Who are the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran?

Derided by some as a terrorist group, dismissed by others as a cult, the People’s Mujahedin is a secretive organization that has existed on the fringes of Iranian politics for decades.

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, has received strong support from prominent U.S. figures, including President Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton.

Mujahedin-e Khalq members wave Iranian flags during the conference "120 Years of Struggle for Freedom Iran" at the Ashraf-3 camp, which is a base for the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, MEK) in Manza, on July 13, 2019. 

Mujahedin-e Khalq members wave Iranian flags during the conference “120 Years of Struggle for Freedom Iran” at the Ashraf-3 camp, which is a base for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, MEK) in Manza, on July 13, 2019.  (AFP via Getty Images)

Inspired by Marxist ideology, it began in the mid-1960s in opposition to the highly unpopular U.S.-backed Shah of Iran. But the MEK soon came to reject the theocratic regime that replaced him after the 1979 revolution.

The group became increasingly violent, carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations against the Iranian government — actions that caused its popularity to plummet.

By the mid-1980s the group had relocated its headquarters to Iraq, where it received protection under Saddam Hussein.

Despite the U.S. State Department designating the MEK as a foreign terrorist group in the late 1990s, it nonetheless received American protection during the Iraq War.

After American troops began winding down operations in Iraq, the MEK suffered violent recriminations from the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

In 2012, the U.S. removed the MEK from its terrorist list and worked with the United Nations to find an alternative host country. The following year, Albania welcomed the group, hoping to gain favor with Washington.

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Attempts by journalists to gain access to the MEK have remained elusive. Though the group has renounced violence, advocating for the peaceful overthrow of Iran’s theocratic government, some former members have said they were brainwashed.

A New York Times reporter recently gained rare access into the group’s headquarters outside the capital of Albania. He also interviewed former members living in the country who claimed they were forced to renounce romantic relationships and that all sexual thoughts were banned.

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Insiders have denied these claims, arguing that any discipline of thought was necessary to battle the despotic Iranian regime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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