Friday, December 03, 2004

Terrorism: Q & A | Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (Iranian rebels)

Terrorism: Q & A | Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (Iranian rebels): "Mujahedeen-e-Khalq
Iranian rebels

What is Mujahedeen-e-Khalq?
Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, MEK is led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK was added to the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997 and to the European Union’s terrorist list in 2002 because its attacks have often killed civilians. Despite MEK’s violent tactics, the group’s strong stand against Iran—part of President Bush’s “axis of evil”—and pro-democratic image have won it support among some U.S. and European lawmakers.
What are MEK’s origins?

MEK military commander Masud Rajavi speaking before portrait of group leader Maryam Rajavi, 1996.
(AP Photo/Mujahedin)
MEK was founded in the 1960s by a group of college-educated Iranian leftists opposed to the country’s pro-Western ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The group participated in the 1979 Islamic revolution that replaced the shah with a Shiite Islamist regime led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. But MEK’s ideology, a blend of Marxism and Islamism, put it at odds with the postrevolutionary government, and its original leadership was soon executed by the Khomeini regime. In 1981, the group was driven from its bases on the Iran-Iraq border and resettled in Paris, where it began supporting Iraq in its eight-year war against Khomeini’s Iran. In 1986, MEK moved its headquarters to Iraq, which used MEK to harass neighboring Iran. During the 2003 Iraq war, U.S. forces cracked down on MEK’s bases in Iraq, and in June 2003 French authorities raided an MEK compound outside Paris and arrested 160 people, including Maryam Rajavi.

Who are MEK’s leaders?
Maryam Rajavi, who hopes to become president of Iran, is MEK’s principal leader; her husband, Massoud Rajavi, heads up the group’s military forces. Maryam Rajavi, born in 1953 to an upper-middleclass Iranian family, joined MEK as a student in Tehran in the early 1970s. After relocating with the group to Paris in 1981, she was elected its joint leader and later became deputy commander-in-chief of its armed wing. Experts say that MEK has increasingly come to resemble a cult that is devoted to Massoud Rajavi’s secular interpretation of the Koran and is prone to sudden, dramatic ideological shifts. After being released from police custody on bail, Maryam Rajavi was confined to the MEK compound in France, and the investigation continues. Massoud Rajavi was last known to be living in Iraq, but authorities aren’t certain of his whereabouts or whether he is alive.

Where does MEK operate?
The group’s armed unit operated from camps in Iraq near the Iran border since 1986. During the Iraq war, U.S. troops disarmed MEK and posted guards at its bases. In addition to its Paris-based members, MEK has a network of sympathizers in Europe, the United States, and Canada. The group’s political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, maintains offices in several capitals, including Washington, D.C.

How big is MEK?
MEK is believed to have some 10,000 members, one-third to one-half of whom are fighters. Experts say its activities have dropped off in recent years as its membership has dwindled. MEK has had little success luring new recruits and is composed mostly of its founding members.

What major attacks has MEK been responsible for?
The group has targeted Iranian government officials and government facilities in Iran and abroad; during the 1970s, it attacked Americans in Iran. While the group says it does not intentionally target civilians, it has often risked civilian casualties. It routinely aims its attacks at government buildings in crowded cities. MEK terrorism has declined since late 2001. Incidents linked to the group include:

The series of mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids during 2000 and 2001 against Iranian government buildings; one of these killed Iran’s chief of staff
The 2000 mortar attack on President Mohammad Khatami’s palace in Tehran
The February 2000 “Operation Great Bahman,” during which MEK launched 12 attacks against Iran
The 1999 assassination of the deputy chief of Iran’s armed forces general staff, Ali Sayyad Shirazi
The 1998 assassination of the director of Iran’s prison system, Asadollah Lajevardi
The 1992 near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and institutions in 13 countries
Assistance to Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the 1991 Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish uprisings
The 1981 bombing of the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and of Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei and Bahonar
Support for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries
The 1970s killings of U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran
It’s unclear how many attacks MEK has carried out: according to experts, the group’s claims of responsibility for attacks in Iran are often exaggerated, and sometimes MEK is blamed by the Iranian government for attacks it didn’t stage."