Here is part III as promised.
Stewart Bell, National PostPublished: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A National Post investigation has found the outlawed terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq recruited teenagers in Canada and sent them abroad to overthrow the Iranian government by force. Today, part three of a five-part series about a Canadian family that got deeply involved with the guerrillas -- and now regrets it.
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At 11 o'clock in the morning on June 19, 2003, Mustafa Mohammady stopped his car on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, opened the driver's door and headed toward the French embassy.
He held a gasoline canister in one hand and a lighter in the other.
Two days earlier, French anti-terrorist police had detained Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a cult-like resistance group fighting to overthrow Iran's repressive government.
The MEK had responded by mobilizing its international network of supporters, ordering them to take to the streets in protest. At the French embassy in London, an Ottawa woman named Neda Hassani died after setting herself on fire.
Protesters also congregated outside France's chancery overlooking Rideau Falls in Ottawa. They were chanting, waving placards and hunger-striking when Mustafa arrived to take the demonstration up a notch.
An Iranian-Canadian father of four from Toronto, Mustafa said in an interview that he went to the embassy after receiving a telephone call from a U.S.-based MEK activist named Sima.
Sima told him that Ms. Rajavi's arrest was a disaster for the Iranian resistance, and that unless he did something, his children could be in danger, he said.
Although he had been a MEK activist in Iran and Canada, Mustafa said he followed the instructions not out of any zealous devotion to the cause, but because he thought it would help his son and daughter.
"It was all about my children," he said.
In 1998, his then 17-year-old daughter, Somayeh, an Etobicoke high school student, had been recruited into the MEK. The following year, Mustafa's son Mohammad, then 16, joined her. They had been living at the MEK's base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, ever since.
After four years, the Mohammady children had still not returned and Mustafa said he turned against the resistance over what he termed the MEK's "kidnapping" of his children.
Camp Ashraf was a huge paramilitary complex 100 kilometres west of the Iranian border. Saddam Hussein had given the land to the MEK to use as a staging ground for cross-border attacks into Iran.
The Mujahedin at Camp Ashraf viewed themselves as Iran's only hope against the religious extremists who had seized power in the 1979 Islamic revolution. But their low-level insurgency had little popular support within Iran and little to no chance of success.
Then the Americans invaded Iraq.
Within weeks of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. military captured Camp Ashraf and disarmed the MEK of its 10,000 small arms and 300 tanks. The MEK was all but finished.
Officially, any Mujahedin fighters that wanted to leave Camp Ashraf were free to go. A few hundred left, but most stayed, either because they were true believers or because they had nowhere else to go except back to Iran, where they were sure they would be detained, tortured or killed.
But human rights groups say there was another reason they didn't leave: The MEK wouldn't let them. Human Rights Watch says those who tried to leave Ashraf were labelled "defectors," imprisoned and tortured. A few were killed. The MEK has dismissed the allegations as lies planted by Iranian spies.
"The Iranian government has a dreadful record on human rights. But it would be a huge mistake to promote an opposition group that is responsible for severe human rights abuses," Joe Stark of Human Rights Watch said upon the release of the New York-based group's report on Ashraf.
In September, 2003, the U.S. military opened a "defectors" camp. Formally called the Temporary International Presence Facility, it serves as a transit camp for former Mujahedin who want out of Ashraf and are waiting to return to their home countries.
A Canadian immigration official based in Jordan who visited the defectors camp described it in a report to Ottawa as "better than any refugee camp that I have ever seen," but that was in 2004 and human rights activists say conditions there have worsened and its occupants are eager to get out.
The defectors camp covers about six acres and has its own recreation area and mess tent. More than 200 Mujahedin have left Ashraf to live under the protection of the U.S. forces.
Somayeh was not among them.
While she had opted not to go to the U.S. camp, Somayeh apparently wanted to return to Canada. She wrote a letter in Farsi in 2004 and addressed it to the Canadian embassy in Amman.
In it she politely asked for help getting back to Toronto. "I would really like you to help me out," she wrote.
By that time, things were looking grim at Camp Ashraf. Iraq's new interim rulers wanted the base dismantled, and they were talking about deporting the occupants of the camp to Iran.
The Mujahedin's campaign for international legitimacy was also struggling. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the West was beginning to look unfavourably at the MEK's tactics, which included suicide bombings, hijackings and assassinations.
The arrest of Maryam Rajavi threatened to fatally taint the MEK as a terrorist group. The Mujahedin decided to respond dramatically, and Mustafa was to be part of the performance.
The MEK had a history of targeting embassies.
On April 5, 1992, about 40 people armed with sticks, crowbars and mallets stormed the Iranian embassy in Ottawa to protest an air attack on a Mujahedin base in Iraq.
Several people were injured. Most of the demonstrators were MEK members, according to a Canadian Security Intelligence Service report obtained by the National Post.
"The Ottawa attack occurred several hours after the bombing in Iraq, illustrating the high level of organization and commitment of the MEK within Canada," the CSIS report said.
Similar attacks were carried out simultaneously at Iranian embassies in 13 other countries. The mastermind of the Ottawa embassy assault, Robab Farahi-Mahdavieh, was later deported to Britain.
Eleven years later, France's arrest of Ms. Rajavi had made French embassies the focus of the MEK. A commander from the MEK's secret U.S. base in Virginia telephoned Mustafa in Toronto and suggested it would be a good time to do something, the Toronto man said in an interview.
She never told him in so many words to set himself on fire, he said. But elsewhere in the world, MEK activists had been self-immolating in front of television news cameras. Mustafa thought that if he were to do the same, the Mujahedin might let his kids return to Canada.
As he neared the French embassy, he tipped the gasoline canister over his head, dousing himself in fuel while shouting denunciations of the Iranian regime. But before he could ignite himself, onlookers wrestled him to the ground and knocked the lighter out of his hand.
It was all over in seconds.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AT CAMP ASHRAF
"Human rights abuses carried out by MKO [Muhahedin-e Khalq Organization] leaders against dissident members ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture that in two cases led to death. ...
"Dissident members who requested to leave the organization as well as ordinary members were detained in the bangals [pre-fabricated trailers]. Detention inside a bangal was considered a form of MKO punishment for members whom the leadership considered to have made mistakes. They were expected to reflect on their mistakes and to write self-criticism reports while in detention....
"The third type of detention reported by the witnesses encompassed imprisonment, physical torture and interrogations inside secret prisons within the MKO camps. These prisons were primarily used for persecution of political dissidents. Their existence was unknown to most members. The witnesses who suffered under this form of detention told Human Rights Watch that they were unaware that the organization maintained such prisons until they experienced it firsthand.
"One of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, spent eight-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, from September, 1992, to January, 2001, inside the MKO camps. Another witness, Javaheri-Yar, underwent five years of solitary confinement in the MKO prisons, from November, 1995, to December, 2000. Both were high-ranking members who intended to leave the organization but were told that, because of their extensive inside knowledge, they could not be allowed to do so."
Source: "No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps," Human Rights Watch, May 2005.
THE MEK'S RESPONSE
"The Iranian Resistance's President-elect, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, described the report by Human Rights Watch against the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, as a catalogue of false allegations and a shameful example of rushing to the aid of the religious dictatorship ruling Iran. On the eve of the discredited presidential election farce, the clerical regime was in dire need of such an endorsement, she said."Mrs. Rajavi added, 'This report contains nothing new. It is a rehash of allegations by notoriously discredited agents of the Iranian regime's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. That no inquiries were made to either the National Council of Resistance of Iran or the PMOI and that no notice was taken of explanations made public by the Iranian Resistance, and the haste in putting out this report, clearly reveal the political agenda behind it.' "
In the fourth part of the series, Mustafa Mohammady journeys to Iraq to try to retrieve his son and daughter from the guerrillas.