The People's Mujahedin: Iran's exiled opposition

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The People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) is an Iranian opposition movement in exile that has been battling the Tehran government since the 1960s.

After raids in Belgium and France over an alleged plot to bomb a rally by the PMOI and other exiled opposition groups outside Paris on Saturday, here is some background about the group, known in Persian as Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

- Against the shah, then Islamists -

Iran's Mujahedin formed in 1965 to fight the royalist regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with most of its founding members later dying in prison.

After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the group -- which has Marxist leanings and describes itself as belonging to "democratic and secular Islam" -- has sought to overthrow the current Iran regime.

It was outlawed in Iran in 1981, the year authorities accused it of a bomb attack that killed 74 people including Ayatollah Beheshti, the regime's number two at the time.

The group never claimed responsibility for the attack, though it had claimed others.

- Driven into exile -

As the Mujahedin confronted the Islamic regime, it was met with a crackdown that led to thousands of its members being killed. Those who survived were chased from Iran.

They found refuge throughout the world, particularly in France, where leader Massoud Rajavi created the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The council includes several exiled Iranian opposition groups and is considered the political wing of the PMOI.

Rajavi was expelled from France in 1986 under a policy of rapprochement with Iran.

The Mujahedin then set up in Iraq at the height of the 1980-1988 war with Iran, fighting alongside Saddam Hussein's troops, which led to them being declared "traitors" by Tehran.

At the end of the war they launched a military operation against Iran, taking several border towns before being crushed by the Iranian army.

Since 1989 the Mujahedin has been led by Rajavi's wife, Maryam Rajavi, who was also designated president of the council in 1993, the year she received political refugee status in France.

She was one of around 160 people detained in France in 2003 as part of a crackdown against the Mujahedin, being released after two weeks of protests by her supporters.

- Iraq base -

Mujahedin fighters have claimed responsibility for several operations in Iran, including against oil installations in 1993, and have been blamed for dozens of murders.

Massoud Rajavi has not been heard of since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and after Saddam was toppled that year his group was disarmed by US forces and allowed to regroup at the Ashraf refugee camp north of Baghdad.

The camp became the PMOI's biggest base in exile, housing up to 3,500 people.

In 2012 the fighters agreed to leave the camp to settle near Baghdad before quitting Iraq at the request of the United States and United Nations in 2013, heading to other countries including Albania.

The relocation from the Iraq camp was completed in 2016 when the last 280 people left for Albania.

- Off terror lists -

In 2009 the European Union struck the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations, where it had been since May 2002.

The United States did the same in September 2012, having originally listed the group in 1997.

France ended a vast judicial probe into its suspected terrorist activities without charges in September 2014, about a decade after it was opened.

In January this year Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked French President Emmanuel Macron to take "action" against the Mujahedin, accusing it of fomenting days of deadly protests in Iran and of links to its arch-rival Saudi Arabia.

© 2018 AFP

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