WASHINGTON (JTA) – The U.S. State Department reportedly removed the terrorist designation from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian anti-regime group.
Numerous media reported MEK’s removal last Friday, although the State Department has yet to make a formal announcement. MEK in recent years has acquired the backing of some pro-Israel figures in its quest for legitimacy.
MEK, founded during the years of the Shah, was designated as a terrorist group for, among other reasons, attacks it carried out against U.S. officials in the 1970s. It was reviled by Iranians during the 1980s because of its alliance with Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
The group, described by a number of reporters who have covered it as cult-like, complied with U.S. orders to disarm after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, although a number of reports have said the group’s agents have carried out attacks in recent years inside Iran, including on Iranian nuclear scientists.
The group sought the delisting in part to ease the process of allowing thousands of its members in Iraq to seek asylum overseas.
The Iraqi government is seen as close to Iran, and an Iraqi army raid on Camp Ashraf last year killed dozens of the group’s members.
Iranian Americans sympathetic to the plight of MEK enlisted the support of a number of pro-Israel figures, including Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel; Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz; and Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister.
Pro-Israel groups generally abjured associations with the group because of its terrorist status.
A number of groups and individuals opposed to aggravating already fraught U.S.-Iran relations opposed delisting, in part because it would be seen by Iran as ratcheting up tensions. However, U.S.-Iranian relations have never been worse, with the Obama administration increasing the Islamic Republic’s isolation and speaking openly of the possibility of a military strike to keep it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Additionally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have had little choice but to delist the group, as friends of the group have brought its case to the courts, and a U.S. court had ordered Clinton to explain why the group remained designated as terrorist.
Also, in recent weeks, MEK had complied with an Iraqi government demand that it evacuate Camp Ashraf, which is near the Iranian border. The evacuation reportedly was a U.S. condition for delisting the group.