United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah

      The State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Terrorism cites the Mujahadin-E Khalq and Jundallah as two groups that have carried out terrorist operations against the Iranian regime. Excerpts on the two groups:

The Mujahadin-E Khalq Organization (MEK)
       Description: The Mujahadin-E Khalq Organization (MEK) was originally designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. The MEK is a Marxist-Islamic Organization that seeks the overthrow of the Iranian regime through its military wing, the National Liberation Army (NLA), and its political front, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
 
       The MEK was founded in 1963 by a group of college-educated Iranian Marxists who opposed the country’s pro-western ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The group participated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that replaced the Shah with a Shiite Islamist regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini. However, the MEK’s ideology – a blend of Marxism, feminism, and Islamism – was at odds with the post-revolutionary government, and its original leadership was soon executed by the Khomeini regime. In 1981, the group was driven from its bases on the Iran-Iraq border and resettled in Paris, where it began supporting Iraq in its eight-year war against Khomeini’s Iran. In 1986, after France recognized the Iranian regime, the MEK moved its headquarters to Iraq, which facilitated its terrorist activities in Iran. Since 2003, roughly 3,400 MEK members have been encamped at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
 
       Activities: The group’s worldwide campaign against the Iranian government uses propaganda and terrorism to achieve its objectives. During the 1970s, the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. In 1972, the MEK set off bombs in Tehran at the U.S. Information Service office (part of the U.S. Embassy), the Iran-American Society, and the offices of several U.S. companies to protest the visit of President Nixon to Iran. In 1973, the MEK assassinated the deputy chief of the U.S. Military Mission in Tehran and bombed several businesses, including Shell Oil. In 1974, the MEK set off bombs in Tehran at the offices of U.S. companies to protest the visit of then U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger. In 1975, the MEK assassinated two U.S. military officers who were members of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group in Tehran. In 1976, the MEK assassinated two U.S. citizens who were employees of Rockwell International in Tehran. In 1979, the group claimed responsibility for the murder of an American Texaco executive. Though denied by the MEK, analysis based on eyewitness accounts and MEK documents demonstrates that MEK members participated in and supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and that the MEK later argued against the early release the American hostages. The MEK also provided personnel to guard and defend the site of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, following the takeover of the Embassy.
 
       In 1981, MEK leadership attempted to overthrow the newly installed Islamic regime; Iranian security forces subsequently initiated a crackdown on the group. The MEK instigated a bombing campaign, including an attack against the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister’s office, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. These attacks resulted in an expanded Iranian government crackdown that forced MEK leaders to flee to France. For five years, the MEK continued to wage its terrorist campaign from its Paris headquarters. Expelled by France in 1986, MEK leaders turned to Saddam Hussein’s regime for basing, financial support, and training. Near the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, Baghdad armed the MEK with heavy military equipment and deployed thousands of MEK fighters in suicidal, mass wave attacks against Iranian forces.
 
       The MEK’s relationship with the former Iraqi regime continued through the 1990s. In 1991, the group reportedly assisted the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and consular missions in 13 countries, including against the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In June 1998, the MEK was implicated in a series of bombing and mortar attacks in Iran that killed at least 15 and injured several others. The MEK also assassinated the former Iranian Minister of Prisons in 1998. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key Iranian military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi.
 
       In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during “Operation Great Bahman” in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One attack included a mortar attack against a major Iranian leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. The attack killed one person and injured six other individuals. In March 2000, the MEK launched mortars into a residential district in Tehran, injuring four people and damaging property. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved in regular mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids against Iranian military and law enforcement personnel, as well as government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border. Following an initial Coalition bombardment of the MEK’s facilities in Iraq at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, MEK leadership negotiated a cease-fire with Coalition Forces and surrendered their heavy-arms to Coalition control. Since 2003, roughly 3,400 MEK members have been encamped at Ashraf in Iraq.
 
       In 2003, French authorities arrested 160 MEK members at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks. Upon the arrest of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, MEK members took to Paris’ streets and engaged in self-immolation. French authorities eventually released Rajavi.
 
       Strength: Estimates place MEK’s worldwide membership at between 5,000 and 10,000 members, with large pockets in Paris and other major European capitals. In Iraq, roughly 3,400 MEK members are gathered at Camp Ashraf, the MEK’s main compound north of Baghdad. As a condition of the 2003 cease-fire agreement, the MEK relinquished more than 2,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery.
 
        Location/Area of Operation: The MEK’s global support structure remains in place, with associates and supporters scattered throughout Europe and North America. Operations have targeted Iranian government elements across the globe, including in Europe and Iran. The MEK’s political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a global support network with active lobbying and propaganda efforts in major Western capitals. NCRI also has a well-developed media communications strategy.
 
        External Aid: Before Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003, the MEK received all of its military assistance and most of its financial support from Saddam Hussein. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime has led the MEK increasingly to rely on front organizations to solicit contributions from expatriate Iranian communities.
 
Jundallah
        Description: Jundallah was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on November 4, 2010. Since its inception in 2003, Jundallah, a violent extremist organization that operates primarily in the province of Sistan va Balochistan of Iran, has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials. Jundallah’s stated goals are to secure recognition of Balochi cultural, economic, and political rights from the government of Iran and to spread awareness of the plight of the Baloch situation through violent and nonviolent means. In October 2007, Amnesty International reported that Jundallah has by its own admission, carried out gross abuses such as hostage-taking, the killing of hostages, and attacks against non-military targets.
 
        Activities: In March 2006, Jundallah attacked a motorcade in eastern Iran, which included the deputy head of the Iranian Red Crescent Security Department, who was taken hostage. More than 20 people were killed in the attack. The governor of Zahedan, his deputy, and five other officials were wounded, and seven others were kidnapped in the attack. In May 2006, Jundallah barricaded a road in Kerman province and killed 11 civilians and burned four vehicles. The assailants then killed another civilian and wounded a child by firing at a passing vehicle. In 2007, Jundallah killed 18 border guards on the Iranian-Afghan border. Jundallah seized 16 Iranian police officers near the border with Pakistan in 2008. When the Iranian government refused to release 200 Jundallah prisoners in exchange for the hostages, Jundallah killed them. In May 2009, Jundallah attacked the crowded Shiite Amir al-Mo’menin mosque in Zahedan, destroying the mosque and killing and wounding numerous worshipers. An October 2009 suicide bomb attack in a marketplace in the city of Pishin in the Sistan va Balochistan province, which killed more than 40 people, was reportedly the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since the 1980s. In a statement on its website, Jundallah claimed responsibility for the December 15, 2010 suicide bomb attack inside the Iman Hussein Mosque in Chabahar, which killed an estimated 35 to 40 civilians with 60-100 wounded. In July 2010, Jundallah attacked the Grand Mosque in Zahedan, killing approximately 30 and injuring an estimated 300.
 
        Strength: Reports of Jundallah membership vary widely from 500 to 2000.
 
        Location/Area of Operation: Throughout Sistan va Balochistan province in southeastern Iran and the greater Balochistan area of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
 

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