Has the MEK Re-Entered Its Military-Terrorist Phase?
Early on December 31, Iranian news sources, as well as some anti-Iran groups, reported an explosion in front of the building of a construction institute affiliated with the IRGC.
A few hours later, a spokesperson for the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization (MEK, a.k.a MKO, NCRI, PMOI, etc.) claimed responsibility for the attack in an announcement. Some Iranian sources released footage of the building showing it was intact and denied the bombing. Some others, quoting informed sources, described the incident as merely a biker throwing a lit firecracker near the building.
Regardless of whether or not the attack has occurred or how much damage it has caused, MEK claiming responsibility for the attack indicates the group’s plans and intentions to return to its violent phase.
MEK’s announcement reminds political observers and Iran analysts of the group’s bloody operations in the country and its brutal squad of assassins in different parts of Iran during the 1980s. Operations in which according to a 1994 US state department report on the MEK, thousands of civilians were murdered and various political, economic and military centers were damaged.
The MEK has adopted a violent approach against its opponents since it was established in 1965. The group’s harsh, violent and terrorist attitude, has been recruited in the face of domestic critics, the Shah’s government, and then the Islamic Republic of Iran. MEK’s military treatment of Iraqi ethnic minorities, especially Turkmen and Kurds, when the group was located in Iraq at the invitation of Saddam Hussein, was also part of a brutal approach taken by the group’s leaders from the outset. This procedure continued until 2003.
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK which was listed by the US as a terrorist group, was forcibly disarmed by the US Army and the group’s military wing was forced to hand over its heavy and semi-heavy weapons to the US forces in Iraq.
The MEK has since tried to adapt its tactics to the new situation. So in order to get out of the terrorist lists in the UK, EU and US, a new approach was taken that was more like a tactical change than a strategical one; entering a phase of political and propaganda activities against Iran to persuade the West that the MEK is the only alternative to the Islamic Republic.
In the 16 years since the forced disarmament, the MEK has established extensive contacts with former Western political figures and launched massive propaganda efforts against Tehran. But none of these activities of the MEK could bring them their desired outcome, which is the acceptance of the group as an alternative to the Islamic Republic and the overthrow of the Iranian political system.
Therefore, in recent years, the MEK has sought to direct its regime-change activities within Iran by organizing its forces who are titled by the group as ‘insurgent cells’. In the past few years, the actions of these cells have been limited to installing images of the group’s leaders and burning pictures of Iranian high-ranking officials in low-lying, low-traffic areas. The MEK has not made any successful gains from the formation of these cells so far.
Although the December 31 operation caused neither casualties nor damage, it was a significant act in several respects.
The first issue is the use of a bomb in the operation and claiming responsibility for the blast by a MEK spokesperson in the group’s official media, a phenomenon that has been unprecedented in recent years since the MEK’s tactical shift and entering into the phase of political propaganda.
In a video released hours after the explosion on MEK’s website, the group claimed responsibility for the attack and attributed it to its own military branch, the National Liberation Army (NLA). The NLA was the MEK’s military wing in the Iraq-Iran war, which served alongside Saddam Hussein’s army and conducted cross-border raids into Iran during the last stages of the war. In addition to border attacks on Iran, the NLA served Saddam in the brutal repression of Iraqi Kurds during 1991.
Therefore, citing this infamous military branch and attributing the attack to it, means a shift in the MEK’s tactics and its re-entering to the armed and terrorist phase.
Another important point is the MEK spokesperson’s sharp statement, in which he spoke of the need to demolish the centers affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. This threat resembles two deadly terrorist operations by the group in the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and Prime Minister in 1981.
This is probably why the spokesperson, for the first time since the group’s disarmament in 2003, has called upon (the US) for the return of their weapons.
It seems unlikely that the MEK’s spokesperson be unaware of the political and legal burden of these threats. It is clear that the MEK is seriously seeking to change its strategy and return to the phase of violent and terrorist acts. This action, as it was said, stems from the MEK’s foundation which is based on achieving results through violent acts. It also demonstrates that the group’s decade-long political and propaganda activities to persuade Western governments to overthrow Iran’s political system have so far failed. So the MEK’s return to phase of terrorist acts could be its response to this failure.
It appears that continuation of this approach by the MEK, will put Western sponsors of the group in an unfavorable position and it will cause further damage to Iran’s relations with them. The MEK is turning from a refugee group in Albania to a group that, in addition to carrying out anti-Iranian actions, is now on its way into armed phase, an approach which could lead to Tirana’s direct confrontation with Tehran.
Tehran’s recent confrontations with Western powers such as Washington and London in the Persian Gulf in the battle of tankers and UAVs demonstrate that Iranians, who now benefit military balance in the West Asian region, do not easily overlook their security threats. Whether this threat is posed by the MEK through terrorist operations, similar to what they did during the 1980s and saw its consequences, or by its Western sponsors through providing facilities for the terrorist group.