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Analysis: Is MeK still a terrorist group?

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI Contributing Editor   |   May 5, 2008 at 11:04 AM
WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- When a group commits violent acts with political or religious intent, it is designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. It's a simple enough process. In contrast, when a group that has been placed on the U.S. terrorist list changes its policy and renounces terrorism, getting off the list becomes far more complicated.

That is the case with the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which is described in the 2007 State Department Country Report on Terrorism as advocating the "violent overthrow of the Iranian regime." The United States also accuses the MeK of being responsible for the assassination of several U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970s.

That was then; this is now.

"Any designation review should be based only on terrorism issues, not on the general U.S. government view of the organization in question," says Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "If the decision to designate a group is made on foreign policy considerations rather than evidence, then the list will be branded as a political instrument, thus reducing its utility as a means for encouraging other governments to take action against certain terrorist organizations," adds Clawson.

"This is what happened to the list of terrorism-sponsoring states, which simply looks like a set of countries the U.S. government does not like."

In December 2006 the European Court of Justice ruled to overturn the designation of the MeK as a terrorist organization but was not supported by the Council of the European Union. A November 2007 court ruling by Britain's Proscribed Organizations Appeals Commission ordered the British government to remove the People's Mujahedeen of Iran -- known to the U.S. government as MeK -- from its terrorist organizations list.

Says Clawson: "This decision, along with a similar decision by the European Court of First Instance (a level below the European Court of Justice), and the mandatory review of the group's designation by the U.S. State Department in October 2008, provides an opportunity to evaluate how terrorist designation is assessed."

According to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act, if no designation review is conducted during a five-year period, the U.S. secretary of state must determine whether a revocation is appropriate.

That the MeK has given up on terrorism is clear enough. In fact, the bulk of its forces have been cantoned in Camp Ashraf, in Iraq, where they have remained since the start of the war, under U.S. protection. However, the group is not without controversy, being accused of functioning like a sect and brainwashing its followers.

This is from the U.S. State Department:

"Upon entry into the group, new members are indoctrinated in MeK ideology and revisionist Iranian history. Members are also required to undertake a vow of "eternal divorce" and participate in weekly "ideological cleansings." Additionally, children are reportedly separated from parents at a young age. MeK leader Maryam Rajavi has established a "cult of personality." She claims to emulate the Prophet Muhammad and is viewed by members as the "Iranian president in exile."

The truth is that the group's ideology has evolved over the years in order to adapt with the region's geopolitical changes. The MeK has gone from being a Marxist organization in the 1960s to becoming more Islamic and feminist. It used clever propaganda -- and in the past, terrorism -- to achieve its goals.

Clawson believes MeK's designation must not be held hostage to "worries about U.S.-Iranian relations, nor should it be a reward for its reports on Iran's nuclear activities."

There have been no reports of terrorist activity by the MeK over the past three years, yet allegations have increased pertaining to the group's non-terrorist activities.

In 2003 French authorities arrested 160 MeK members they believed the MeK was using to coordinate financing and planning attacks. Demanding Rajavi's release, several MeK members took to Paris' streets and engaged in self-immolation. French authorities eventually released Rajavi, who the State Department says is "currently in hiding." (Either she is not hiding well enough or the State Department didn't know where to look, as this correspondent managed to interview her in her house outside Paris just two years ago.)

Clawson points out that "history plays an important part in terrorist designation." When groups renounce terrorism, says Clawson, as has the Palestine Liberation Organization, they should be removed from the terrorist watch list, as was the PLO.

Clawson reported the British position in a recent paper:

"There is no evidence that the (MeK) has at any time since 2003 sought to re-create any form of structure that was capable of carrying out or supporting terrorist acts. There is no evidence of any attempt to 'prepare' for terrorism. There is no evidence of any encouragement to others to commit acts of terrorism. … The above factors, combined with the 5 years that had since passed since the summer of 2001, demanded the conclusion that continued proscription could not be lawfully justified."

Clawson asks that the State Department look at the British example and explain how a group on the terrorist list can get off it. He suggests the decision be based on a "clear set of rules regarding how the U.S. government revokes this kind of designation."

The MeK and its supporters have been campaigning for the same for a number of years.

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(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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