Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization
LEADERS: Maryam Rajavi; Massoud Rajavi
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Iran; Iraq
The Mujahedine-e Khalq Organization (MEK) was established in the 1960s in Iran. The group, which was founded by college-educated children of Iranian merchants, sought to overthrow the Shah's regime in the country. Created initially as an Islamic student organization, the MEK originally wanted democratic reform in the nation. Over the decades, the group has experienced a variety of changes in ideology and organization and has been identified by both the U.S. government and the European Union as a terrorist organization.
Mujahedine-e Khalq (translation, People's Holy Warriors) has operated under different names. The National Council of Resistance, the political front of the group, operates in various nations' capitals, even though the MEK has been labeled a terrorist organization. In addition, the Muslim Iranian Student's Society served as a front to generate fundraising from Iranians living abroad. The group's militant wing was developed in 1987 and named The National Liberation Army. Another name connected to the group is the People's Mujahedine of Iran. Largely known as the MEK, the group has developed into the largest and most militant organization that opposes the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK was founded in Iran in the 1960s. Its founding members were the college-educated children of Iranian merchants. In the beginning, the group, which started as an Islamic student organization, was founded under an ideology that fused Marxism with Islam. The group's primary objective, however, was the overthrow of the Shah's regime. The MEK began operating in public in 1971 and were then oppressed by Shah Mohammad Reza. Top leaders of the MEK were executed and members were imprisoned.
Later in the 1970s, the massive public unrest in Iran led to the Shah releasing prisoners, including members of the MEK, in an effort to gain public support and retain power. The MEK, however, began its support of the revolutionary movement sweeping Iran. During this period, the MEK was blamed for the death of several U.S. military and civilian personnel working in Iran. In addition, the MEK supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Although the MEK supported the 1979 Iranian revolution, once the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini came into power, the group became the target of a violent crackdown on dissidents. In 1981, the MEK fought against the actions by detonating bombs at the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier's office, killing seventy high-ranking Iranian officials. Also in 1981, and as a result of its increasing activities, the membership of the MEK, including its top leaders, fled Iran and settled in a compound outside of Paris. The group remained in France until 1987 when the militant faction of the group, The National Liberation Army, began to form camps scattered in Iraq, along the border with Iran. The MEK was invited and welcomed into Iraq by the regime of Saddam Hussein, which armed and funded many of the MEK's cross-border insurgence into Iran, in an effort to weaken Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.
In the 1990s, the group expanded its operations in Iraq and the rest of the world. The MEK assisted the Iraqi regime in suppressing two uprisings that occurred in 1991: The Shi'ite and Kurdish uprising in southern Iraq, and the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq. In 1992, the group engaged in its largest overseas operation by conducting simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in thirteen various countries.
With its political leadership exiled in France and its military leadership operating out of Iraq, the MEK continued to expand its operations. In 1999, the group assassinated the deputy Chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. The next year, the group failed in its next assassination attempt, targeting the Commander of the Nasr Headquarters—Tehran's interagency board in charge of directing policies on Iraq. Later in 2000, the group initiated "Operation Great Bahman" by launching dozens of attacks against targets in Iran and Iranian interests abroad. Between the years 2000 and 2001, the MEK engaged in mortar and hit-and-run attacks on Iranian military, law enforcement, and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border. However, as 2001 came to a close, the group's operations slowed.
In May 2003, coalition forces bombed MEK bases at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The leadership of the MEK ordered its members to not resist. A ceasefire was reached, and 3,000 of its members were confined to Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad. The group is protected under the Geneva Convention and has relinquished its weapons.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The MEK began in Iran as a liberal nationalistic party supporting regime change against the Shah and the Western influences. The group created an eclectic ideology that combines its own interpretation of Shi'ite Islamism with Marxist principles. The group seeks to overthrow the current regime in Iran and to create a democratic, socialist Islamic republic. The group believes that this Islamic socialism can only be accomplished through the destruction of the ruling regime and the removal of Western influence, referred to as "Westoxication." If necessary, to achieve this Islamic ideology, the group is willing to use physical force, armed struggle, or jihad (holy war).
The goals of the group have been laid out in a sixteen-point plan following the 1995 conference of the NCR. These goals include the removal of the Islamic fundamentalist regime in power in Iran and replacing it with the NCR. In addition, the group seeks the freedom of belief, expression, and the press, without government or religious censorship; guaranteed freedom for political parties, and unions, with the exception of those loyal to either the Shah or Ayatollah Khomeini, provided the groups' activities stay within the law; democratically elected government; adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; eliminating the courts, tribunals, security departments introduced by the Khomeini regime; granting equal rights to women and religious minorities; the abolishing of privileges
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) a.k.a. The National Liberation Army of Iran, The People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), National Council of Resistance (NCR), The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Muslim Iranian Students' Society
The MEK philosophy mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was expelled from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and its primary support came from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein starting in the late 1980s. The MEK conducted anti-Western attacks prior to the Islamic Revolution. Since then, it has conducted terrorist attacks against the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad. The MEK advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime and its replacement with the group's own leadership.
The group's worldwide campaign against the Iranian Government stresses propaganda and occasionally uses terrorism. During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier's office, killing some seventy high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the 1980–1988 war with Iran, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, the MEK assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in thirteen countries, demonstrating the group's ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran's interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The normal pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during "Operation Great Bahman" in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One of those attacks included a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved regularly in mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law enforcement units and Government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border, although MEK terrorism in Iran declined toward the end of 2001. After Coalition aircraft bombed MEK bases at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the MEK leadership ordered its members not to resist Coalition forces, and a formal cease-fire arrangement was reached in May 2003.
Over 3,000 MEK members are currently confined to Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main compound north of Baghdad, where they remain under the Geneva Convention's "protected person" status and Coalition control. As a condition of the cease-fire agreement, the group relinquished its weapons, including tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery. A significant number of MEK personnel have "defected" from the Ashraf group, and several dozen of them have been voluntarily repatriated to Iran.
LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION
In the 1980s, the MEK's leaders were forced by Iranian security forces to flee to France. On resettling in Iraq in 1987, almost all of its armed units were stationed in fortified bases near the border with Iran. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, the bulk of the group is limited to Camp Ashraf, although an overseas support structure remains with associates and supporters scattered throughout Europe and North America.
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the group received all of its military assistance and most of its financial support, from the former Iraqi regime. The MEK also has used front organizations to solicit contributions from expatriate Iranian communities.
Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.
based on gender, religion, or ethnic group; ending enforced religious practice; recognizing the right of Iranian Kurdistan to autonomy; protection of social, cultural, and political rights for ethnic minorities; repealing laws determined to be anti-labor and anti-peasant; repatriation of exiled Iranians living abroad after fleeing either the Shah or Khomeini regime; the creation a free marked economy based on national capitalism and private ownership; developing welfare to assist the poor; living in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors; and fostering new alliances.
Maryam Rajavi is the principle leader of the MEK and elected by the group in 1993 as the "future president of Iran." Rajavi was born to an upper-middle-class family in Iran in 1953. She was introduced to the anti-shah movement in 1970 when she entered Sharif University of Technology in Tehran to pursue her education. While at the university, she began to participate in the student movements and joined the MEK. In 1980, she was a candidate for parliamentary elections in Tehran and received more than a quarter of a million votes.
Rajavi participated in the organizing of two major peaceful demonstrations in Tehran in April and June 1981 against the Khomeini regime. As a result, Rajavi experienced the scrutiny of the government as the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, raided her places of residence.
In 1982, along with the other MEK members, Rajavi moved the political headquarters of the movement to Paris. In 1985, she was elected as the MEK joint leader and four years later, in 1989, became the Secretary General of the organization. In 1987, she was appointed the National Liberation Army's (NLA) Deputy Commander-in-Chief. In August 1993, the National Council of Resistance, the Iranian Resistance's Parliament, elected Rajavi as Iran's future president for the transitional period following the mullahs' overthrow. In June 2003, Rajavi was arrested after the French government raided the MEK compound under suspicion of terrorist activities. She was released on bail and confined to the MEK compound, but $8 million was confiscated.
Massoud Rajavi is the leader of the military forces of the MEK and the husband of Maryam Rajavi. Massoud led the operations of the NLA in Iraq until the May 2003 ceasefire established with coalition forces. The location of Massoud has been in question since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "experts say the MEK resembles a cult, devoted to Massoud Rajavi's secular interpretation of the Koran." This view of the MEK is seconded by Professor Ervand Abrahamian as transitioning from a "mass movement" toward possessing "all the main attributes of a cult." However, Maryam Rajavi asserts that, "the MEK is the answer to American prayers as Tehran continues to dabble defiantly in both terrorism and nuclear arms." Many in the U.S. Congress agree with Rajavi's assertion and have pushed to have the organization removed from the terrorist watch list. Supporters of the group cite the MEK's 2002 revelation and producing of evidence that Iran was operating a secret nuclear facility in Natanz. However, some disagree with the effectiveness of the MEK. In his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Abbas William Samii, the Regional Analysis Coordinator, Southwest Asia, stated that "the association with [the MEK] will discredit the U.S. in the Iranian eyes." In addition, an article in the New York Time magazine quotes exiled Iranians as considering the MEK, "as toxic, if not more so, than the ruling clerics."
- The MEK is founded as an Islamic Student organization.
- The group begins public protests of the Shah's government resulting in the execution of some of its leadership and the imprisonment of some of its members.
- U.S. military and civilian personnel are killed in Iran. Iranian and U.S. governments believe the MEK was responsible for these deaths.
- The MEK supports the takeover of the U.S. Embassy, and the revolution that over-throws the Shah's regime.
- The MEK organizes peaceful demonstrations against the Khomeini government. This results in massive crackdowns by the regime on dissidents and the MEK's departure from Iran.
- The MEK detonates bombs at the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and Premier, causing the deaths of 79 high-ranking officials.
- The MEK resettles in France.
- The National Liberation Army, the militant faction of the MEK, is founded by Massoud Rajavi and settles in Iraq.
- The MEK participates in suppressing the Shi'ite and Kurdish uprising the southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq.
- The MEK conducts its largest overseas operation by simultaneously attacking Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries.
- Maryam Rajavi is elected the "future president of Iran" by the National Council of Resistance, the political front to the MEK.
- The MEK is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
- The MEK assassinates the Deputy Chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff.
- The MEK launches "Operation Great Bahman," unleashing dozens of attacks on Iranian targets. The group also fails in its attempt to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters.
- The MEK targets Iranian military, law enforcement, and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border for mortar or hit-and-run attacks.
- The European Union designates the MEK as a terrorist organization.
- Coalition forces bomb MEK bases in Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After a formal ceasefire is reached, the MEK operatives are granted protected status under the Geneva Convention.
- The National Council of Resistance is added to the U.S. terrorism watch list.
In the 1960s, the MEK was established as an Islamic student organization that opposed the excesses of the Shah's regime and the influence of Western powers in Iran. As a result, the group supported the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah's government and set in place the current system of ruling clerics. The group, however, sought democratic changes and continued to protest the Khomeini government. As a result, the group was forced to flee Iran and set up its organization in France. In 1987, the group established its military faction called the National Liberation Army. The NLA was invited to set up camp in Iraq along the Iranian border. Saddam Hussein offered military and financial support to the group, which in turn aided Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Eventually, the group assisted the Iraqi government in suppressing the uprisings that occurred in 1991. The group then expanded its operations to attacks on overseas Iranian interest and installations, assassinations, and mortar and hit-and-run attacks. When Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the MEK leadership ordered its members to not resist coalition forces, and a formal ceasefire was reached, which granted protected status to the operatives.
The group's political leader, Maryam Rajavi, was arrested at her compound outside of France. She was later released on bail but confined to the compound. The group's military leader, Massoud Rajavi, was last seen in Iraq, but his whereabouts are unknown. Most of the group's membership is confined to Camp Ashraf in Iraq. As a result, the group's operations have ended.
Dickey, Christopher, Mark Hosenball, and Michael Hirsh. "Looking for a Few Good Spies." Newsweek. February 14, 2005.
Hosenball, Mark. "Mixed Signals on MEK." Newsweek. April 11, 2005.
Canadian National Security. "Mujahedine-e Khalq Organization." 〈http://www.psepc-sppcc.gc.ca/national_security/counter-terrorism/Entities_e.asp#38〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).
Council on Foreign Relations. "Terrorism: Questions and Answers: Mujahedine-e Khalq Organization." 〈http://cfrterrorism.org/groups/mujahedeen.html〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).
MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Mujahedine-e Khalq Organization." 〈http://tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3632〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).
U.S. Department of State. "Country Reports on Terrorism, 2004." 〈http://library.nps.navy.mil/home/tgp/mek.htm〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).
Audio and Visual Media
Congressional Testimony. "Iran: Weapons Proliferations, Terrorism and Democracy." May 19, 2005.