The group had no name until February 1972.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran is known by a variety of names including:Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK)
The National Liberation Army of Iran (the group's armed wing)
National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – the MEK is the founding member of a coalition of organizations called the NCRI. The organization has the appearance of a broad-based coalition; however, many analysts consider NCRI and MEK to be synonymous and recognize NCRI as only "nominally independent" political wing of MEK.
Monafiqeen (Persian: منافقین) – the Iranian government consistently refers to the People's Mujahedin with this derogatory name, meaning "the hypocrites".
Note: The acronym MEK is used throughout this article, as it is commonly used by the media and national governments around the world to refer to the People's Mujahedin.
According to Albert V. Benliot, most analysts agree that MEK members tend to be "more dedicated and zealous" than those of other organizations.
According to George E. Delury, in early 1980 the organization was thought to have 5,000 hard-core members and 50,000 supporters, with the Paykar faction capable of attracting 10,000 in university areas. In June 1980, at perhaps the height of their popularity, the Mojahedin attracted 150,000 sympathizers to a rally in Tehran. Pierre Razoux estimates MEK's maximum strenght from 1981–1983 to 1987–1988, about 15,000 fighters with a few tanks and several dozen light artillery peices, recoilless guns, machine guns, anti-tank missiles and SAM-7s. Jeffrey S. Dixon and Meredith Reid Sarkees estimate their prewar strenght to be about 2,000, later peaking to 10,000.
The MEK was believed to have a 5,000–7,000-strong armed guerrilla group based in Iraq before the 2003 war, but a membership of between 3,000–5,000 is considered more likely. In 2005, the U.S. think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations stated that the MEK had 10,000 members, one-third to one-half of whom were fighters. According to a 2003 article by the New York Times, the MEK was composed of 5,000 fighters based in Iraq, many of them female. BMI Research's 2008 report estimates MEK's armed wing strength 6,000–8,000 and its political wing around 3,000, thus a total 9,000–11,000 membership. A 2013 article in Foreign Policy claimed that there were some 2,900 members in Iraq. In 2011, United States Department of Defense estimated global membership of the organization between 5,000 and 13,500 persons scattered throughout Europe, North America, and Iraq.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran was founded on 5 September 1965 by six former members of the Liberation or Freedom Movement of Iran, students at Tehran University, including Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saied Mohsen and Ali-Asghar Badizadegan. The MEK opposed the rule of Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, considering him corrupt and oppressive, and considered the Liberation Movement too moderate and ineffective. They were committed to the Ali Shariati's approach to Shiism. Although the MEK are often regarded as devotees of Ali Shariati, in fact their pronouncements preceded Shariati's, and they continued to echo each other throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work. Their thinking aligned with what was a common tendency in Iran at the time – a kind of radical, political Islam based on a Marxist reading of history and politics. The group's main source of inspiration was the Islamic text Nahj al-Balagha (a collection of analyses and aphorisms attributed to Imam Ali). Despite some describing a Marxist influence, the group never used the terms "socialist" or "communist" to describe themselves, and always called themselves Muslims – arguing along with Ali Shariati, that a true Muslim – especially a true Shia Muslim, that is to say a devoted follower of the Imams Ali and Hossein – must also by definition, be a revolutionary. However, they generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam.
The group kept a friendly relationship with the only other major Iranian urban guerrilla group, the Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas (OIPFG).
In October 1975, the MEK underwent an ideological split. While the remaining primary members of MEK were imprisoned, some of the early members of MEK formed a new organization that followed Marxist, not Islamic, ideals; these members appropriated the MEK name to establish and enhance their own legitimacy. This was expressed in a book entitled Manifesto on Ideological Issues, in which the central leadership declared "that after ten years of secret existence, four years of armed struggle, and two years of intense ideological rethinking, they had reached the conclusion that Marxism, not Islam, was the true revolutionary philosophy." Mujtaba Taleqani, son of Ayatallah Taleqani, was one of these converts to Marxism.
Thus after May 1975 there were two rival Mujahedin, each with its own publication, its own organization, and its own activities. A few months before the Iranian Revolution the majority of the Marxist Mujahedin renamed themselves "Peykar", on 7 December 1978 (16 Azar, 1357); the full name is: Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. This name was after the "League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class", which was a left-wing group in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, founded by Vladimir Lenin in the autumn of 1895.
On 30 November 1970 a failed attempt was made to kidnap the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, Douglas MacArthur II. This was followed by an assassination attack in May 1972 against USAF Brig. Gen. Harold Price. Price survived the attack but was wounded. The CIA's former Chief of Station in Tehran, George Cave, described the attack as the first instance of a remotely detonated improvised explosive device.
In the years between 1973 and 1975, armed operations within the MEK intensified, while primary members of the MEK remained imprisoned. In 1973 ten major American-owned buildings were bombed including those of the Plan Organization, Pan-American Airlines, Shell Oil Company, Hotel International, and Radio City Cinema.
Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, was shot to death in front of his home in Tehran by two men on a motorcycle on June 2, 1973. A car carrying U.S. Air Force officers Col. Paul Shaffer and Lt. Col. Jack Turner was trapped between two cars carrying armed men. They told the Iranian driver to lie down and then shot and killed the Americans. Six hours later a woman called reporters to claim the MEK carried out the attack as retaliation for the recent death of prisoners at the hands of Iranian authorities. A car carrying three American employees of Rockwell International was attacked in August 1976. William Cottrell, Donald Smith, and Robert Krongard were killed. They had been working on the Ibex system for gathering intelligence on the neighboring USSR. Leading up to the Islamic Revolution, members of the MEK, conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets. According to the U.S. Department of State and the presentation of the MEK by the Foreign Affairs group of the Australian Parliament, the group conducted several assassinations of U.S. military personnel and civilians working in Iran during the 1970s. After the revolution the group actively supported the U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979.
MEK supporters have claimed that the assassinations and bombings were carried out by the Marxist leaning splinter group Peykar, who "hijacked" the name of the MEK, and were not under the control of imprisoned leaders such as Massoud Rajavi.
The group supported the revolution in its initial phases. MEK launched an unsuccessful campaign supporting total abolition of Iran's standing military, Islamic Republic of Iran Army, in order to prevent a coup d'état against the system. They also claimed credit for infiltration against the Nojeh coup plot.
It participated in the referendum held in March 1979. Its candidate for the head of the newly founded council of experts was Masoud Rajavi in the election of August 1979. However, he lost the election. The group also supported for the occupation the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979. In January 1980, Rajavi announced his candidacy for the presidency, but he was banned, since he was regarded by Ayatollah Khomeini as ineligible. In February 1980, concentrated attacks by Hezbollahi members began on the meeting places, bookstores, and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists, driving the left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested. Ultimately, the organization called for a massive half-a-million-strong demonstration under the banner of Islam on June 20, 1981, to protest Iran's new leadership, which was also attacked. Following the June 20 protests, Massoud Rajavi formed the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Tehran.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the MEK was suppressed by Khomeini's revolutionary organizations and harassed by the Hezbollahi, who attacked meeting places, bookstores, and kiosks of the Mujahideen. Toward the end of 1981, several PMOI members and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France.
Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield describes this period in an article in The National Interest Magazine “when confronted with growing resistance in the spring of 1981 to the restrictive new order that culminated in massive pro-democracy demonstrations across the country invoked by MEK leader Massoud Rajavi on June 20, Khomeini’s reign was secured at gunpoint with brute force, driving Iran’s first and only freely elected president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, underground and into permanent exile. This fateful episode was described by Ervand Abrahamian as a “reign of terror”; Marvin Zonis called it “a campaign of mass slaughter.”
Following the 1979 revolution, the newly established theocratic government of Ayatollah Khomeini moved to squash dissent. Khomeini attacked the MEK as elteqati (eclectic), contaminated with Gharbzadegi ("the Western plague"), and as monafeqin (hypocrites) and kafer (unbelievers). In February 1980 concentrated attacks by hezbollahi pro-Khomeini militia began on the meeting places, bookstores and newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists driving the Left underground in Iran. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested.
On 30 August a bomb was detonated killing the popularly elected President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. An active member of the Mujahedin, Massoud Keshmiri, was identified as the perpetrator, and according to reports came close to killing the entire government including Khomeini. The reaction to both bombings was intense with many arrests and executions of Mujahedin and other leftist groups, but "assassinations of leading officials and active supporters of the government by the Mujahedin were to continue for the next year or two."
Following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, MEK called Saddam Hussein an "aggressor" and a "dictator".
In 1981, the MEK formed the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) with the stated goal of uniting the opposition to the Iranian government under one umbrella organization. The MEK says that in the past 25 years, the NCRI has evolved into a 540-member parliament-in-exile, with a specific platform that emphasizes free elections, gender equality and equal rights for ethnic and religious minorities. The MEK claims that it also advocates a free-market economy and supports peace in the Middle East. However, the FBI claims that the NCRI "is not a separate organization, but is instead, and has been, an integral part of the [MEK] at all relevant times" and that the NCRI is "the political branch" of the MEK, rather than vice versa. Although the MEK is today the main organization of the NCRI, the latter previously hosted other organizations, such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
Eventually, the majority of the MEK leadership and members fled to France, where it operated until 1986, when tension arose between Paris and Tehran over the Eurodif nuclear stake and French citizens kidnapped in the Lebanon hostage crisis. After Rajavi flew to Baghdad, the hostages were released.
In 1986, after French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac struck a deal with Tehran for the release of French hostages held prisoners by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the MEK was forced to leave France and relocated to Iraq. Investigative journalist Dominique Lorentz has related the 1986 capture of French hostages to an alleged blackmail of France by Tehran concerning the nuclear program.
The MEK transferred its headquarters to Iraq. Near the end of the 1980–88 war between Iraq and Iran, a military force of 7,000 members of the MEK, armed and equipped by Saddam's Iraq and calling itself the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA), went into action. On July 26, 1988, six days after the Ayatollah Khomeini had announced his acceptance of the UN brokered ceasefire resolution, the NLA advanced under heavy Iraqi air cover, crossing the Iranian border from Iraq. It seized and razed to the ground the Iranian town of Islamabad-e Gharb. As it advanced further into Iran, Iraq ceased its air support and Iranian forces cut off NLA supply lines and counterattacked under cover of fighter planes and helicopter gunships. On July 29 the NLA announced a voluntary withdrawal back to Iraq. The MEK claims it lost 1,400 dead or missing and the Islamic Republic sustained 55,000 casualties (either IRGC, Basij forces, or the army). The Islamic Republic claims to have killed 4,500 NLA during the operation. The operation was called Foroughe Javidan (Eternal Light) by the MEK and the counterattack Operation Mersad by the Iranian forces.
A large number of prisoners from the MEK, and a lesser number from other leftist opposition groups (somewhere between 1,400 and 30,000), were executed in 1988, following Operation Eternal Light. Dissident Ayatollah Montazeri has written in his memoirs that this massacre, deemed a crime against humanity, was ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and carried out by several high-ranking members of Iran's current government. Recently The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights violations for Iran, to take action on such actions since 1988.
According to The Economist, "Iranians of all stripes tend to regard the group as traitors" for its alliance with Saddam during the Iran–Iraq War. Massoud Rajavi personally identified Iranian military targets for Iraq to attack, an act the New York Times describes as betrayal.
In the following years the MEK conducted several high-profile assassinations of political and military figures inside Iran, including Asadollah Lajevardi, the former warden of the Evin prison, in 1998, and deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Brigadier General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, who was assassinated on the doorsteps of his house on April 10, 1999.
In April 1992, the MEK attacked 10 embassies, including the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York. Some of the attackers were armed with knives, firebombs, metal bars, sticks, and other weapons. In the various attacks, they took hostages, burned cars and buildings, and injured multiple Iranian ambassadors and embassy employees. There were additional injuries, including to police, in other locations. The MEK also caused major property damage. There were dozens of arrests.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) cracked down on MEK activity, carrying out what a US Federal Research Division, Library of Congress Report referred to as "psychological warfare."
In June 2003 French police raided the MEK's properties, including its base in Auvers-sur-Oise, under the orders of anti-terrorist magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, after suspicions that it was trying to shift its base of operations there. 160 suspected MEK members were then arrested. In response, 40 supporters began hunger strikes to protest the arrests, and ten immolated themselves in various European capitals. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement) declared that the MEK "recently wanted to make France its support base, notably after the intervention in Iraq", while Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of France's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the group was "transforming its Val d'Oise centre [near Paris]... into an international terrorist base".
U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on South Asia, then accused the French of doing "the Iranian government's dirty work". Along with other members of Congress, he wrote a letter of protest to President Jacques Chirac, while longtime MEK supporters such as Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat from Texas, criticized Maryam Radjavi's arrest.
Following orders from MEK and in protest to the arrests, about ten members set themselves on fire in front of French embassies abroad and two of them died. French authorities released MEK members as a result.
During the Iraq war, the coalition forces bombed MEK bases and forced them to surrender in May 2003. U.S. troops later posted guards at its bases. The U.S. military also protected and gave logistical support to the MEK as U.S. officials viewed the group as a high value source of intelligence on Iran.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, MEK camps were bombed by the U.S., resulting in at least 50 deaths. It was later revealed that the U.S. bombings were part of an agreement between the Iranian regime and Washington. In the agreement Tehran offered to oust some al-Qaeda suspects if the U.S. came down on the MEK.
In the operation, the U.S. reportedly captured 6,000 MEK soldiers and over 2,000 pieces of military equipment, including 19 British-made Chieftain tanks. The MEK compound outside Fallujah became known as Camp Fallujah and sits adjacent to the other major base in Fallujah, Forward Operating Base Dreamland. Captured MEK members were kept at Camp Ashraf, about 100 kilometers west of the Iranian border and 60 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared MEK personnel in Ashraf protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. They were placed under the guard of the U.S. Military. Defectors from this group are housed separately in a refugee camp within Camp Ashraf, and protected by U.S. Army military police (2003–current), U.S. Marines (2005–07), and the Bulgarian Army (2006–current).
On 19 August 2003, MEK bombed the United Nations compound in Iraq, prompting UN withdrawal from the country.
In May 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a report describing prison camps within Iraq run by the MEK and severe human rights violations committed by the group against former members during the period from 1991 to 2003. The report prompted a response by the MEK and a few friendly European MPs, who published a counter-report in September 2005. They stated that HRW had "relied only on 12 hours [sic] interviews with 12 suspicious individuals", and stated that "a delegation of MEPs visited Camp Ashraf in Iraq" and "conducted impromptu inspections of the sites of alleged abuses." Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca (PP), one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, alleged that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was the source of the evidence against the MEK. In a letter of May 2005 to HRW, the senior US military police commander responsible for the Camp Ashraf area, Brigadier General David Phillips, who had been in charge during the year 2004 for the protective custody of the MEK members in the camp, disputed the alleged human rights violations.
In July 2010, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal issued an arrest warrant for 39 MEK members, including Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, for crimes against humanity committed while suppressing the 1991 uprisings in Iraq.
On 23 January 2009, and while on a visit to Tehran, Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie reiterated the Iraqi Prime Minister’s earlier announcement that the MEK organisation would no longer be able to base itself on Iraqi soil and stated that the members of the organisation would have to make a choice, either to go back to Iran or to go to a third country, adding that these measures would be implemented over the next two months.
On 29 July 2009, eleven Iranians were killed and over 500 were injured in a raid by Iraqi security on the MEK Camp Ashraf in Diyala province of Iraq. U.S. officials had long opposed a violent takeover of the camp northeast of Baghdad, and the raid is thought to symbolize the declining American influence in Iraq. After the raid, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated the issue was "completely within [the Iraqi government's] purview." In the course of attack, 36 Iranian dissidents were arrested and removed from the camp to a prison in a town named Khalis, where the arrestees went on hunger strike for 72 days, 7 of which was dry hunger strike. Finally the dissidents were released when they were in an extremely critical condition and on the verge of death.
The MEK and the NCRI revealed the existence of Iran's nuclear program in a press conference held on 14 August 2002 in Washington DC. MEK representative Alireza Jafarzadeh stated that Iran is running two top-secret projects, one in the city of Natanz and another in a facility located in Arak, which was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Journalists Seymour Hersh and Connie Bruck have written that the information was given to the MEK by Israel. Among others, it was described by a senior IAEA official and a monarchist advisor to Reza Pahlavi, who said before MEK they were offered to reveal the information, but they refused because it would be seen negatively by the people of Iran. Similar accounts could be found elsewhere by others, including comments made by US officials.
However, all of their subsequent claims turned out to be false. For instance, on 18 November 2004, MEK representative Mohammad Mohaddessin used satellite images to falsely state that a new facility exists in northeast Tehran, named "Center for the Development of Advanced Defence Technology".
In late 2005, they held a conference and announced that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and atomic work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near Qom. Commenting on the allegations, Mohamed ElBaradei, then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “We followed whatever they came up with... And a lot of it was bogus.” Frank Pabian, a senior adviser at Los Alamos National Laboratory, however said “they’re right 90 percent of the time... That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.”
In 2010 the NCRI claimed to have uncovered a secret nuclear facility in Iran. These claims were dismissed by US officials, who did not believe the facilities to be nuclear. In 2013, the NCRI again claimed to have discovered a secret underground nuclear site.
In 2012, the MEK were accused by the Iranian government and US officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, of being financed, trained, and armed by Israel's secret service to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Former CIA case officer in the Middle East, Robert Baer argued that MEK agents trained by Israel were the only plausible perpetrators for such assassinations.
According to the official Iran newspaper, in August 2012, a number of MEK members detained by the Syrian government confessed that the MKO is training militants on Turkish soil near the border with Syria. The report also said they cooperate foreign-backed militants in Syria through the Jordanian borders and are stationed at a base called ‘Hanif’, which is "disguised as a hospital".
On 30 May 2013, Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro wrote that two members of the organization were found dead in Idlib, citing a "European parliamentarian in contact with the anti-government rebels".
In August 2013, Qassem Al-Araji, a member of the Security Commission in the Iraqi Parliament, stated that the organization is engaged in Syrian Civil War against Bashar al-Assad's government.
In June 2014, when Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) took Mosul, MEK website gave a triumphalist account of the conquest, referring to ISIS as “revolutionary forces”. However in April 2015, it called the former an “extremist group” and asked the United States to fight ISIS by regime change in Iran.
On January 1, 2009 the U.S. military transferred control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government. On the same day, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the militant group would not be allowed to base its operations from Iraqi soil.
In 2012 MEK moved from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya in Baghdad (a onetime U.S. base formerly known as Camp Liberty). A rocket and mortar attack killed 5 and injured 50 others at Camp Hurriya on February 9, 2013. MEK residents of the facility and their representatives and lawyers appealed to the UN Secretary-General and U.S. officials to let them return to Ashraf, which they say has concrete buildings and shelters that offer more protection. The United States has been working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the resettlement project.
On September 9, 2016 the more than 280 MEK members remaining were relocated to Albania.
The MEK's ideology of revolutionary Shiaism is based on an interpretation of Islam so similar to that of Ali Shariati that "many concluded" they were inspired by him. According to historian Ervand Abrahamian, it is clear that "in later years" that Shariati and "his prolific works" had "indirectly helped the Mujahedin."
In the group's "first major ideological work," Nahzat-i Husseini or Hussein's Movement, authored by one of the group's founders, Ahmad Reza'i, it was argued that Nezam-i Towhid (monotheistic order) sought by the prophet Muhammad, was a commonwealth fully united not only in its worship of one God but in a classless society that strives for the common good. "Shiism, particularly Hussein's historic act of martyrdom and resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture."
As described by Abrahamian, one Mojahedin ideologist argued
"Reza'i further argued that the banner of revolt raised by the Shi'i Imams, especially Ali, Hassan, and Hussein, was aimed against feudal landlords and exploiting merchant capitalists as well as against usurping Caliphs who betrayed the Nezam-i-Towhid. For Reza'i and the Mujahidin it was the duty of all muslims to continue this struggle to create a 'classless society' and destroy all forms of capitalism, despotism, and imperialism. The Mujahidin summed up their attitude towards religion in these words: 'After years of extensive study into Islamic history and Shi'i ideology, our organization has reached the firm conclusion that Islam, especially Shi'ism, will play a major role in inspiring the masses to join the revolution. It will do so because Shi'ism, particularly Hussein's historic act of resistance, has both a revolutionary message and a special place in our popular culture."
According to the publicly stated ideology of the MEK, elections and public suffrage are the sole indicators of political legitimacy. Their publications reported that the Word of God and Islam are meaningless without freedom and respect for individual volition and choice. Their interpretation of Islam and the Quran says that the most important characteristic distinguishing man from animals is his free will. It is on this basis that human beings are held accountable. Without freedom, no society can develop or progress. Although its leaders present themselves as Muslims, the MEK describes itself as a secular organization: "The National Council of Resistance believes in the separation of Church and State."
In more recent years under the guidance of Maryam Rajavi the organization has adopted strong principles in favor of women. Women assumed some senior positions of responsibility within the ranks of the MEK and although women make up only a third of fighters, two-thirds of its commanders are women. Rajavi ultimately believes that women should enjoy equal rights with men.
In the beginning, MEK used to criticize the Pahlavi dynasty for allying with Israel and Apartheid South Africa, even calling them racist states and demanding cancellation of all political and economic agreements with them. MEK opposed Israeli–Palestinian peace process and was anti-Zionist.
The Central Cadre established contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), by sending emissaries to Paris, Dubai, and Qatar to meet PLO officials. In one occasion, seven leading members of MEK spent several months in the PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon. On 3 August 1972, they bombed the Jordanian embassy as a means to revenge King Hussein's unleashing his troops on the PLO in 1970.
After their exile, the MEK changed into an 'ally' of Israel in pursuit of its ideological opportunism.
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi publicly met with the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas on 30 July 2016 in Paris, France.
Before their exile, the MEK preached "anti-imperialism" both before and after revolution. The Mojahedin Organization praised writers such as Al-e Ahmad, Saedi and Shariati for being "anti-imperialist". Rajavi in his presidential campaign after revolution used to warn against what he called the "imperialist danger". The matter was so fundamental to MEK that it criticized the Iranian government on that basis, accusing the Islamic Republic of "capitulation to imperialism" and being disloyal to democracy that according to Rajavi was the only means to "safeguard from American imperialism". However, after exile, Rajavi toned down the issues of imperialism, social revolution, and classless society. Instead he stressed on human rights and respect for "personal property" (as opposed to "private property", which capitalists consider to be identical to "personal property" while Marxists do not).
On 27 January 1985, Rajavi appointed Maryam Azodanlu as his co-equal leader. The announcement, stated that this would give women equal say within the organization and thereby 'would launch a great ideological revolution within Mojahedin, the Iranian public and the whole Muslim World'. At the time Maryam Azodanlu was known as only the younger sister of a veteran member, and the wife of Mehdi Abrishamchi. According to the announcement, Maryam Azodanlu and Mehdi Abrishamchi had recently divorced in order to facilitate this 'great revolution'. As a result, the marriage further isolated the Mojahedin and also upset some members of the organization. This was mainly because, the middle class would look at this marriage as an indecent act which to them resembled wife-swapping. (especially when Abrishamchi declared his own marriage to Musa Khiabani's younger sister). The fact that it involved women with young children and the wives of close friends was considered a taboo in traditional Iranian culture. The effect of this incident on secularists and modern intelligentsia was equally outrageous as it dragged a private matter into the public arena. Many criticized Maryam Azodanlu's giving up her own maiden name (something most Iranian women did not do and she herself had not done in her previous marriage). They would question whether this was in line with her claims of being a staunch feminist.
According to Iranian-Armenian historian Ervand Abrahamian, "the Mojahedin, despite contrary claims did not give women equal representation within their own hierarchy. The book of martyrs indicates that women formed 15 percent of the organization's rank-and-file, but only 9 percent of its leadership. To rectify this, the Mojahedin posthumously revealed some of the rank and file women martyrs especially those related to prominent figures, into leadership positions."
According to Country Reports on Terrorism, in 1990 the second phase of the 'ideological revolution' was announced during which all married members were ordered to divorce and remain celibate, undertaking a vow of "eternal divorce", with the exception of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. Shortly thereafter, all children (about 800) were separated from their parents and sent abroad to be adopted by members of the group in Europe or North America.
In 1994, "self-divorce" was declared as the further phase of the 'ideological revolution'. During this process all members were forced to surrender their individuality to the organization and change into "ant-like human beings", i.e. following orders by their instinct.
Sociologist Eileen Barker has described the MEK's "metamorphism" as follows:
From the very beginning, the MEK pursued a dual strategy of using armed struggle and propaganda to achieve its goals, and its proliftic international propaganda machine has been successful in misleading a considerable portion of the Western media since the 1980s. Their propaganda aims to present them as a "democratic alternative" to the current Iranian government which defends Western values such as secularism and women's rights. It also to tries erase its history of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, as well as totalitarian ideology and terrorist practices. As part of its public propaganda campaign, the MEK distributes numerous publications, reports, books, bulletins, and open letters to influence the media and Western parliamentarians.
The organization owns a free-to-air satellite television network named Vision of Freedom (Sima-ye-Azadi), launched in 2003 in England. It previously operated Vision of Resistance analogue television in Iraq in the 1990s, accessible in western provinces of Iran.
The organization is active on social media, most notably Twitter. It runs an isolated cluster of apparently "full-time activists" and spambots, which interact only with each other. The cluster makes efforts to position itself as an organisation of human rights defenders. However, these efforts are rarely reciprocated, signaling their insularity. According to digital research by the UK-based Small Media Foundation, the cluster's "dependence on automated bots to disseminate information demonstrates that although the MEK is taking social media sites seriously as a platform for broadcasting news and propaganda, they lack the supporter network necessary to make a significant impact within the Iranian Twittersphere. As a result, the MEK is making use of automated bots to artificially inflate its follower count, and create an illusion of influence amongst Iranian Twitter users". National Council of Resistance of Iran, Mohajedin.org, Maryam-Rajavi.com, Hambastegi Meli, Iran News Update and Iran Efshagari are among accounts openly affiliated with the group.
According to Kenneth R. Timmerman, the group regularly organizes rent-a-crowd protests worldwide and hires hecklers. In a gonzo article published by the Free Republic, he mentions paid demonstrators coming from Denmark, Sudan and Eritrea.
Zaid Jilani and Paul R. Pillar have also cited similar observations.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has published diaries of a Kyrgyz student based in Prague who was recruited to travel to Paris for a MEK rally, in which most of the "protesters" were like her. Michael Rubin has found the story "against the backdrop" of MEK.
However according to Cheryl Benard et al, despite impressiveness of the group's financial and logistical abilities, such mobilizations are unlikely and implausible because all demonstrators cannot be bought in exchange for exhausting rallies and public figures attending may face "vituperation" for supporting the group.
Upon entry into the group, new members are indoctrinated in ideology and a revisionist history of Iran. All members are required to participate in weekly "ideologic cleansings".
MEK is known for its long-term lobbying effort, especially in the United States, where it competes against the National Iranian American Council. It spent heavily to remove itself from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, having paid high-profile officials upwards of $50,000 for each appearance to give speeches calling for delisting. DiGenova & Toensing and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld are among the advocacy groups paid by the organization. The actual sum paid is vague, but the total could be in the millions of dollars.
According to investigative work by Scott Peterson and acknowledged by Scott Shane, Glenn Greenwald and Joby Warrick, some prominent US officials from both political parties have received substantial sums of cash to give speeches in favor of MEK, and have become vocal advocates for the group, specifically for removing them from the terrorist list. They include Democrats Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Lee Hamilton, and Republicans Elaine Chao, Rudy Giuliani, Fran Townsend, Tom Ridge, Michael Mukasey, and Andrew Card. There are also advocates outside the government, such as Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel.
The organization has been subject to a number of films, including:A Cult That Would Be an Army: Cult of the Chameleon: 2007 Al Jazeera documentary directed by Maziar Bahari
The Wolves (Persian: گرگها, translit. Gorg-ha): four-part eight-houred documentary series initially released in 2007 and reissued in 2013 as a 90-minutes documentary, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It includes footage from Ba'athist Iraq archives of confidential top-level meetings.
The Strange World of the People's Mujahedin: 2012 BBC World Service documentary directed by Owen Bennett-Jones and produced by Wisebuddah company. It won New York Festivals award for Best Investigative Report in 2013.
An Unfinished Film for My Daughter, Somayeh (Persian: فیلم ناتمامی برای دخترم سمیه): 2014 documentary directed by Morteza Payeshenas, aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
The Secrets Behind Auvers-sur-Oise: 2016 Press TV documentary
Cyanide (Persian: سیانور, translit. Siyanor): 2016 feature film directed by Behrouz Shoaibi which portrays the organization during 1970s. The cast includes Babak Hamidian, Behnoosh Tabatabaei, Hanieh Tavassoli, Atila Pesyani, Mehdi Hashemi and Hamed Komeili.
Mina’s Choice (Persian: امکان مینا, translit. Emkan-e Mina): 2016 drama about happy marriage of couple Mina and Mehran which tears apart. According to the director Kamal Tabrizi and producer Manouchehr Mohammadi, the film intends to “give warnings to families” about MEK.
The Midday Event (Persian: ماجرای نیمروز): 2017 political drama directed by Mohammad-Hossein Mahdavian, it features MEK during 1980s and was named the best film in the 35th Fajr International Film Festival.
Other than funds provided by foreign states (such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq under Saddam Hussein), the organization raises money through fraud and money laundering. According to a RAND Corporation policy conundrum, MEK supporters seek donations at public places, often showing "gruesome pictures" of human rights victims in Iran and claiming to raise money for them but funnelling it to MEK. A 2004 report by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that the organization is engaged "through a complex international money laundering operation that uses accounts in Turkey, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates".
In 2003, French judiciary charged twenty four members of the group including Maryam Rajavi for "associating with wrongdoers in relation with a terrorist undertaking", lifting the probes in 2006 except for nine members still investigated for possible money laundering. All charges including money laundering were dropped in 2014.
In Germany, a sham charity was used by the MEK to support "asylum seekers and refugees" but the money went to MEK. Another front organization collected funds for "children whose parents had been killed in Iran" in sealed and stamped boxes placed in city centers, each intaking DM 600–700 a day with 30 to 40 people used in each city for the operation. In 1988, the Nürnberg MEK front organization was uncovered by police, and the tactic was exposed. Initially, The Greens supported these organizations while it was unaware of their purpose.
In December 2001, a joint FBI-Cologne police operation descovered what a 2004 report calls "a complex fraud scheme involving children and social benefits", involving the sister of Maryam Rajavi. The High Court ruled to close several MEK compounds after investigations revealed that the organization fraudulently collected between $5 million and $10 million in social welfare benefits for children of its members sent to Europe.
It operated a UK-based sham charity, namely Iran Aid, which "claimed to raise money for Iranian refugees persecuted by the Islamic regime" and was later revealed to be a front for its military wing. In 2001, Charity Commission for England and Wales closed it down after finding no “verifiable links between the money donated by the British public [approximately £5 million annually] and charitable work in Iran.”
Seven supporters were detained by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for funnelling more than $1 million to the organization through another sham charity, Committee for Human Rights in Iran. They were later charged in a 59-count indictment with "providing and conspiring to provide material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization".
On 19 November 2004, two front organizations called the “Iranian–American Community of Northern Virginia” and the “Union Against Fundamentalism” organized demonstrations in front of the Capitol building in Washington, DC and transferred funds for the demonstration, some $9,000 to the account of a Texas MEK member. Congress and the bank in question were not aware of that the demonstrators were actually providing material support to the MEK.
More than 16,000 people have been killed in violent attacks conducted by MEK since 1979. From August 26 1981 to December 1982, it orchestrated 336 attacks.
During the fall of 1981 alone more than 1,000 officials were assassinated to take revenge, including police officers, judges and clerics. Their most notorious assassination was the Hafte Tir bombing in June 1981. Later, many low ranking civil servants and members of the Revolutionary Guards were also targeted. It also failed to assassinate some key figures, including Iran's current leader Ali Khameni. When the security meseares around officials improved, MEK started to target thousands of ordinary citizens who supported the government and Hezbollahis.
The organization has claimed responsibility for the following assassinations, among others:Lt. Gen. Ali Sayad Shirazi, deputy chief of Iran's armed forces general staff (1999)
Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran's prison system (1998)
Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, President of Iran (1981)
Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, Prime Minister of Iran (1981)
Mohammad Beheshti, Chief Justice of Iran (1981)
August 1972: Tehran's chief of police assassinated.
June 1973: Assassination of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lewis L. Hawkins.
March 1975: General Zandipour, a warden assassinated at the Anti-sabotage Joint Committee prison.
5 May 1975: Part of a purge, central cadre member Majid Sharif Vaghefi was shot dead by fellow MEK members and his body was burnt in order not to be identified.
21 May 1975: Assassinations of two U.S. Army officers, Col. Paul Shaffer and Lt. Col. Jack Turner, as well as an Imperial Iranian Air Force officer.
3 July 1975: Iranian employee at Embassy of the United States, Tehran was killed.
28 August 1976: Three U.S. civilian contractors of Rockwell International named Robert R. Krongrad, William C. Cottrell, Jr., and Donald G. Smith assassinated by four gunmen on their way to Doshan Tappeh Air Base to work on Project IBEX.
11 September 1980: Ayatollah Asadollah Madani assassinated in Tabriz friday prayer.
28 June 1981: A bomb detonated at the Islamic Republican Party headquarters in Tehran killed 73, including the party's secretary-general, 4 cabinet ministers, 10 vice ministers and 27 members of the Parliament of Iran.
1 July 1981: A prison guard shouting MEK slogans killed governor of Evin Prison.
6 July 1981: Chief prosecutor of Gilan Province assassinated.
5 August 1981: MP Hassan Ayat assassinated by gunmen in Tehran.
30 August 1981: A bombing killed 5, including the incumbent president, prime minister and chief of national police.
29 September 1981: MP Abdulkarim Hasheminejad killed in a grenade explosion in Mashhad.
11 December 1981: Ayatollah Abdulhossein Dastgheib and several others killed in a suicide attack in Shiraz friday prayer.
28 December 1981: MP Mohammad Taqi Besharat assassinated.
21 January 1982: MP Mojtaba Esteki assassinated.
26 February 1982: Assassination of a senior cleric in Tehran.
7 March 1982: Chief of national police assassinated.
2 July 1982: Ayatollah Mohammad Saduqi assassinated in Yazd friday prayer.
15 October 1982: Ayatollah Ata'ollah Ashrafi Esfahani assassinated in Kermanshah friday prayer.
December 1993: The MEK admitted it killed a Turkish diplomat in Baghdad, Iraq, claiming he was mistaken for an Iranian official.
20 February 1996: Two former members assassinated by MEK in Istanbul.
June 1998: A senior cleric assassinated in Najaf, Iraq.
1 May 2000: A senior IRGC commander assassinated in Tehran.
Failed attempts and other attacks
October 1971: In the group's first operation, they failed to kidnap son of Ashraf Pahlavi and the Shah's nephew Shahram Shafiq.
May 1972: U.S. Air Force General Harold price was wounded in attempted assassination. Attacks on Tehran police station, In Hafteh (This Week) journal, U.S. Information Office, Hotel International, Iran-American Society, the mausoleum of Reza Shah, and offices of General Motors, Pepsi Cola, and the Marine Oil Company.
3 August 1972: Bombing of Jordanian embassy in Tehran during King Hussein's state visit.
September 1972: Bombings of Civil Defense Organization Center, Imperial Club, Municipal Department Store, Dept. of Military Industries exhibition hall, and police armory in Qom.
June 1973: Bombing of facilities of Pan-Am Airlines, Shell Oil, Radio City Cinema, Hotel International, and an export company.
February 1974: Attack on police station in Isfahan.
April 1974: Bombing of offices of Oman Bank and Pan-American Oil and of gates of British embassy; attempted bombing of SAVAK center at Tehran University.
June 1974: Bombing of gendarmerie post in Tehran and offices of U.S. company ITT.
February 1975: Bombing of gendarmerie post in Lahijan.
5 May 1975: MEK member Morteza Samadiyeh-Labbaf was injured in attempted assassination by fellow MEK members, taken to hospital, arrested by SAVAK and eventually executed on 24 January 1976.
June 1975: Failed to assassinate an American diplomat in Tehran.
22 June 1981: A bomb blast at Qom railway station killed eight and injured twenty-three.
1 July 1981: MEK plan to blow up the Parliament building was foiled.
20 July 1981: MEK gunmen failed to kill MP Habibollah Asgaroladi.
2 August 1981: Two explosions in Kermanshah and Tehran killed twenty.
12 August 1981: An overruned attack on IRGC headquarters in Tehran with machin guns and rockets.
21 August 1981: Twelve people died in a Tehran IRGC contingent skirmish.
27 September 1981: Hundreds of MEK members clashed with IRGC near University of Tehran campus. It left seventeen killed and forty wounded.
15 April 1982: Attack on friday prayer Imam in Rasht.
18 February 1983: Assassination attempt on a Khomeini representative in Khorasan province.
2 July 1987: Iranian diplomat in Madrid, Spain, survived a car bomb, as well as an injured bystander.
April 1992: Bombing at a Tehran public building killed two children.
16 July 1992: Iran's FM Ali Akbar Velayati who was visiting Potsdam, Germany was attacked by MEK.
20 August 1992: A MP from Kuhdasht survived grenade explosion at his house.
11 October 1992: Destruction of six IRGC vehicles in Qom; bombing of gas station and office of Tehran IRGC commander.
12 October 1992: Bomb exploded at the mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini.
May 1993: Two guards were killed in the attack on communications facility of the National Iranian Oil Company in Kermanshah.
2 November 1994: An Iranian diplomat on mission in Denmark attacked.
June 1995: Bombed oil refineries and other sites in west and south Iran.
7 May 1998: Attack on Iran's deputy FM in Austria.
June 1998: Mortar attack on Defense Industries Organization; bombing of Revolutionary Prosecutor’s office and Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
July 1998: Bombing of Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran; armed attack on Iranian official in Rome, Italy.
14 September 1998: Attempt to kill Gen. Mohsen Rafighdoost failed.
January 1999: Ali Razini, head of Tehran's judiciary, was wounded after motorcyclist hurled a hand grenade at his car. The explosion killed one and injured three. Mortar attack on Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran.
25 November 1999: Mortar attack at Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz.
5 February 2000: President Mohammad Khatami was unharmed in mortar attack on his residency in Pasteur Street, which reportedly killed a print shop worker and injured five others.
March 2000: Mortar attack on residential housing complex; cross-border mortar attack on Iranian territory; attack on Iranian military forces near border.
April 2000: Attempt to assassinate the commander of Nasr Headquarters, interagency board responsible for coordinating Iran's policies on Iraq.
May 2000: In several powerful explosions in Kermanshah, MEK claimed "dozens of agents had been killed or wounded". Six people were injured in a mortar attack near Tehran's police headquarters.
June 2000: Plot to assassinate Ali Akbar Velayati was foiled. Rocket attack on Ministry of Defense.
October 2000: A mortar attack targetting the command centre of special anti-riot forces in northern Tehran, left no casualties.
August 2000: Mortar attack on city of Mehran; rockets fired near Salehabad and Khoramshahr.
November 2000: Mortar attack near Musian and on Kermanshah.
January 2001: Gen. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf survived a mortar attack on the headquarters of Law Enforcement Force. Five rockets fired at IRGC base in Tehran; mortar attack on Supreme Court and other government buildings in Tehran.
March 2001: Rocket attack on Iranian security forces headquarters in Tehran and regional office in Shahr-e ziba, Tehran.
19 August 2003: MEK bombed the United Nations compound in Iraq, prompting UN withdrawal from the country.
An October 1994 report by the U.S. Department of State notes that other Iranian opposition groups do not cooperate with the organization because they view it as "undemocratic" and "tightly controlled" by its leaders.
Due to its anti-Shah stance before the revolution, the MEK is not close to monarchist opposition groups and Reza Pahlavi, Iran's deposed crown prince. Iran's deposed president, Abolhassan Banisadr, ended his alliance with the group in 1984, denouncing its stance during the Iran–Iraq War.
Rival exiled groups question the organizations's claim that it would hold free elections after taking power in Iran, pointing to its designation of a "president-elect" as an evidence of neglecting Iranian people.
The countries and organizations below have officially listed MEK as a terrorist organization:
The United States put the MEK on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997. However, since 2004 the United States also considered the group as "noncombatants" and "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions because most members had been living in a refugee camp in Iraq for more than 25 years. In 2002 the European Union, pressured by Washington, added MEK to its terrorist list.
MEK leaders then began a lobbying campaign to be removed from the list by promoting itself as a viable opposition to the mullahs in Tehran. In 2008 the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied MEK its request to be delisted despite its lobbying.
In 2011, several former senior U.S. officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, three former chairmen of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, two former directors of the CIA, former commander of NATO Wesley Clark, two former U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations, the former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former White House Chief of Staff, a former commander of the United States Marine Corps, former U.S. National Security Advisor Frances Townsend, and U.S. President Barack Obama's retired National Security Adviser General James L. Jones called for the MEK to be removed from its official State Department foreign terrorist listing on the grounds that they constituted a viable opposition to the Iranian government.
In April 2012, Seymour Hersh reported that the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command had trained MEK operatives at a secret site in Nevada from 2005 to 2009. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site until President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Hersh also reported additional names of former U.S. officials paid to speak in support of MEK, including former CIA directors James Woolsey and Porter Goss; New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Vermont Governor Howard Dean; former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Louis Freeh and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran has rejected allegations of Hersh.
The United Kingdom lifted the MEK's designation as a terrorist group in June 2008, followed by the Council of the European Union on January 26, 2009, after what the group called a "seven-year-long legal and political battle." It was also lifted in the United States following a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on September 21, 2012 and lastly in Canada on December 20, 2012.
The Council of the European Union removed the group's terrorist designation following the Court of Justice of the European Union's 2008 censure of France for failing to disclose new alleged evidence of the MEK's terrorism threat. Delisting allowed MEK to pursue tens of millions of dollars in frozen assets and lobby in Europe for more funds. It also removed the terrorist label from MEK members at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
On 28 September 2012 the U.S. State Department formally removed MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, beating an October 1deadline in an MEK lawsuit. Secretary of State Clinton said in a statement that the decision was made because the MEK had renounced violence and had cooperated in closing their Iraqi paramilitary base. An official denied that lobbying by well-known figures influenced the decision.
37 individuals including Ervand Abrahamian, Shaul Bakhash, Juan Cole and Gary Sick among others, published "Joint Experts’ Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq" on Financial Times voicing their concerns regarding MEK delisting. The National Iranian American Council denounced the decision, stating it "opens the door to Congressional funding of the M.E.K. to conduct terrorist attacks in Iran" and "makes war with Iran far more likely." Iran state television also condemned the delisting of the group, saying that the U.S. considers MEK to be "good terrorists because the U.S. is using them against Iran."