A family drama playing out in Albania has caught the attention of media and public opinion. But this is no ordinary drama. It is the story of Iranian born Mostafa and Mahboubeh Mohammadi, who are Canadian citizens and their twenty-one-year struggle to rescue their daughter from a dangerous terrorist cult.
In 1997, Somayeh and her brother Mohammad, were deceptively recruited into the violent extremist group, Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Somayeh was seventeen. They travelled to Iraq for a two week visit to the MEK training camp, and never returned home. Their parents were supporters of MEK and at first simply appealed directly to the group’s leaders for their children’s return to their studies and family. MEK ignored their requests.
It wasn’t until the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003 that Mostafa was able to travel to Iraq independently of MEK and reach out to his children. He managed to rescue Mohammad and bring him back to Canada. But Somayeh was under constant supervision by MEK commanders who used coercive control to confuse and intimidate the girl. She was afraid to leave, even though she had written several times to the US Marines guarding the camp asking for help.
Her parents made repeated attempts to meet freely with Somayeh, so they could reassure her of her future with them in Canada. MEK closed all doors to them and in doing so, alienated a whole family which had been ardent supporters. Mostafa had even volunteered to take part in the MEK orchestrated self-immolations in 2003 to protest the arrest in Paris of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi. He was only saved when a friend snatched the lighter from his hand after Mostafa had doused himself in petrol. Now, instead of returning Somayeh to Canada and having a family of active supporters for their cause, MEK has destroyed the life of a young woman and broken the hearts of her family.
Somayeh was brought to Albania with another 3,000 MEK after Iraq expelled the terrorist group. From their first arrival in Tirana in 2013, MEK members frightened ordinary citizens with their intimidatory behaviour. Intense and forceful but somehow disengaged, MEK members swept through the capital like a plague. In place of a de-radicalization programme, the Americans in charge of them allowed them to retreat behind the closed walls of a purpose-built terrorist training camp in a rural town, Manez in the district of Durres. In spite of this, over four hundred have managed to escape the group and are willing to endure hardship rather than continue to associate with MEK. One recent escapee described conditions inside MEK as “slavery”.
In this context, Mostafa and Mahboubeh are now in Tirana making another attempt to meet their daughter. This time, without the presence of MEK minders. They have appealed to the Albanian authorities to help them. They refused.
Instead, MEK has been allowed to go berserk, instigating a campaign of propaganda and intimidation that has created a real crisis for the country; for its citizens, its government and its security and law enforcement services.
Albanian media presents this as a family dispute. But there is no equivalence between the ordinary parents from Canada and the people who are surrounding Somayeh. These are people whose background reveals how dangerous they are. So that when the Albanian police are called to an incidence of public disorder, they are not expecting nor are they quipped through training or resources to deal with radicalised violent extremists trained by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, many with blood on their hands. Yet this is what the government has imposed on them. Even the security and intelligence services of Albania are inadequately prepared to deal with the criminal unpredictability and unaccountability of MEK.
The MEK commanders and agents involved in delivering MEK’s version of Somayeh’s story are as follows:
The female commander, Jila Deyhim, was recruited as a student at Manchester University in the UK at the time of Iran’s 1979 Revolution. Her husband Ahmad Shadbakhti was killed in an armed clash with security forces in Tehran. Jila left their daughter in the UK to be raised by her brother Khosro Deyhim (aka Haji) in Newcastle Upon Tyne while she went to join MEK in Iraq.
Jila is the head of MEK Operations in Tirana. As well as being present when two MEK operatives publicly assaulted Mostafa in a street in Tirana, she organised for over 60 MEK to surround Police Station 4 in Tirana while two arrested MEK members were being questioned by police. Afterwards, JIla sent the 60 MEK to spread through the city to hunt down and intimidate and beat up ex-MEK members. (Local police officers, used to dealing with ordinary crimes and criminals, were so shocked by the MEK behaviour that they wrote to the Interior Ministry saying they are not equipped to deal with sixty potential suicide bombers and to ask that the security forces in charge of MEK make sure the police will not have to deal with these ‘guests of the state’ again.)
Historically, Jila served as a commander during the Kurdish massacres – Operation Morvarid (Pearl) in 1991 – as well as many other operations. Witnesses have given further testimony of her torturing and killing disaffected members in MEK/Saddam Hussein prisons in Camp Ashraf. Jila ‘graduated’ as a highly trained intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein’s security service. In addition, she undertook field training, tank driving, basic combat and SWAT command.
Homayoun Deyhim – in the pink shirt assaulting Mostafa Mohammadi – is a brother of Jila. He studied Electrical Engineering in Newcastle University in the UK just before the Revolution. During the Revolution he went to India to study for an MSC. In India he worked for MEK, but was later recruited by Jila to go to Iraq.
Homayoun never achieved any significant rank, working mostly in the technical and repair departments. But he is famous inside MEK for agreeing to do anything to get promoted. Hence, on many occasions he was involved in punitive beating and humiliating of other members in Camp Ashraf. Homayoun undertook basic military training and Republican Guards operations training.
In Police Station 4 in Tirana after his arrest for assaulting Mostafa, Jila instructed Homayoun to claim that Mostafa had attacked him. They did not know at that time that there was videoed evidence from the scene which shows what actually happened.
Behzad Saffari from Isfahan went to the UK to study dentistry He was recruited by MEK and sent to Iraq after Rajavi moved there. He was injured in operation Eternal Light (Forough Javidan) in 1988 and brought back to London to recover before being sent back to Iraq. Witnesses allege that Behzad was involved in beatings in MEK prisons. Behzad cheated his family out of their life savings – which he gave to MEK – by falsely claiming to have left the organisation. His father sent money to family members in Canada, but it ended up in MEK accounts in the UK.
Behzad was involved in liaising with the UNHCR during the transfer process from Iraq to Albania. Former members recount how the UNHCR gave each individual 100 USD for the journey and after their arrival. When the members arrived in Tirana airport, Behzad took the $100 from each one of them and gave them one hundred Albanian LEK as local currency (around one US dollar).
Behzad is currently involved with the teams harassing ex-members and journalists in Tirana. Behzad Saffari is liaising with the MEK lawyer and answers to Jila Deyhim.
Ahmad Taba (aka Akbar), was a student in UMIST (Manchester) at the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. He was recruited by MEK to work in London and was then transferred to Iraq after Massoud Rajavi went there.
Ahmad was trained as a helicopter pilot by the Iraqi Army. He graduated from training by Saddam’s Republican Guards, which included guerrilla war and SWAT tactics. He also underwent a 9-month course with Saddam’s Mukhabarat, from which he graduated as an Intelligence officer. He killed many civilians in the Kurdish attacks and there are witnesses connecting him to the torture of prisoners in Camp Ashraf.
Somayeh Mohammadi herself has not left the MEK camps in Iraq or Albania for twenty-one years. She has no idea about what is happening in the outside world. It is incomprehensible that a woman who claims to be freely pursuing a political struggle for violent regime change against Iran is incapable of meeting alone with her parents to tell them face to face of her decision. Her parents, who know her so well, say it is clear she is afraid and not acting freely when she speaks out against them. Surrounded by the above MEK characters, it is clear that she is under control and is unable to speak or act for herself in any meaningful way. This is not a family dispute, Somayeh is a hostage.
Under the pressure of coercive control, experts can easily recognise in Somayeh a victim who, in the hands of MEK, has been forced to the edge of a cliff over which she may be pushed or fall. If it is subsequently reported that she has disappeared, committed suicide, drowned in a reservoir or otherwise come to harm, there can be no doubt that the government of Albania must be held accountable. She cannot save herself from harm, yet the possibility of MEK harming her is very high. She is in great danger.
Albania may be a failed state, but it is not a rogue state like Saddam’s Iraq. It is a state with pretensions to joining the European Union. The government can and should be held accountable for whatever happens to Somayeh Mohammadi. The way to prevent such an outcome is to step in and separate her from her captors.