Joseph Hammond, The National Interest, August 15 2016:… Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal is used to being the point man in a difficult situation. In 1979, a group of radical extremists occupied the holy mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi Arabia’s chief spy, was one of the first to arrive in the city. He was nearly shot when a bullet slammed into a door he was opening. In the 1980s, Turki al-Faisal led Saudi efforts in support of the Afghan …
Is Saudi Arabia Pivoting Toward Iranian Radicals?
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal is used to being the point man in a difficult situation. In 1979, a group of radical extremists occupied the holy mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi Arabia’s chief spy, was one of the first to arrive in the city. He was nearly shot when a bullet slammed into a door he was opening. In the 1980s, Turki al-Faisal led Saudi efforts in support of the Afghan mujahedeen in their war against the Soviet occupiers. As ambassador to the United States from 2005–07, Turki al-Faisal was the Saudi point man in Washington during a difficult period in American-Saudi relations. During this tenure he visited thirty-seven states advocating for a robust Saudi-American relationship.
Turki al-Faisal appears to be Riyadh’s point man once again. Last month, the former head of Saudi intelligence called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic at a meeting of the Iranian opposition in Paris. His remarks coupled with recent diplomatic moves signal a new tougher policy toward Iran from Saudi Arabia. Though officially retired from government, no member of the royal family had ever so publicly embraced the Iranian opposition or called for regime change in Tehran.
A Sunni Arab kingdom and a Shia Iranian national liberation organization make unusual alliance partners. Though Saudi Arabia has supported some Shia groups in the Iraq, the evolving MEK-Saudi alliance prove again that realpolitik and geopolitical concerns trump sectarian differences across the Middle East. An estimated audience of one hundred thousand made the trek to a massive hallway (often used for the Paris Air show) to hear him and other speakers at an event. The annual rally is organized by the Iranian opposition group known as the People’s Mujahedeen or more commonly by the English initials: MEK. Turki al-Faisal’s remarks on July 9 were followed on July 30 by a meeting between the head of the MEK and the President of the Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Saudi is large funder of the Palestinian Authority and may have facilitated the meeting.
The seventy-one-year-old native of Mecca used his remarks to condemn Iran’s meddling role in the Middle East. The Saudi royal blamed Iran for much of the region’s troubles. He noted Iran had supported terrorist groups around the globe from religious extremists in the Sudan to the Japanese Red Army, a defunct terrorist group. The large crowd interjected during his speech to chant “The people demand the removal of the regime” a slogan once used by protesters during the Arab Spring on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In the most dramatic and unscripted moment of the speech, Faisal acknowledged the crowd and repeated their wish to have the Iranian regime removed from power. His comments about Iran’s illustrious history during his thirty-minute speech left open the possibility that under a new government Iranian-Saudi relations could resume the more amicable relations of the pre-1979 era.
The conference’s organizers could not have been more pleased. The People’s Mujhadeen of Iran or Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) was founded in 1965 to oppose the Shah with an ideology that freely mixed socialism, Shia Islam and violence against the Shah’s government and its allies. The group was brushed aside by forces loyal to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Following this setback the MEK spent the better part of two decades waging a low-level insurgency against the Iranian government from abroad. By 1988 many of the group’s members had been forced to leave France for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That same year Saddam Hussein supported an abortive MEK invasion of Iran that proved to be the last battle of the Iran–Iraq War. In 1997, the Clinton Administration labelled the MEK a terrorist organization in what was seen as a sop to Iran. In response the MEK renounced violence in 2001. In 2003, the group gave up its remaining arms during the U.S-led invasion of Iraq. During which a few thousand MEK supporters were eventually relocated by the United States to the awkwardly named Camp Liberty where they remain, hoping to be granted asylum elsewhere. In 2012 the United States reversed MEK’s status as a terrorist organization. Iran continues to consider the MEK to be a terrorist organization responsible for thousands of deaths. As such Turki Al-Faisal’s speech in Paris was met with rabid condemnation in Iran. One Iranian media outlet compared Turki Al-Faisal’s speech and Saudi support for the MEK to the earlier MEK–Saddam Hussein alliance.
On July 30, 2016, long-time Saudi ally Mahmoud Abbas met the president of the MEK, Maryam Rajavi. Both Abbas and Rajavi used the event to condemn extremism and fundamentalism in the Middle East. The meeting offered the MEK did its part to make the meeting appear like a meeting of heads of state right down to an all-smiles photo-op. Indeed, the MEK often refers to Rajavi bizarrely as the “president-elect” of the Iranian Opposition.
Saudi Arabia is a longtime sponsor of the Palestinian Authority and may have facilitated the meeting which offered a chance to undermine Iranian influence in Palestine. Valiolla Nanvakenari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, deplored the meeting “Backing the [MEK] terrorist group in any sort by any institution or country whatsoever runs counter to international norms and regulations and draws the Iranian people’s ire.” Hossein Sheikholeslam, an advisor to FM Mohammad Javad Zarif, went further calling Abbas a CIA agent and claiming, “Mahmoud Abbas has had secret ties with terrorist groups and Israelis, and now these relations are being disclosed” comments that resulted in an official rebuke from Fatah on their website.
The extent to which the MEK maintains intelligence operatives within Iran is unclear. Other than a string of mysterious fires at petrochemical facilities, there is little evidence of an ongoing sabotage campaign. What is clear is a new Saudi willingness to confront what its perceived Iranian threat more directly. The two regional powers support opposing factions across the Middle East from Lebanon to Bahrain. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia floated the idea of sending ground troops to Syria and currently is conducting military operations against Iranian supported militants in Yemen.
It also marks a personal redirection for Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi point man. As ambassador to the United States a decade ago, he publicly advocated for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, telling one American reporter “We talk to Iran all the time, why can’t you?” As the region’s politics continue to change, Saudi Arabia is now talking to new friends.
Joseph Hammond is a freelance journalist who has reported from the Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia. He is a former Cairo correspondent for Radio Free Europe and a Fulbright fellow with the government of Malawi. He tweets at @TheJosephH.
Nathalie Goulet: Supporting Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) waste of time and energy
Trend News, July 27 2016:… Coming to MKO’s meeting in France and participating of a former top Saudi official there, Goulet said that “we always encourage the countries in the region to establish closer relationship for more enduring regional peace. The recent gathering of exiled Iranian terrorist group in France known as MKO and presence of some Saudi figures hopefully shall not be interpreted as position of current administration of KSA” …
Nathalie Goulet: Saudis, Iran must resume dialogue; Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) a big imposture
Baku, Azerbaijan, July 25
By Dalga Khatinoglu – Trend:
Tehran and Riyadh have to make effort to bear each other and restart a dialogue, Nathalie Goulet, vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Senate told Trend.
Recently, the long-escalated relations between Tehran and Riyadh worsened after participating of Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi former intelligence chief, in Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization’s (MKO) annual meeting the in Le Bourget, near Paris on July 9.
MKO is considered a terrorist group by Iran because of its history of assassinations and bombings against Iranian authorities and for siding with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, which resulted in about a million casualties from the Iranian side.
“The most challenging issue is to restore trust and get rid of irrational fears or feeling of superiority between Iran and Saudi. The world security needs both KSA and Iran,” Goulet said.
Saudi Arabia’s important role in Middle East peace
Goulet said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was known as a major oil producing country in the world and stayed out of the limelight before the Gulf War.
“When Saddam Hussein targeted Saudi Arabia in retaliation to the US offensive, the Kingdom was alarmed that it needed better defensive measures. The regional events after the new millennium encouraged the Kingdom to take on a more active role in the region. The economic power of the country grew steadily and helped the Kingdom to establish itself as one of the major players in the region,” said the senator said.
She added that with the current administration in Saudi Arabia and their desire to play a more constructive role in regional peace and stability, France welcomes such efforts.
“France and the Kingdom remain good partners in fighting terrorism worldwide and are determined to uproot this global disease. Of course we do have other partners in the region, sharing the same goal and we will work hard to create a stronger and stable consensus to speed up the counter terrorism efforts,” said Goulet.
Riyad is a member of US-led coalition in fight against Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and Iran also helps Iraq and Syria to battle against this group separately.
Goulet said that France welcomes the true efforts of KSA to control financing of terrorism, however, it’s obvious that restoring peace and security in the Middle East will not come overnight.
She added that as the guardian of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, KSA has to play a major role in fighting Islamic extremism.
“I had the chance and the privilege to meet HRH Muhammed Bin Salman and Foreign Minister Al Jaiber in Paris. I fully trust their will to be successful in their vision of KSA 2030. Our standards are really far from KSA’s rules and regulation. More cooperation will help a lot to achieve the goals,” she said.
Supporting MKO – waste of time and energy
Coming to MKO’s meeting in France and participating of a former top Saudi official there, Goulet said that “we always encourage the countries in the region to establish closer relationship for more enduring regional peace. The recent gathering of exiled Iranian terrorist group in France known as MKO and presence of some Saudi figures hopefully shall not be interpreted as position of current administration of KSA”.
Members of the MKO fled to Iraq in 1986, where they enjoyed the support of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and set up Camp Ashraf near the Iranian border in Diyala.
The group has carried out numerous terrorist acts against Iranian civilians and government officials. The terror organization is also known to have cooperated with Saddam in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and the massacre of Iraqi Kurds in the north.
Goulet said that the MKO is a big imposture and tries to appear as a solution for a replacement of Iranian regime.
“Anyone involved in the regional policy knows that MKO has no foot print inside Iran and have in fact acted as mercenaries against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. Even if you dislike the Iranian regime, supporting the MKO will not help to get a new regime. No one in Iran will support MKO as it betrayed this country by supporting Iraq during a terrible war,” Goulet said.
She added that supporting MKO will just bring more solidarity among Iranian people and will create more misunderstanding between the two nations. “It is big waste of time and money,” she added.
Clinton-Albania deal ensures MEK (Rajavi cult) members stay as terrorists
Massoud Khodabandeh, Top Topics, April 18 2016:… This means that when people like Bidi and Rastar choose to reject membership of this terrorist group, they not only face the wrath of the MEK – which has promised to kill Bidi in particular because he is so vocal about this predicament – but they are also left destitute because the state doesn’t recognise them except as members of that terrorist group. After the UNHCR pulled the plug on its support, Bidi …
Clinton-Albania deal ensures MEK (Rajavi cult) members stay as terrorists
When is a terrorist, who is not a terrorist, still a terrorist?
The answer to this complicated riddle can be surprisingly simple: When they are forced to remain in a terrorist group because there is no safe way for them to escape.
There is an ongoing debate in Europe and North America about how defectors from terrorism should be treated as they try to return to their homes in the West. Some say that on security grounds they should be either banned from re-entry or prosecuted and where possible imprisoned as an example to others. Others, usually practitioners who understand that deceptive recruitment is a huge factor in people’s involvement in terrorism, advocate for a more humanitarian and redemptive approach: allow these people home, albeit with severe restrictions imposed on their lives and activities, and get them to undergo re-programming.
What this debate does not address, however, is just how possible it is to actually escape a terrorist group in the first place. If you are in Raqqa, how do you step outside the group and remain safe?
In this context the fate of a handful of Iranians, stranded in Albania without any financial support or accommodation and unable to access refugee services, shines a spotlight on this aspect of the West’s approach to terrorism.
It would be easy to dismiss former MEK members Ehsan Bidi and Siavosh Rastar’s case as a local, individual problem. But when we look in more detail, it has everything to do with whether America and the West are complicit in forcing people to remain in terrorist groups because we do not see the need to help them leave at all. Certainly this is not a solution to terrorism – Plan B: get them all to leave – but a more facilitating approach toward genuine defectors could be a major factor in undermining the hold such groups have on their members.
Three years ago, Ehsan Bidi was brought to Albania along with other members of the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK). But Bidi was already a separated member when he arrived; it had just not been possible for him to escape them while in Iraq. As soon as he arrived he left them. Since then, he had been living on a small financial contribution from the UNHCR along with basic accommodation which they had provided. Suddenly at the end of March this year all this support ended. He and others like him were left destitute.
What Bidi and another handful of defectors didn’t know was that under the 2013 deal struck between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the then Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, the MEK members transferred to Tirana from Camp Liberty in Iraq would not be given official UN refugee status and would be dependent on Maryam Rajavi’s MEK for all their accommodation and costs while in Albania. Amazingly, neither the government of Albania nor the UNHCR has any obligation to treat them as refugees. All of these people are being transferred not as refugees but as the active members of a terrorist entity. In fact, part of the deal struck by Clinton was that the MEK would be removed from the US terrorism list specifically to allow this deal even though every active member remains radicalised to the core and capable of committing acts of terrorism.
This means that when people like Bidi and Rastar choose to reject membership of this terrorist group, they not only face the wrath of the MEK – which has promised to kill Bidi in particular because he is so vocal about this predicament – but they are also left destitute because the state doesn’t recognise them except as members of that terrorist group. After the UNHCR pulled the plug on its support, Bidi and the others were told ‘you must ask Rajavi to allow you back in the MEK or ask the Iranian embassy to send you back to Iran’. Clearly an impossible choice. It is a conundrum which was created by America and must be resolved by America.
A similar situation arose in Iraq after 2003 when the MEK were captured, disarmed and kept in Camp Ashraf. Within weeks the American army was being approached by defectors begging them for help to escape the clutches of the cult. After trying to send them back or ignore them, the army was eventually obliged, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to establish a separate Temporary Internment and Protection Facility (TIPF) within their own compound to house the defectors. This allowed many others to escape and return to their families and to civilian life.
It is necessary now for the American administration to acknowledge that it has the same obligation toward the people it transferred to Albania under Clinton’s 2013 deal. It must give them the same opportunity to leave the MEK as was granted to people while in Iraq. Safe, alternative accommodation and social support must be given to those who, on principle, reject membership of a terrorist group. It’s almost unthinkable that this isn’t happening already.But while nobody imagines that in among the chaos of war in the Middle East and the massive refugee crisis that has engulfed Western countries, there can be a TIPF or something similar for ex-terrorists, we also know that Daesh kills defectors. They do this under the principle of ownership – we own our fighters and can dispose of them as we see fit.
In this case, if we stand by and allow Daesh, like the MEK, to dictate the conditions of how a defector is treated without making any effort to facilitate their safe exit, if we cannot offer a helping hand to those who wish to redeem themselves, then we are no better than the terrorists ourselves.
Khodabandeh: It would be wrong to ignore the Mojahedin in Albania
Deutsche Welle (Albanian), March 14 2016:… The actual risk to Albania will be if the MEK is not disbanded as a group. Disbanding means that each refugee should be treated as an individual. They must be de-radicalised and then integrated back into normal society as ordinary citizens with homes and jobs and families. The MEK must not be allowed to re-organise as a quasi-military group. Clearly, Albania is not as strong as western European countries in this respect and so the process …
(Translated by Iran Interlink)
Khodabandeh: It would be wrong to ignore the Mojahedin in Albania
March 13, 2016
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton) British journalist, Director of Open Minds cultandterror.com former Mojahedin Khalq activist, says their transfer poses potential risks not only for Albania.
Deutsche Welle: Ms. Khodabandeh you are of the opinion that Albania’s agreement to take a further number of Mojahedin is associated with some risk. The international media talks about another 2,000 more Mojahedin going to Albania. What risk do they pose?
Anne Khodabandeh: There are many other NATO countries where the MEK could have gone, but only Albania agreed to accept the refugees. It would have been much better to have distributed the refugees among several countries instead of leaving Albania to take the whole burden. However, the move is very welcome since these people have to be moved somewhere for their own safety. Now they have a better chance of escaping their past and starting new lives as ordinary civilians.
The actual risk to Albania will be if the MEK is not disbanded as a group. Disbanding means that each refugee should be treated as an individual. They must be de-radicalised and then integrated back into normal society as ordinary citizens with homes and jobs and families. The MEK must not be allowed to re-organise as a quasi-military group. Clearly, Albania is not as strong as western European countries in this respect and so the process will be more difficult. But if it is done, then the country can take full credit for doing something not even the USA or the European Union could achieve.
DW: In one of your articles, you write that this is the relocation of terrorist group into Europe. Do you really think that a terrorist risk to Europe could come from Albania?
AK: It is important to remember that every member of the MEK who is relocated into Albania has been radicalised to the core. They have been undergoing terrorist training for up to thirty years in Iraq. They will not suddenly change just because the MEK name is removed from a list of terrorist groups or if they physically move to another country. They are still terrorists. Many have been highly trained by Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Guards Corps in specialist activities – from bomb making and terrorist strategies, to intelligence gathering and torture. The MEK is credited with inventing the suicide mission back in the 1970s.
DW: What do you think Albania should do?
AK: It would be a mistake for the Albanian authorities to dismiss the MEK as a defunct force simply because many of its members are old or ailing. They may not be a fighting force but they certainly have transferable skills and experience in terrorist training and logistics. These could be very useful to other terrorist organisations. The MEK has people who are experts in money laundry, people trafficking, fraud and corruption.
The location of Albania in the far south east of Europe makes it attractive as a gateway country into Europe. Without scrupulous vigilance the MEK camp could become a staging post for other terrorist leaders and commanders as well as acting as a terrorist training base.
DW: After the Mojahedin was removed from the list of terrorist organisations they could be said to be seen as allies of the Americans as they fought against Saddam Hussein. Is this fact not sufficient to exclude the possibility that they may pose a risk?
AK: The MEK have never been considered as actual allies by any western government. These governments may have benefitted from the MEK’s violent anti-Iran activities and have turned a blind eye to the support given to the group by various interest groups, but the MEK has never had governmental support except from Saddam Hussein. He paid and trained the MEK in terrorism for regime change in Iran. Expert US and EU assessment still regards the MEK as a ‘potential’ threat to Western interests.
DW: It is said that the Mojahedin Khalq helped in the fight against terrorism, why doesn’t the government in Iraq want them in their country?
AK: The MEK, referred to as Saddam’s Private Army, was responsible for the deaths of 25,000 Iraqi citizens, particularly among Kurds in the north and Shia populations in the south. For this reason, the group has many enemies in the country and their safety cannot be guaranteed.
After Saddam’s ouster, the MEK declared itself a friend to the US army and was disarmed. Over several years, Iraq’s security forces have gathered information which shows that the MEK still poses a threat to peace and stability in the country through its active support and help for insurrection forces linked to both Al Qaida and more recently Daesh.
DW: In Albania until now, they have live peacefully. Why could they be a threat to Albania right now?
AK: It is known that the MEK leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi are planning to establish a safe haven for themselves in Albania along with the majority of the members. They want to recreate the closed society which they have used elsewhere – in Iraq, North America and Europe – that allows them to operate outside normal legal constraints. In Albania they seek to exploit the relatively weak state of the country’s governmental, security and social institutions in order to establish an extra-judicial enclave of their own.
DW: In Albania the Mojahedin Khalq live as political refugees. As such they are included in the legal framework of the country.
AK: It is not possible to be both a political refugee and a member of a terrorist organisation. At present, because the MEK has not been disbanded, each person who arrives in Albania is still a de facto member of the MEK terrorist group, regardless of the status under which they were transferred. Their refugee status is nullified as long as they are living in MEK accommodation and obeying MEK rules. The Albanian authorities must not ignore the fact that these people are victims of cultic abuse and are living in conditions of modern slavery. No ordinary member is allowed to make independent contact with the outside world. The MEK leaders claim to represent the views and wishes of the entire membership but when they arrived in Albania about 200 of them left. This is something which humanitarian organisations, both international and local, need to urgently address. The MEK must not be allowed to close the doors against the outside world and must not prevent the people transferred from Iraq from contacting their families and the outside world.
DW: You were once a Mojahedin activist. Why did you leave them?
AK: Yes, this happened [recruitment and radicalisation] when I was in university after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. I was young and naiive. They said they were fighting for human rights in Iran, but as I got deeper inside the organisation, I saw the atmosphere of fear and secrecy. I realized they were not fighting to liberate Iran from tyranny, as they claim, but only working to save the leaders. So, I left.
British expert, Anne Khodabendeh, director of the popular online platform cultsandterror.com Open Minds, herself a former activist of the organization the Mujahedin, launched a campaign in 2001 to help the victims of the cult. In 2011 she published the book ‘The Life of Camp Ashraf’, named after the main Iraqi base of the Mojahedin Khalq. Today she works as part of the Prevent Strategy to prevent radicalization and violent extremism in Britain.