Iranian group's big-money push to get off US terrorist list
SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: A roster of influential former US officials is speaking at rallies in support of removing the MEK, an Iranian opposition group with a violent anti-American history, from the US terrorist list. A decision is expected within weeks.
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Legal cases have seen the MEK removed from terror watch lists on procedural grounds in the UK and European Union in recent years. A decision on the US designation is now imminent; a federal appeals court in Washington last year ruled that the State Dept. had violated the group’s right to due process, because it had not been allowed to contest unclassified information used to justify its designation.Skip to next paragraph
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That information, submitted in autumn 2009, disclosed that “the MEK trained females at Camp Ashraf in Iraq to perform suicide attacks in Karbala” – a charge the group called “manifestly implausible” in court. It also included a US intelligence community assessment that the MEK “retains a limited capability and the intent to use violence to achieve its political goals.”
A detailed 2009 report, prepared for the US Department of Defense by the RAND Corp., notes further that the MEK has made "repeated requests ... to have its weapons returned" at Camp Ashraf, the military camp given to the MEK by Saddam Hussein, where 3,400 members remain, disarmed.
Roots of the American label
American antipathy to the MEK stretches back four decades, when it was first formed in the 1960s with an anti-US, Marxist-Islamist ideology. Violent “armed struggle” was glorified from the start.
The group assassinated at least six US military advisers and citizens in Iran in the 1970s, supported the Islamic revolution and then the seizure of the American Embassy in 1979, and tried to block any deal with what it then called "the US, this satanic force threatening the world ... the main adversary."
US government documents frequently use the term "cult-like" when describing the MEK, and describe "years of ideological training" for members akin to "brainwashing." The MEK has long denied that it is a cult and routinely charges critics with being agents of the Islamic Republic.
The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001, after claiming responsibility for 350 attacks in 2000 and 2001, according to a RAND tabulation. It is not known to have carried out any attacks for several years, though a 2004 FBI report found that the group was "currently actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism."
That conclusion was based on wiretaps of calls between MEK bases and headquarters in Iraq, France, and Los Angeles that discussed "specific acts of terrorism to include bombings" – and were corroborated by French intelligence and German police wiretaps, according to the FBI report.
Militant groups can change. Both Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, for example, used violence before becoming influential political forces in their own right. The MEK is one of those, say its increasing number of American advocates.