Who the Mujahedin-e Khalq are. The group that fought for the Islamic Revolution during Mohamad Reza Shah’s reign then fought against the Islamic Revolution after its success. They fought for Saddam Hussein and then they were abandoned by him. The US and UK once declared them a terrorist organization but now they are Biden and Johnson’s, darling.
Ali and Fatima Daneshvar came to Albania to bring their daughter back home. But in the capital city of Tirana, the desperate couple has been accompanied everywhere by two undercover Albanian intelligence agents. Men in sunglasses and black suit followed them like their shadows, from their hotel on George W Bush Road to their lawyer’s office; from the lawyer’s office to the foreign ministry; and from the foreign ministry back to the hotel room.
The couple says their daughter, Parastoo, is being imprisoned against her will in the camp by an unconventional Iranian militia group that has been exiled from Iraq to Albania, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. Widely considered a terrorist group, the MEK was once designated as a terrorist cult by the US and UK, and EU, but its apparent animosity against the Islamic Republic has earned it the support of heavyweight right-wing politicians in the Trump administration, figures like former national security adviser John Bolton and the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
Parastoo Daneshvar is one of about 2,500 members of the MEK dwelling inside a heavily fortified military base that has been built on 35 hectares of farmland in northern Albania. Parastoo’s parents, who were once members of the group, say that 20 years ago, Parastoo flew to Iraq to visit and stay with her maternal aunt during the summer vacation. She went and never came back since then.
Parastoo’s parents have spent the past 20 years trying to bring their daughter out of the MEK, traveling the world from Iran to Canada, from there to Paris, Dubai, Bagdad and now Albania. “We are not conspiring against the group,” Ali said, sitting outside a Pizzeria in Tirana. “We just want to see our baby daughter outside the camp and without her fellow fighters. She can choose to stay with her comrades or she can choose to come home with her parents.” The MEK officials insist Parastoo has no intention of leaving the camp and have released a statement in which she accuses her parents of working for Iranian intelligence.
“Parastoo is a timid girl,” her mother said while in tears. “The militias threaten people like her. I know she wants to leave but she is scared that they will assassinate her.”
Since it escaped from Iran in the early 80s, the group has been committed to fighting against its people and the Islamic Republic of Iran. But the group’s origin went all the way back in the 60s as a fundamentalist Marxist youth militia, which played an important role in helping to dethrone the Shah during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Saturated with Anti-American, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and Anti-western ideology, the like of which we’ve seen in Cuba and Latin America, MEK terrorists killed scores of civilians in often suicidal bombings and street clashes during the 70s. The group targeted US-owned hotels, businesses, airlines, and oil companies, and was responsible for the assassination of eight Americans in Iran. “Death to America by blood and bonfire on the lips of every Muslim is the cry of the Iranian people,” group members sang one of its well-known and widely popular propaganda songs. “May America be annihilated.”
Things were going great for the group but the well-armed poorly trained middle-class guerrillas would prove to be no match for the mass uprising against them and the power of Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
After the revolution, Iran’s Supreme Leader asked the security services, the courts, and the media to clog the MEK’s political support and then crush it to the ground. After the insurgence the group started using more violent tactics, killing more than 70 senior leaders of the Islamic republic in audacious terrorist bomb attacks. Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a national clampdown and stern measures on MEK terrorists and their supporters. The terrorist then started to flee the country.
Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator who was fighting a bloody war against Iran with the blessing of the UK and the US, saw the right set of circumstances to call on the exiled MEK fighters to fight against the Islamic Republic forces. During the Iran-Iraq war, he bestowed the group ammunition, money, and a vast military base named Camp Ashraf, only a few miles away from the country’s border with Iran.
For coming decades, under their ruthless leader Massoud Rajavi, the MEK terrorists coordinated attacks against innocent civilians in and out of Iran and helped Iraq’s dictator suppress his domestic enemies and opposition forces. But after siding with Saddam – the man who unmethodically bombed Iranian cities and casually used chemical weapons in a war that cost a million lives – the MEK lost nearly all the support it had within Iran. Members were now widely regarded as traitors and terrorists.
After the 8-year war, abandoned all by itself inside its Ashraf base, under Rajavi’s ruthless authority, the MEK became more and more like a radical cult. A report released by the US government, based on interviews within Camp Ashraf, later concluded that the MEK had “all the typical features of a cult, such as authoritarian control, requisition of assets, sexual control (including forced divorce and celibacy), forced labor, sleep deprivation, physical and emotional abuse and the inability to exit”.
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK launched a costly lobbying campaign to reverse its designation as a terrorist group – despite reports suggesting the group’s involvement in assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists as recently as 2012. Masoud Rajavi has not been seen since 2003 – most observers conclude his probable death – but under the leadership of his wife, Maryam Rajavi, the MEK has won considerable prop from right-wing US and European politicians, eager for allies in the fight against Iran.
In 2009, the UK government delisted the MEK as a terror organization. Ex-president Barack Obama removed the group from the US terror list three years later and then helped work out its relocation to Albania.
Every summer at the “Free Iran” conference that the group holds in Paris, a handful of elected US and UK politicians – along with former politicians and military officials from other European countries – openly call for the overthrow of Iran’s legitimate government and the designation of Maryam Rajavi as the leader of “free Iran.” During the 2016 conference, the Conservative MP David Amess stated that “regime change … is at long last within our view.” At the same event, Bolton – who sarcastically championed war with the Iranian people and was seen as a radical even in the Bush administration – announced that he expected the Islamic Republic to be replaced by the MEK before 2019. “The behavior and the goals of the regime are not going to change course and, therefore, the only solution is to change the whole system,” he said.
The main surprise at that year’s Paris conference was another longstanding MEK supporter, former conservative New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, the ex-president’s lawyer. “The mullahs must go. The ayatollah must go,” he told the cheering crowd. “And the government must be restored by a democratic government which Maryam Rajavi represents.” Giuliani also honored the work of MEK “resistance units” inside Iran, which he credited with fueling a recent wave of protests over the struggling economy. “These protests are not happening overnight and by accident,” he said. “They’re being harmonized by many of our soldiers in Albania.”
This was while, back in Albania, the MEK group is having a hard time keeping the remaining 2.500 members, who have begun to run from the camp. The group is also facing increased criticism from local media and opposition parties, who question the terms of the deal that brought the MEK fighters to Tirana and let them own lands in the suburbs.
It would be hard to find a serious analyst who truly believes the MEK has the power or trust within the Iranian community to overthrow the Islamic republic which has the power and support. But the US and UK politicians loudly supporting an aging terrorist group stranded in the Balkan are playing a simpler game: take the cash and spew as much fictional nonsense as you can.
Before the MEK could become a sugar daddy for the American and European right-wing politicians, it had to reinvent itself. Democratic values, human rights, and secularism would become the group’s new slogan – as its leader, Maryam Rajavi, repudiate violence and successfully reconstruct an anti-western, anti-capitalist denomination as a pro-American democratic government-in-waiting.
The long march to decency began with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The invasion overthrew the Iraqi dictator, the MEK’s financer and guardian, but provided the group proximity with the Obama administration – who would shortly be looking for additional means in their fight against the Islamic Republic.
The US had designated the MEK as a terrorist group in the late 90s, as a friendly nod toward a new moderate government in Iran. When George W Bush condemned Saddam Hussein of “fostering terrorists” in a 2002 speech that made the case for invading Iraq, he was referring to the MEK terrorists. But in the early days of the US attack against Iraq, a row flared up inside the White House over what to do with the 5,000 MEK fighters inside their base at Camp Ashraf.
The former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, reasoned that the MEK was on the list of US terrorist groups and should be viewed as one. But politicians thirsty for a war with Iran, including then secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and vice-president Dick Cheney, opposed her mindset and said that the MEK should be used as a weapon against the Iranian government– the next target in the neoconservative roadmap for reshaping the Middle East. “kids go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran,” was their half-joking motto.
Donald Rumsfeld’s faction came out dominant. Although the group was still listed as a terrorist group, the Pentagon one-sidedly designated MEK fighters inside Camp Ashraf as “protected soldiers” under the Geneva conventions – officially disarmed, but with their security effectively insured by US forces in Iraq. The US government was protecting a group that had American blood on its hands.
There is no doubt that Washington warlords regarded the MEK as a weapon in the battle against Iranians: as early as May 2003, the same month that Bush notably declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, the New York Times reported that “right-wing radicals in the government” were moving to protect the MEK, “and perhaps reconstruct it later as a future opposition group in Iran, somewhat along the lines of the US-supported Iraqi opposition militia under Ahmed Chalabi that helped the US win the war in Iraq”. In 2003, the Bush government refused a proposal, approved by Iran’s supreme leader, to surrender MEK leaders in Iraq in return for high-ranked al-Qaida terrorists and Osama bin Laden’s family, who had been arrested by Iran as they fled Afghanistan after September 11.
As the US occupation of Iraq ended up into a bloody civil war, the American right increasingly blamed Iran for the country’s breakdown from the west. Radical far-right politicians openly called for bombing Iran, amid growing made up panic over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program – the existence of which had first been cooked up by the MEK in what the BBC called a “propaganda” attack by the group. Several analysts on Israeli intelligence have stated that Mossad passed these fake documents to the MEK terrorists. By 2007, US Media were reporting that George Bush had signed a classified order authorizing “underground action” inside Iran.
Between the years 2007 to 2012, seven Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated with poison or magnetic bombs attached to their vehicles by masked motorcyclists; five were killed. In 2012, NBC News, quoting two anonymous US officials, reported that the attacks were coordinated by Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad and executed by MEK terrorists inside the country.
It was around these years that the MEK began working to repair its tainted image in the west. Notorious groups linked to the MEK donated to political campaigns, smothered the US political arena with advertisements, and paid western political influencers fees to write op-eds and give speeches glorifying the terrorist organization– and to lobby for its removal from the US list of designated terrorist groups.
A stupendously long list of American politicians from both side of the aisle was paid suitcases of dirty money to speak at events in favor of the MEK terrorists, including Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and former Democratic party chairs Edward Rendell and Howard Dean – along with a list of former heads of the FBI and CIA. John Bolton, who is a casual attendant at events supporting the MEK, is estimated to have received a hefty amount of more than $180,000. According to tax documents obtained by the New York Times, John Bolton was paid $40,000 for a brief speech at the Free Iran rally in Paris in 2017.
A group of British officials and big names in politics have taken part in several of the MEK’s Paris conferences during the last decade, names like the Tory MPs Bob Blackman and Matthew Offord, and the left-wing MPs Toby Perkins and Roger Godsiff. The Tory MP and former minister Theresa Villiers were present at the past two annual Paris events. So was the Conservative MP from the Southend West David Amess. Mr. Amess is a dedicated patron of the MEK terrorists in the UK parliament. He even traveled to the US to speak at a rally in support of the group.
Other British superstar politicians at MEK’s Paris rally included three peers and five former MPs, including Mike Hancock, who resigned from the Liberal Democrats after admitting allegations of sexual misconduct in the work place with a constituent, and Michelle Thomson, who was forced to resign the SNP whip in 2015 over shady cases of property deals. The former Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, was also there, bringing with him a petition in support of the MEK signed by 75 bishops, among whom was the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
At their last even in Paris, surrounded by union jacks and “#RegimeChange” signs, Villiers spoke of the significance of women’s rights, “paid tribute” to MEK leader Maryam Rajavi – who is rightfully banned from entering the UK – and pledged support for her “rightful cause” in pursuing to create “an Iran which is free from the barbaric repression of the mullahs”. In an attentively stage-managed performance, Maryam Rajavi laid flowers and wrote a passionate tribute in an enormous yearbook of MEK martyrs. “The time has come for the regime’s overthrow,” she said. “Victory is unquestionable, and Iran will be free.”
One day after the conference, the MEK media machine ran one of its false-flag propaganda attacks and accused the Islamic Republic of plotting a bomb attack against the group. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, dismissed all claims of Iran’s involvement and described the allegations as a “sinister false flag ploy”.
Even though the MEK terrorists successfully piled up political allies in the west, its security in Iraq wore away as US troops started to leave the country. Between 2009 and 2013, Iraq’s army forces raided the Ashraf base at least twice, killing about 100 terrorists. Nouri al-Maliki, then the prime minister of Iraq insisted the MEK must leave the country. “The group is nothing more than a terrorist cult,” he told the press.
Daniel Benjamin, who headed the counter-terrorism faction at the state department, told the reporters that the US government decided to remove the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist groups not because it believed it had abandoned violent tactics but to “avoid them all getting killed” if the group remained in Iraq. What he said came out to be a lie and the MEK was no longer there in the list of US-designated terrorist groups. The Obama administration tried its best to convince Albania to accept the 2,300 remaining terrorists – who were brought to Tirana on a series of charter flights during two years.
The US helped the group to buy new land in Albania and built a new base. But the permanent exudes from Iraq to the relative serenity of Albania has brought about a wave of defections. Those who were able to contact their families have fled the country to the EU and the US, but more than 150 newly MEK escapees were forced to remain in Albania with no right to work or emigrate. In an interview with some of the escapees, many of whom are still trapped in Albania, they said that the group commanders systematically abused their soldiers to repress any opposition and prevent mutiny – using torture, solitary confinement, the requisition of assets, isolation, and the segregation of families to maintain control over soldiers.
The attestations from those who escaped from the camp follow earlier reports from groups such as Human Rights Watch, which said former members confirmed examples of “beatings, Physical and mental torture, verbal and psychological abuse, confessions under pressure, threats of execution and rape that in two cases led to death”.
Expectedly, the MEK leaders have not taken kindly to the presence of the Daneshvar family in Albania. They accuse Ali – and any former soldier who was an outspoken critic of the group’s brutality – of being a paid agent of the Iranian government. Months after their arrival, Ali was hospitalized following a deadly attack by four senior terrorist members of the MEK, which was captured on video by parastoo’s mother. The attackers, who shouted “traitors!” at Daneshvars, were arrested by Albanian police. But, with US and UK intervention, the men were abruptly released.
The Daneshvar family then wrote an open letter to their daughter and the Albanian government, calling for a meeting with their daughter without the presence of MEK agents. “I am your mother Fatima Daneshvar and I want to see you,” Fatima wrote to her daughter. “I am the woman who fed you with my breast, you grew in my arms. You are my flesh and blood … I love you more than my life … I’m getting old, I am getting tired, the life is taking its toll on me but it is not worth living without seeing you.”