Politicians and experts gathered in the European Parliament last week to discuss the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) threat to Albania.
Albania, a small NATO country in the Balkans, has found itself increasingly coerced against its own political will into taking positions alien to its national interests.
That coercion has come indirectly from the Americans through the agency of the discredited Mojahedin Khalq terrorist organisation (MEK) also known as the Rajavi Cult. The MEK has been present in Albania since 2013 when they were transferred from Iraq under a secret agreement between the American and Albanian governments and MEK leaders. Under this deal, the UNHCR agreed to move them while the MEK agreed to ‘behave’ and pay their own expenses. The Americans said they would establish a De-Radicalization Institute – a prelude to bringing more ‘terrorists’ in future. The budget languishes unspent with the American embassy in Tirana. Instead, by the end of 2016, there were 2,745 radicalized MEK in Albania who have re-grouped in a closed, isolated paramilitary training camp they named Camp Ashraf Three, to resume their anti-Iran activities unhindered.
Calling for regime change against another country is a criminal offence in Albania. But this has not stopped the MEK from doing exactly this. They have even drafted in several American supporters – John Bolton, John McCain, Rudi Giuliani – to come and add ‘veracity’ to their claim to be ready to overthrow the Iranian government from Albania. This is a problem not least because Albania is a peaceful country which, after its emergence from the controls of Soviet Russia, is proud of its religious tolerance and freedom of speech. Albania has also enjoyed a long history of shared traditional and cultural links with Iran. In the febrile atmosphere of US-Russia tensions, provoking enmity against Iran is not in Albania’s national interests at all.
In this context, experts on the MEK and political representatives from Albania gathered in the European Parliament on Tuesday 10th April, as MEPs Ana Gomes and Patricia Lalonde hosted a round-table meeting titled ‘Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) threat in Albania’ to discuss the problem.
Ms Gomes had called for an open debate but had to inform delegates that over thirty of her colleagues had signed an MEK instigated letter demanding the meeting should not go ahead. Ms Gomes denounced this approach saying that with the JCPOA in place and with an eye to the human rights situation in Iran, it is vital for the European Parliament to engage in dialogue with and about the Islamic Republic of Iran, even though it is obvious both sides will have very different opinions and views. The MEK are profoundly undemocratic and certainly do not believe in freedom of speech. That they are able to influence political behaviour in the EUP to try to silence MEPs is totally unacceptable.
Above: Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) Threat in Albania – Ana Gomes MEP
Indeed, none of the MEK’s lobbyists turned up for the debate. MEP Gérard Deprez, Chair of the Friends of a Free Iran in the European Parliament (affiliated to the MEK), who claims to have gathered over 200 signatures from fellow MEPs in favour of the MEK, was unable or unwilling to join the debate. When asked by MEPs to give the names of the signatories, he refused to do so.
Nicola Pedde, director of the Rome based Institute for Global Studies, described a similar situation in Italy. “When the MEK and Maryam Rajavi had free access to the Italian parliament, invited by various government agencies, they gathered signatures from around 70% of MPs. But after interviewing these members it was found that most MPs did not remember signing or what they signed for. Only five members deliberately supported the MEK. There was misuse of members’ ignorance on Iran issues. Such letters were used to increase the MEK’s infiltration inside institutions where they could toxify the bilateral relations and debate between the Italian Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The MEK are replicating these methods in Albania; approaching MPs, media and opinion makers and influencing them with information which is “produced in a way to derail the interests of the country toward the Iranian government”. What Pedde calls “the toxification of political debate on Iran”.
But the problems for Albania are not limited to politics. According to an Albanian police report “…Iranian asylum seekers from [MEK]… could pose implications to our internal security, as these individuals are deeply indoctrinated, have been part of military structures, and have participated in fighting a war and in acts of terror.” Historian Olsi Jazexhi pointed out, “the MEK calls for jihad against a foreign country. According to the Albanian penal code, the MEK is unequivocally a terrorist organisation in my country.”
A fundamental difficulty in dealing with the MEK is that they are unaccountable. “We don’t know who they are or exactly how many there are”, said Anne Khodabandeh, a UK De-Radicalization consultant. “In 2003, the US army detained 3,800 MEK in Iraq. The UNHCR brought 2,901 to Albania. A now outdated report by the Albanian police accounts for 2,465 members. Since then, more have left or died. Yet their American lobbyist Senator Robert Torricelli claims there are 4,000 of them in Camp Ashraf Three. Where did the extras come from?”
According to Albanian lawyer, Migena Balla who helps former MEK members, the MEK do not have UN refugee status either from Iraq or in Albania. The Albanian state does not give them right to residence or work permits. They are, in effect, stateless. Even the International Organisation for Migration will not take responsibility for them. This picture is hugely complicated because when the UNHCR registered individuals in Iraq prior to transfer, the MEK deliberately used false names and identities – using borrowed and faked passports. We really don’t actually know who they are.
The MEK not only fake information, but identities too. This means the MEK can move members around without detection. The larger amorphous group also provides cover for around fifty highly radicalized members who are ‘deeply indoctrinated’, trained and willing to kill and die to order in pursuit of the MEK’s regime change agenda.
In a country notorious for corruption and with serious security and economic problems, the unaccountability of the MEK allows them unprecedented influence. This group, whether in Albania or Europe, is a danger to political debate, to civil society and to its own members. Olsi Jazexhi told delegates in the debate, “Europe is pluralistic and democratic and strong. We Albanians have come to ask for your help in dealing with the MEK”. But, if the MEK is not accountable to anybody, and nobody will take responsibility for the MEK, how will Europe answer?
Cover photo: Maryam Rajavi welcomes a distinguished delegation including John R. Bolton from US -Grand Gathering for a Free Iran. Paris, July 1, 2017