Inside Story Americas
'Paid' to support Iranian terrorists
Why are top US officials openly lobbying for Mujahedin-e Khalq despite its designation as a terrorist group?
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2012 13:15

Since its creation in 1997 the US list of terrorist organisations has included the Iranian group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

"It is a criminal offence, a felony to have any transactions with this group, let alone to provide material support… if you coordinate advocacy on behalf of that group. There are lots of Muslims sitting in prison…for doing far less..."

- Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and former civil rights lawyer

The group's supporters say they are Iran's democratic opposition, working for a nuclear-free Iran. But critics argue they have a violent history that dates back to the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Most members of the group now live in an Iraqi refugee camp.

Unlike other designated terrorist organisations, the MEK enjoys the support of many high-profile US officials, including Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor; John Bolton, the former US envoy to the UN; James Woolsey, the former CIA director; and Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security.

They have travelled around the US and the world, giving speeches advocating the MEK's removal from the US terrorist list.

Below are excerpts from some of the speeches:

Tom Ridge: "They do not belong on the list. They're not a terrorist organisation. Take them off the list".

John Bolton: "I don't think that organisations should be put on that list for political purposes as the MEK was in 1997. I don't think organisations should be kept on that list as the MEK was in 2008 for political purposes. I think the facts should be allowed to fall where they may."

Rudy Giuliani: "We will stand up for them, we are with them as if we are in that camp with them today. Whatever they do to them, they do to us."

"The treasury should get to the bottom of finding out where the money is coming from. If this is being done in coordination with the MEK, a crime has been committed then somebody ought to be convicted...but I don't know if that's the case [here]."

- Patrick Clawson, Iran analyst at the Washington Institute

Now the US Treasury Department has launched an inquiry into whether these officials are being paid by the MEK to speak, which would be a violation of US laws.

So why are so many high-ranking US politicians and former officials openly backing the MEK despite their designation as a terrorist group?

Is it even legal? And why has it taken so long for the US government to ask the same question?

Joining Inside Story Americas with Lisa Fletcher to discuss this are: Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and former civil rights lawyer; Reza Marashi, the research director at the National Iranian American Council; and Patrick Clawson, the research director and Iran analyst at the Washington Institute.

"When the MEK was put on the terrorist list in 1997 by Martin Indyk he said in his book 'we decided to put the MEK as a designated terrorist organisation not because they were pro- or anti-American but because they were [one] without a shadow of a doubt...'"

Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council

Who is MEK?

  • Founded in 1965 by Islamic-Marxist students, the group helped to overthrow the Iranian government in 1979, prompting a clampdown following the revolution.
  • Many members are refugees in both Iraq and France.
  • Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, used them for attacks against Iran and the Kurds.
  • The US disarmed them following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the MEK agreed to in exchange for protection.
  • The US turned over MEK refugees to the Iraqi government in 2011.
  • The group's leaders continue to live and operate in France.
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