NEW YORK — An Iranian widow who became a naturalized U.S. citizen 10 years ago was a top official for a heavily armed, Iraq-based terrorist organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of Iran’s government, the U.S. government alleges in court documents.
The documents, obtained from Brooklyn court files on Monday, say two confidential informants in Iraq identified Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, 51, as a leader of the Mujahedeen Khalq. The group was identified in court papers as Mujahedin-e Khalq.
One of the informants told the FBI that Taleb-Jedi was on a council "responsible for making leadership decisions for the organization, including approving specific acts of terrorism" against Iran, the papers said.
Taleb-Jedi was arrested in March after flying from Jordan to Kennedy International Airport. A judge agreed to release her on $500,000 (euro394,166) bond. The court papers said she has been living at a women’s shelter in Manhattan.
Taleb-Jedi was among 200 Muhjahedeen Khalq members detained and questioned by the FBI in 2004 after U.S. military forces took over parts of Iraq once controlled by the group, the documents said. U.S. soldiers seized tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 420,000 pounds of plastic explosives.
At the time, Taleb-Jedi allegedly told agents she "wholeheartedly supports the Mujahedin," the papers said.
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, who have been investigating the group, announced last week that a grand jury in Brooklyn had indicted Taleb-Jedi on charges of providing support to a terrorist organization. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison.
The group, also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, and its affiliates were deemed foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department in 1997. The designations bar anyone in the United States from providing material support.
The defendant, who was born in Iran, came to the United States on a student visa in 1978 to pursue a master’s degree in political science in Georgia, court papers said. She later moved to Queens before settling in Virginia, where she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In her FBI interview, Taleb-Jedi told agents her husband joined the Mujahedeen and went to Iraq in 1986. In 1999, after learning her husband was killed in a bombing, she "left her job, sold all her belongings and traveled" the group’s Ashraf Base in Iraq, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Baghdad, documents said.
A call to her attorney on Monday was not immediately returned.
Arguing for her release at an arraignment, defense attorney Justine Harris said her client had returned to the United States to see her adult son and to seek medical treatment for a severe digestive ailment that had pushed her weight down to 95 pounds.
"This a middle-age woman with absolutely no record," the lawyer said.
The group was founded in Iran in the 1960s and moved to Iraq in the early 1980s to base its activities against Iran’s government. It sided with Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran.
The State Department says the groups were funded by Saddam Hussein, supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and are responsible for the deaths of Americans in the 1970s.
By TOM HAYS – ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER – October 2, 2006