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Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) Narrative


Mujahedin-E Khalq (MEK)

Last Update

January 2015

Aliases

Muslim Iranian Student’s Society; National Council of Resistance of Iraq (NCRI); People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI); National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA); Sazeman-e Mujahadin-e Khalq-e Iran

History

The Mujahedin-E Khalq (MEK) was formed in 1965 by a group of leftist students in Iran who opposed the regime under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[1] Its leaders are Massoud Rajavi and his wife, Maryam Rajavi.[2] Its military wing, the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA) and its political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), facilitate the goals of the MEK.[3]

Throughout the 1970s, the MEK targeted U.S. forces and offices in Iran.[4] Although the group denies any involvement, the U.S. State Department alleged that the MEK assisted in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.[5] Following the overthrow of the Shah, the MEK was initially supportive of the new regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini.[6] However, the MEK did not agree with Khomeini’s post-revolutionary politics, which eventually caused a falling out between the MEK and the new administration, forcing the leaders to flee to Paris.[7] In 1981, Massoud Rajavi started the NCRI.[8] The NCRI was conceived as an umbrella organization for dissident Iranian groups that would lobby western governments and presented itself as a government-in-exile. [9] In 1986, the NCRI and the leadership of MEK were expelled from France following a warm up in relations between Iran and France; they subsequently relocated to Iraq. [10]

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the MEK received support primarily from Saddam Hussein and was granted patronage in Iraq along the border shared with Iran.[11] MEK forces were involved in bloody exchanges during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, and from their new base in Iraq they were able to organize and execute several large scale terrorist operations over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s. [12] After the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the MEK negotiated a ceasefire with coalition forces following which they surrendered the weapons. [13] The group’s members were confined to Camp Ashraf. [14] Following years of lobbying by pro-MEK figures in the United States and the Iranian diaspora around the world, the MEK finally succeeded in being removed from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list in 2012. [15]

Home Base

  • 1965-1979: Iran[16]
  • 1979-1981: France[17]
  • 1981-present: Iraq[18]

Founding Year

1965

Ideology

Leftist-Marxist

Specific Goals

  • Prior to 1979: Overthrow of the western backed Shah in Iran. [19]
  • Post-1979:
    • Overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[20]
    • Abolition of programs for weapons of mass destruction – specifically nuclear – in Iran. [21]
    • The institution of a democratic government with universal suffrage. [22]
    • Freedom to practice any religion. [23]
    • Abolition of sharia law in Iran. [24]

Political Activity

  • The NCRI currently has political operations in Europe and the United States and has also benefitted from a great deal of support from high profile advocates on both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. as well as financial assistance from wealthy members of the Iranian diaspora.[25]

Financing

  • Fraud: [26]
    • Fake charities.
    • Benefits and social welfare fraud.
  • Donations/Charities:
    • Prior to the group’s expulsion from Iran and their later involvement in the Iran Iraq war, which turned many former supporters against them, the group sought funding from the Iranian middle classes. [27]
    • Following the fall of Saddam Hussein the group has looked to Iranian expatriates for financial backing. [28]
  • State Sponsorship: The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein provided financial support, safe haven and equipment to the group.[29]

Leadership and Structure over Time

  • The group is composed of a paramilitary wing (National Liberation Army of Iran or NLA) and a political wing (National Council of Resistance of Iran or NCRI).
  • 1979-2003: Massoud Rajavi, one of the original founders, [30] leads until he goes missing in 2003 [31]
  • 1985-Present: Mayam Rajavi becomes co-leader in 1985 and was elected as president of the government-in-exile in 1993.[32]

Strength

  • 1998: Several thousand.[33]
  • 2003: 3,000.[34]
  • 2004: 3,000.[35]
  • 2010: 5,000- 10,000.[36]
  • 2011: 5,000-10,000 members worldwide.[37]
  • 2014: 3,000 members in residence at Camp Liberty. [38]

Allies and Suspected Allies

  • The Iraqi Government under Saddam Hussein (state sponsor):
    • Following the group’s expulsion from France they were welcomed to Iraq in 1986. [39]
    • The regime provided financial and physical support including weapons, training and bases. [40]
    • The group fought alongside Iraq during the Iran Iraq War. [41]
    • MEK fighters were deployed in attacks against Iranian troops in the later phase of the conflict. [42]
    • They are also implicated in actions taken against the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in the early 1990s. [43]

Rivals and Enemies

  • The Shah of Iran prior to 1979 (target). [44]
  • The current Islamic Republic of Iran (target).[45]

Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Domestic, Law Enforcement:
    • The group’s first planned attack in 1971 was thwarted by the Shah’s secret police who infiltrated the group. [46]
    • After the group fell out with the new regime, the Ayatollah instigated a brutal suppression of MEK, the Revolutionary Guard arrested and executed many of their members.[47]
  • Domestic, Political:
    • The Iranian government exiled and outlawed the MEK after they broke away from the Islamic clerical regime.[48]
  • International, Military:
    • The United States government employed troops in Iraq in 2003 and on several occasions attacked the MEK military bases in Iraq.[49]
  • International, Political:
    • France expelled the group in 1986. [50]
    • The EU listed the group as a proscribed terrorist organization in 2002. [51]
    • The EU removed the MEK from the proscribed terrorist organizations list in 2009.[52]
    • U.S. Department of State delisted the MEK as a terrorist organization in 2012 when the group publicly denounced violence.[53]
    • The Iraqi government is seeking to have the group’s members resettled outside Iraq. [54]
  • International, Law Enforcement:
    • The United States and several European countries have sought to stifle MEK funding by identifying and closing down fake charities and other schemes the group was utilizing to fund itself. [55]
    • In 2003, French police arrested members of the group for suspected terror offences.[56]

United States Government Designations

  • Designated terrorist organization, October 8, 1997.[57]
    • Delisted, September 28, 2012.

Other Governments’ Designations

  • European Union (2002): Designated terrorist organization in 2002
    • Delisted in 2009.[58]
  • Iran: Designated terrorist group.[59]
 

[1] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[2] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[3] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[4] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[5] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[6] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[7] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[8] “About the National Council of Resistance of Iran,” National Council of Resistance of Iran: Foreign Affairs Committee, February 16, 2009, http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/about-ncri.

[9] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[10] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[11] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[12] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[13] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[14] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[15] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[16] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[17] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[18] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[19] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[20] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[21] “Maryam Rajavi’s Ten Point Plan for Future Iran,” National Council of Resistance of Iran: Foreign Affairs Committee, April, 2006, http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/issues/ten-point-plan.

[22] “Maryam Rajavi’s Ten Point Plan for Future Iran,” National Council of Resistance of Iran: Foreign Affairs Committee, April, 2006, http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/issues/ten-point-plan.

[23] “Maryam Rajavi’s Ten Point Plan for Future Iran,” National Council of Resistance of Iran: Foreign Affairs Committee, April, 2006, http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/issues/ten-point-plan.

[24] “Maryam Rajavi’s Ten Point Plan for Future Iran,” National Council of Resistance of Iran: Foreign Affairs Committee, April, 2006, http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/issues/ten-point-plan.

[25] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[26] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[27] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[28] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[29] “Iran Primer: U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” U.S. Institute of Peace, August 23, 2011, http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah.

[30] “Factbox: Who Are the People’s Mujahideen of Iran?” Reuters, December 28, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/12/28/uk-iran-exiles-mujahideen-idUSTRE5BR34420091228.

[31] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[32] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[33] U.S. Department of State, Patterns of Global Terrorism 1998, Background Information on Terrorist Groups, April 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/1998Report/appb.html

[34] “Selected Non-State Armed Groups,” Military Balance 103 (2003): 344-354, doi: 10.1093/milbal/103.1.344

[35] “Selected Non-State Armed Groups,” Military Balance 104 (2004): 362-377, doi: 10.1080/725292356

[36] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[37] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, Terrorist Organizations, July 31, 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2011/195553.htm

[38] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[39] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[40] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[41] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[42] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[43] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[44] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[45] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[46] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[47] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[48] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[49] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[50] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[51] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[52] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[53] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Terrorist Organizations, August 18, 2011, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2010/170264.htm

[54] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[55] Jeremiah Goulka, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson, “The Mujahedin-E Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum,” RAND National Defense Research Institute, 2009, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf.

[56] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[57] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[58] Jonathan Masters, “Backgrounder: Mujahadeen-E-Khalq (MEK),” Council on Foreign Relations, July 28, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.

[59] Michael Theodoulou, “US Move to Delist MEK as Terror Group Worries Iran’s Opposition,” The National, July 26, 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/us-move-to-delist-mek-as-terror-group-worries-irans-opposition.