MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian ‘terror cell’ in Albania

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian ‘terror cell’ in Albania

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian 'terror cell' in AlbaniaSuddaf Chaudry, Middle East Eye, December 12 2019:… Gjergj Erebara, a journalist with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, said the press conference – which he attended – was unusual, to say the least. “Albanian police gave no proof to substantiate its claims. They said they have discovered the “terrorist cell”, but they didn’t make any arrests,” Erebara said. Hassan Heyrani, a former high-ranking MEK member who defected from the group in 2017, said he believes the story that the police presented is fabricated. “If it was true, why hasn’t Interpol arrested them? Albania is a very poor country where corruption is rife, police can be bought,” he said. MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian ‘terror cell’ in Albania 

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MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian ‘terror cell’ in Albania

Police said cell planned attacks on exiled Iranian opposition group. Others wonder if Albania is being drawn into US and Israeli fight with Iran

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian 'terror cell' in Albania

Mojahedin-e Khalq members wave Iranian flags from their base in Manza, Albania this July (AFP)

By Suddaf Chaudry

Albanian police recently announced that they had discovered a terror ring, run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which had planned attacks on an exiled Iranian opposition group living in Albania.

“A terrorist cell of the foreign operations unit of Iranian Quds was discovered lately by Albanian intelligence institutions,” Police Director General Ardi Veliu said at a press conference in late October.

The goal of the ring, Veliu said, was to strike the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian opposition group which has been based in Albania for the past three years.

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Names of group members were also released, including Alireza Naghashzadeh, whom Veliu identified as the cell’s operations chief and a member of the Quds Force, the arm of the revolutionary guards which conducts foreign operations.

The ring, he added, had been identified by sources inside it.

But no arrests have been made and Albania has yet to request international arrest warrants for the alleged attackers, leaving local journalists and Iranian dissidents with lingering doubts.

‘If it was true, why hasn’t Interpol arrested them?’
– Hassan Heyrani, former MEK member

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Gjergj Erebara, a journalist with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, said the press conference – which he attended – was unusual, to say the least.

“Albanian police gave no proof to substantiate its claims. They said they have discovered the “terrorist cell”, but they didn’t make any arrests,” Erebara said.

Hassan Heyrani, a former high-ranking MEK member who defected from the group in 2017, said he believes the story that the police presented is fabricated.

“If it was true, why hasn’t Interpol arrested them? Albania is a very poor country where corruption is rife, police can be bought,” he said.

MEE repeatedly asked the Albanian police for further details about the alleged ring, but a spokesperson declined to comment. The Iranian Embassy in Tirana refused to comment.

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Without further detail, some observers say they have been left wondering if the announcement is a sign that the Balkan country is being drawn further into America’s – and Israel’s – fight to overthrow the Iranian government.

From Iran to Albania

Established in 1965 as an Islamist-socialist movement, the MEK rose up against the rule of the Shah of Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but soon ran afoul of new leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Facing a deadly crackdown, the MEK launched attacks on government officials and security forces and eventually was forced to flee the country, first to France and then eventually to Iraq.

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian 'terror cell' in Albania

Massoud Rajavi, who led the MEK until he disappeared in 2003, and his wife Maryam, who now leads the group, seen in Paris in 1985 (AFP)

The group, whose activities have been described as cultish, with a goal of overthrowing the Iranian government using violence and indoctrination, was designated for more than a decade by both the US and the UK as a terrorist organisation.

But in recent years, and as both countries delisted the group, the MEK has become a favourite of anti-Iran hawks in the US and Europe who see it as a weapon against the government in Tehran.

Between 2014 and 2016, at the bequest of the US, at least 2,700 MEK members were resettled in Albania after the group came under attack at Camp Ashraf, the Iraqi refugee camp where they had been living since the mid-1980s.

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These days, the group lives in a fortified camp in the country’s northwest, heavily protected by Albanian authorities.

Covert playground

Analysts say the group’s presence in Albania has raised alarm bells in Tehran and there have been reports that prominent members of the group have been under surveillance globally.

Ruslan Trad, an independent researcher focused on Iranian influence in the Balkans and co-founder of De Re Militari, said he believes Albania is now “a subject of espionage games” between Israel, Iran and the US.

Trad said Iran’s presence in Albania must be understood in the context of Tehran’s activities over the past two decades in the Balkans where it has been quietly establishing a foothold, triggering the concerns of western governments that the conflict with Iran had arrived in their backyard.

A 2012 attack killing five Israeli tourists, a bus driver and the bomber outside the airport in the Bulgarian city of Burgas, which Bulgarian intelligence eventually attributed to Hezbollah, was seen by many analysts as part of the covert war between Iran and Israel. Hezbollah denied its involvement.

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian 'terror cell' in Albania

Buses explode as Albanian investigators reenact 2012 July bombing in Burgas to try to piece together what happened (AFP)

Since then, however, Trad said he believes the Balkans have become an attractive location for Hezbollah, according to locally based Hezbollah members and sympathisers he has interviewed.

“Hezbollah is using Kosovo and Macedonia as a logistic centre and transit path, and Bulgaria as a hub,” he explained. He believes Hezbollah is heavily linked to Balkan mafia circles.

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In turn, the activity has seen the Israelis step up their own operations in the Balkans, he said: “The Albanian authorities are probably cooperating with them.”

US-Albanian ties

Heyrani, the former MEK member who defected, said he believes the main reason Albania has been so supportive of the MEK is a result of the close relations between Albania and the US.

“Albania is under American control and also MEK is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC),” he said, referring to the appearance of MEK members in an AIPAC-funded TV commercial against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

Under Donald Trump’s administration, hawkish support for the MEK has continued, including from now-former security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Bolton praised Albanian President Edi Rama at the end of last year for expelling the Iranian ambassador in Tirana in direct relation to an alleged terror plot targeting MEK members.

Trump wrote a letter acknowledging Albania’s “steadfast efforts to stand up to Iran and to counter its destabilising activities and efforts to silence dissidents around the globe”.

The continued support and safety measures that the Albanian government provides the MEK – now with the added questions about the alleged terror cell – has led many dissidents who have left the group to be concerned about their futures.

MEE spoke to several MEK defectors, several on condition of anonymity, who said they were distressed about what would come next for them, given the government’s stance.

“We just want a normal life, to get married and have a family. We have no citizenship, no passports, no land rights. We came here on humanitarian grounds, but we are treated like criminals,” Heyrani said. “I have no choice but to live here. I can’t go back to Iran. They do not accept us.”

 

Heyrani said that recently his image was splashed on Albanian television where he was described as an enemy of the state.

“They have no evidence, just like the alleged terror plot,” he said. “But here in Albania that is not important.”

End

MEK defectors raise doubts over alleged Iranian ‘terror cell’ in Albania

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Hatred Of Maryam Rajavi And MEK Unites All Iranians Benjamin Weinthal, The Jerusalem Post, October 31 2019:… The institute’s scholar added that “indeed, many Iranians continue to insist that the only thing worse than the regime under which they suffer now would be the MEK.” Rubin, who spent time in Iran during the presidencies of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, wrote that “there was only one item that united Iranians inside Iran: absolute hatred of the Mojahedin e-Khalq (MEK).” The MEK, whose political ideology was founded on a mixture of Marxism and Islamism, trained with the PLO and under the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Hatred Of Maryam Rajavi And MEK Unites All Iranians  

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European paliament members want to sanction Iran for Human Rights

Ryszard Henryk Czarnecki, a Polish MEP, said the “terrorist regime” in Iran shows “no mercy for its citizens.”

A group of lawmakers from the European Parliament on Wednesday recommended linking trade with Iran’s regime to improvements in Tehran’s atrocious human rights record.

Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Alessandra Moretti said at the session in Strasbourg, France, that “Iran is a country where women are imprisoned for being women,” and economic deals with the regime should be “conditioned on respect for human rights.”

FoxNews.com first reported on the lawmakers urging that the EU punish Iran’s clerical regime.

Polish MEP Ryszard Henryk Czarnecki said that the “terrorist regime” in Iran shows “no mercy for its citizens.”

Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar documented the case of an Iranian woman, Sahar Khodayari, often called the “Blue Girl,” after the colors of her favorite soccer club, Esteghlal FC.

Khodayari was charged with “appearing in public without a hijab” after she sought to enter Tehran’s Azadi Stadium dressed as a man so she could view a soccer match last March. In protest against her possible sentence, she lit herself on fire in front of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran in September, and died of her burns a week later.

The Spanish lawmaker said this is “absolutely shocking” and it is a “duty of members of the European Parliament to make the case for women’s rights” in Iran.

Italian MEP Gianna Gancia said that, “representatives of Europe seem only to be interested in business and trade with Iran. The EU Commission should stop relations with Iran and impose sanctions on the regime for violations of human rights. We want democratic change in Iran.”

“The Iranian people do not want this regime,” declared British MEP Anthea McIntyre.

Rama Yade, the former French secretary for human rights, said Iran has become an “open air prison” and the “Iran nuclear agreement does not work.”

The European lawmakers’ demands to sanction Iran’s regime followed a presentation by Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) also known as Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK – holy-war fighters for the people), who introduced a new book published by her organization, titled Crimes Against Humanity.

The book details Iran’s massacre over five months in 1988 of thousands of political prisoners, the majority of whom were from the PMOI. Marxist Iranian prisoners were also executed. Up to 30,000 prisoners are estimated to have been executed.

Hatred Of Maryam Rajavi And MEK Unites All Iranians 

The institute’s scholar added that “indeed, many Iranians continue to insist that the only thing worse than the regime under which they suffer now would be the MEK.” Rubin, who spent time in Iran during the presidencies of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, wrote that “there was only one item that united Iranians inside Iran: absolute hatred of the Mojahedin e-Khalq (MEK).” The MEK, whose political ideology was founded on a mixture of Marxism and Islamism, trained with the PLO and under the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Hatred Of Maryam Rajavi And MEK Unites All Iranians  

The US government classified the PMOI as a terrorist organization in 1997 but removed the designation in 2012.

Writing in The National Interest in March, the American Enterprise Institute’s Iran expert, Dr. Michael Rubin, said: “Herein lies the biggest problem with treating the MEK as anything more than a pariah: because Iranians hate the group for its history, previous actions and past allegiances, the current Islamic Republic will utilize the MEK to delegitimize any movement or group of which they are part.”

Rubin wrote that “what really broke any remaining popular support for the MEK among ordinary Iranians, however, was their embrace of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s regime against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War. For most Iranians, the MEK-Saddam relationship is unforgivable.”

The institute’s scholar added that “indeed, many Iranians continue to insist that the only thing worse than the regime under which they suffer now would be the MEK.”

Rubin, who spent time in Iran during the presidencies of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, wrote that “there was only one item that united Iranians inside Iran: absolute hatred of the Mojahedin e-Khalq (MEK).”

The MEK, whose political ideology was founded on a mixture of Marxism and Islamism, trained with the PLO and under the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

End

Hatred Of Maryam Rajavi And MEK Unites All Iranians 

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