them. The problem is that the organization itself puts pressure on those who want to abandon jihad, accuses them of following an Iranian agenda, withholds their funds.
Dritan Hila: Where do they find support?
Olsi Jazexhi: “With regard to their funds, there was a secret agreement between the Albanian and American governments and the Mojahedin in Iraq, where it was agreed that these people would behave themselves, and the UNHCR would transfer the MEK, who would pay for their own people in cash. They are paid about 500-600 euros per month. But what happens? The ideology of this organization is that they must wage a violent war against Iran.
Dritan Hila: On arriving here, have they given up their war?
Ermir Gjinishi: This is the problem.
Ylli Zyla: They have renounced war.
Ermir Gjinishi: They have said that we will continue the war against Iran and this is one of the points where they break the agreement with Albania because Albania has put the condition: We keep you, but only provided you do not engage in problems and conflicts.
Olsi Jazexhi: One of the concerns that the MEPs I met in the European Parliament had was that here in Albania, under the influence of the American extremist senators, from John Bolton and John McCain, they are constantly urging them to declare themselves to be ready to do jihad.
Dritan Hila: It seems to me that there are some almost broken with age.
Ermir Gjinishi: Every day they do sports.
Olsi Jazexhi: Exercise and not sports.
Ermir Gjinishi: They are military.
Dritan Hila: Even the colonel, when I telephoned, was walking.
Olsi Jazexhi: 70 percent of them are elderly, but others are 30-40 years old. I’ve met some of these people. These were tank drivers, snipers, there are those who have prepared people for suicide attacks. This is a cultic organization. They are neither Muslim nor non-Muslim. Their leader Maryam Rajavi is something like Shen Eleonora we have had here in Tirana. She tells members that ‘I am the Imam Mahdi and I will deliver Iran’. It seems to me that our Diaspora Minister Pandeli Majko believes she is sacred, since occasionally he says she is a very good woman, he says that when he goes to Iran he will eat ice cream there. The problem is that in the speeches he makes when the US senators come or where Mr Majko goes, he says we will overthrow the Iranian regime and we will bring democracy. This was the problem we discussed in the European Parliament. Experts in the European Parliament explained. This organization is a dictatorial cultic group. Members of the organization were relocated to Manez in Durres because Maryam Rajavi and the Americans were worried that when they were in Tirana, members began leaving the organization. Those inside are not allowed to marry, do not have sex, they are forbidden. They do not have wives, children, they are soldiers who have sworn to die for Rajavi. They have no freedom of thought.
Dritan Hila: Can they cause problems for Albania?
Olsi Jazexhi: Their existence here turns Albania into what Afghanistan was at the time of [Osama] Bin Laden. Afghanistan at the time of Bin Laden hosted a terrorist organization that was Al Qaeda. What happened? The jihadists created September 11th from Afghanistan.
Dritan Hila: Are you comparing Edi Ramen to Mullah Omar now!?
Olsi Jazexhi: Exactly, I hope to make the news. The problem here is that during the revolts in Iran on December 31, Maryam Rajavi claimed that ‘we are the ones who stir up revolts’. In these revolts people were killed, soldiers were killed, officials killed, institutions burned down, and according to the Albanian penal code the calls made by Mrs. Rajavi are calls for terrorism.
Dritan Hila: The protests were also organized by Ahmed Nayat.
Olsi Jazexhi: A problem that the MEPs dealt with is that there are some pro-war circles in the EU who are encouraged by some US circles who want to promote these people as if they are democratic and will bring democracy. The people who know, such as Ana Gomes, who participated in the stabilization of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and knows the nature of the cult, says that democratic is the last thing that can be said about the MEK. They do not free their members, they’ve kept them imprisoned for 30 years. They do not let them talk to their families.
Dritan Hila: Mr. Zyla, you see them as a threat because they are recognized as a problem?
Ylli Zyla: I know it as a problem. It would be better not to have them in Albania, but of course there are agreements between states. They have a terrorist background. Their violence began with the Iraq-Iran war, where they participated in many terrorist actions against the Iranian army.
Olsi Jazexhi: They had killed Americans earlier on, at the time of the Shah.
Ylli Zyla: Their policy of violence continued until 2001-2002, when they renounced the policy of violence.
Olsi Jazexhi: They gave up after 2003 when the Americans bombed them. They Americans stopped them.
Ylli Zyla: An agreement was reached.
Dritan Hila: Did this American detention endure?
Olsi Jazexhi: Yes, these have been Saddam’s trustees, they have murdered the Kurds with chemical weapons.
Ylli Zyla: When the Iraqi authorities came to take control of Ashraf camp the MEK did not accept it. There was a clash and there were casualties. The MEK came to Albania on the basis of an agreement. They were not sent to countries like France or elsewhere because in those countries there are Iranian communities and in Albania they are easier to manage. They are in a camp and are easily verifiable by the security services.
Ylli Zyla: Do they not pose a risk in my view? I say there is no risk because they are over 50 years old. The problem may be the infiltration of Iranian intelligence services among these people and that they may become violent. I do not consider it a big risk compared to what we mentioned earlier as Gülenists or Wahhabi organizations. These are less dangerous – do not say they are not – if we keep it under control, Not only under control but also from the effects of the Middle East secret services, namely Iran.
Ermir Gjinishi: The issue, as Olsi said, is that all these kinds of organizations are a problem as cults. What he said about Gülen. The story of the cult led by the saint, what does it mean? History has shown that at certain moments, it is enough to match a thread and follow them because they enforce the orders.
Ylli Zyla: They do not target Albania and they have no support.
Ermir Gjinishi: Iraq did not target Iran, but MEK did target Iran, even in Iraq. Why, they are robots.
Dritan Hila: The problem of cultic organizations is the lack of public scrutiny. I would prefer a dictator over whom we have oversight than such organizations that are scary and have ideological convictions.
Ermir Gjinishi: The MEK should continue to be always under strict supervision. Stay in that enclave they have created. It’s just not the case that they are 50 years old, they daily climb Mount Dajti as a group. I see them. They are military. I don’t have the strength to exercise so much. They do exercise every day. They have to give that up when they go abroad or speak in the name of Albania and threaten the state of Iran. They should give up this idea that we will fight endlessly. We’ve taken refuge only to bring the conflict here.
Ylli Zyla: They cannot threaten Iran because they have no influence. Iranian society does not consider them as an opposition because in the years 1980-81 they turned against their state.
Dritan Hila: These people themselves, are they Iranians?
Ermir Gjinishi: For their whole existence, Iran has treated MEK as terrorists.
Dritan Hila: I thought these people were not opposed to the Ayatollahs.
Olsi Jazexhi: These are Islamist, revolutionary Marxists. These are like Gülen with Erdogan. They were together with the Iranian mullahs when they fought the Shah, then they fought against each other. The Mojahedin have their heroes. The first president and the prime minister of Iran after the Shah were killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up. Today’s Ayatollah, Khamenei, has his left hand paralyzed because they tried to kill him with a bomb. Mossad of Israel uses them from time to time to kill scientists and kill intellectuals.
Why did America appreciate them? America appreciated them because they exposed the Natanz nuclear reactors that Iran was developing and for this they gave them many points.
Dritan Hila: I do not care about their activity in Iran.
Olsi Jazexhi: The Italian expert who clarified their activity in Europe.
Dritan Hila: I do not care about the Italians’ opinion or what they said, your opinion is of interest.
Dritan Hila: Colonel, you have three minutes, are you are able to score?
Hajro Limaj: America considers MEK as the opposition of the current government in Iran. If an overthrow occurs in Iran, it is determined that the MEK will go in as an opposition and be part of the country’s leadership. I have had the opportunity to meet some of them, stay in their new quarters. They seemed to me normal people. In these circumstances, America has found the most appropriate place for them. But they are under our full scrutiny and we are in control of Iranian agents here in Albania.
Ermir Gjinishi: And they can provoke a clash!?
Dritan Hila: Do you think it’s a little complex that even Bin Laden has been through here, it has become like socks.
Ermir Gjinishi: Albania has never had this number, and these are military.
Dritan Hila: These are additional.
Hajro Limaj: Albania should keep itself clean. It is better not to have them. Our government has no transparency in what it does.
Olsi Jazexhi: If they like them, America should take them to Texas, or lodge them in Saudi Arabia. They are a security risk.
Dritan Hila: However, I think that in some way, Albania became a playground where they can clash with Iranian security services.
Hajro Limaj: An Iranian came to Albania a year and a half ago and is today married to an Albanian, so they use all ways to have people here to follow their activities.
Dritan Hila: Do not forget that we share traditions. The surname Harasani means Khorasani.
Olsi Jazexhi: On the day of Sultan Nevruz – only a few media reported it – these Iranian Mojahedin caused chaos in the Bektashi World Headquarters. It seems that the Albanian police were prompted, and two Iranian journalists were arrested whom Father Mondi himself had invited to cover the ceremony. This was an incident that our media only reported a little. A few weeks ago, former Albanian President, Rexhep Meidani, went to Tehran for a conference celebrating Naim Frasher. MEK attacked our former president and said he had been recruited by Iran. A couple of weeks ago, Top Channel broadcast interviews with three defectors in the Fiks Fare show, showing how they are abused and threatened by this organization which puts pressure on them to continue jihad. The MEK attacked Top Channel and said Top Channel was bought by Iran. These MEK are threatening freedom of speech and thought in Albania. Albania brought them here, but that is very bad. They often exceed the limits of why they came to Albania. They are entering into and becoming part of our debate and are opening up hysteria against Iran. We must say this, put aside attacks on officials of the Iranian embassy and institutions, they are now also attacking religious sites and religious centers like the Bektashi Communist Party. This is a problem because they are meddling in our affairs. It’s not only the problem with Iran.
Ermir Gjinishi: The case of Sultan Nevruz is heavy, the worst of it is that the media did not cover it.
Olsi Jazexhi: They are now interfering in our politics. They are lobbying and trying to buy politicians to lobby for them.
Translated by Iran Interlink