The National Post (Ottawa, Canada). A National Post investigation has found the banned terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq recruited teens in Canada and sent them abroad to overthrow the Iranian government by force.
The Mujahedin-e Khalq sent recruiters to Toronto to entice youths of Iranian heritage into joining an armed resistance campaign aimed at overthrowing the Iranian government.
A banned terrorist organization under Canadian law since 2005, the MEK worked out of a base in residential homes in Toronto, former members of the group said in interviews.
Her brain's been washed", her younger brother Morteza said.
While the bases looked like ordinary households from the outside, inside everyone wore military uniforms and the walls were decorated with MEK flags and portraits of guerrilla leaders, they said.
The Canadian MEK network raised money, staged protests against Iran and lobbied politicians, but it also recruited underage youths to travel to a desolate guerrilla outpost near the Iran-Iraq border called Camp Ashraf.
Former MEK activists said the Canadian base worked closely with a similar U.S. outfit in Sleepy Hollow, Va., called the Pirayesh. The Post was able to view videos of recruiting sessions conducted there.
A Toronto man who spent five years at Camp Ashraf, beginning when he was 16, said in an interview he underwent military training but was imprisoned when he asked to return home.
The account is consistent with a recent report by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said the MEK had detained, tortured and killed "defectors" who had tried to leave the camp.
A Toronto human rights group, the Centre for Thought, Dialogue and Human Rights in Iran, says it has documented nine other cases in which children under the age of 18 were sent to Ashraf from Canada. They include youths from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Among them is Somayeh Mohamaddy, who was a 17-year-old Grade 10 student at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute when she was recruited into the MEK in 1998.
In a letter sent to the Canadian embassy in Jordan, she asked for the government's help getting back to Toronto but she has since said she wants to stay with her fellow "holy warriors".
An immigration tribunal that looked into Mohamaddy case ruled this week that she had gone to the guerrilla camp "with her parents' consent" and that she is a "committed member."
Camp Ashraf was captured and disarmed by the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But most of the "children of the resistance" remain there, either unwilling or unable to leave.
Of the roughly 4,000 MEK guerrillas at the camp, about 300 have returned to Iran and 200 have "defected" to an American-run camp called the Temporary International Presence Facility.
Today (23 September), we begin a five-part series about a Canadian family that got deeply involved with the guerrillas -- and now regrets it.
RICHMOND HILL -- The video playing on the 36-inch Hitachi television in Mustafa Mohammady's living room in the suburbs north of Toronto shows his daughter Somayeh in a paramilitary uniform, her hair tucked under a khaki scarf that's knotted at the neck.
The home video has come to the Mohammadys from the plains north of Baghdad, where their daughter lives in a guerrilla compound called Camp Ashraf, the headquarters of the Organization of the Freedom Fighters of the Iranian People.
A student at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, Somayeh dropped out of Grade 10 to join the rebels, and for the past several years her parents have done little else except try to get her back to Canada. They have written pleading letters to guerrilla commanders and the Canadian government. They traveled to Iraq four times.
But she is there still.
"Her brain's been washed," her younger brother Morteza said. "The Canadian government needs to take her out of there. We know my sister is not a terrorist."
The Mohammadys are nervous and sleepless with worry, but as much as the parents are torn up that their daughter is a member of what the Canadian government calls a terrorist organization, in arguably the most dangerous country in the world, they also know they are partly to blame because she went to the camp with their consent.
"I trusted them," Mustafa, himself a former activist in the group, said of the guerrillas, better known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. "At the time I sent my daughter, I trusted them.... I thought this organization respect the human rights. I never thought they would do the same thing [Ayatollah] Khomeini did to his people".
From the outside, it looked like just an ordinary home, but inside, everyone wore MEK uniforms, and the walls were decorated with MEK flags and portraits of Rajavi and his wife, Maryam.
An investigation by the National Post has found that the MEK sent recruiters to Canada to enlist teenagers and send them to Camp Ashraf, where they were armed and trained to overthrow the Iranian government by force.
One Iranian group in Toronto, the Centre for Thought, Dialogue and Human Rights in Iran, says three boys and seven girls under the age of 18 were sent to Ashraf.
The teens were sent from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Dozens of others older than 18 have attended the camp.
To date, only one Canadian is known to have returned to Canada from Ashraf. The rest remain at the camp to this day, either unable or unwilling to leave, and Somayeh is among them.
The Mohammady family fled Tehran after it degenerated into a rigid dictatorship of mullahs. Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 Islamic revolution had broad support at first, but disenchantment soon set in.
The MEK, led by Massoud Rajavi, had been one of the strongest supporters of the revolt to depose the Shah, who preceded Khomeini's rule. But when Khomeini began a crackdown on opposition groups, the MEK turned against the new regime and began assassinating key government officials and hijacking Iranian airplanes. In some cases, it used suicide bombers.
In Tehran, Mustafa was active in the MEK, although he said he was never a member, only a supporter who distributed literature and tried to convince others to join. But his family was deeply involved.
His brother-in-law, Hadi Hamzeh Dolabi, joined the MEK but was arrested in 1981 and executed by Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards three years later. A sister-in-law, Hourieh Hamzieh, joined the MEK as well, but was killed in 1988.
Under surveillance and fearing for his life, Mustafa fled with his wife and children to Turkey in 1992. Eighteen months later, Ottawa recognized the Mohammadys as refugees, and in September, 1994, they flew to Amsterdam and then Toronto.
For the first two months, they lived in a refugee shelter in Scarborough, but as their first Canadian winter set in, they found their own apartment in Etobicoke.
In the spring, Mustafa went to a community event to celebrate Noruz, the Iranian New Year. Some activists who ran a support network for the MEK in Canada were there and they invited Mustafa to their office in Toronto.
From the outside, it looked like just an ordinary home in a residential neighbourhood. But inside, everyone wore MEK uniforms, and the walls were decorated with MEK flags and portraits of Rajavi and his wife, Maryam.
The house served as the Canadian headquarters of the Mujahedin's international support network. From this unassuming house, the MEK organized protests and raised money. But it was also recruiting for Camp Ashraf, the 36-square-kilometre military encampment that Saddam Hussein had set aside for the MEK in Iraq to stage cross-border attacks against Iran.
Mustafa watched propaganda films at the centre with his wife and children and attended group discussions.
Eager to see the overthrow of the Iranian regime he blamed for the deaths of his family members, he began to spend a few hours a day collecting money for the cause.
He went door to door, or stood on a street corner near Dundas and Spadina. He would show photos of crying children, and tell stories about how their parents had been executed by the Iranian regime. On Saturdays and Sundays, his daughter Somayeh would accompany him on his rounds. She was 13, maybe 14 at the time.
In 1997, the MEK began a major recruiting drive. The fighting ranks were ageing, and young blood was needed to rejuvenate the People's Army. During the 1991 Gulf War, MEK members at Camp Ashraf had sent their children abroad for their safety. Some of them came to Canada to stay with aunts and uncles. The recruiters were tasked with bringing them back, along with as many other young Iranian expatriates as they could get.
The recruiter who came to Canada was a petite woman with glasses and a headscarf who went by the name Mazia. She began to pay a lot of attention to Somayeh. They talked about Somayeh's favourite aunt, the one who had died fighting with the Mujahedin almost a decade earlier. Mazia showed Somayeh photographs of Camp Ashraf and described it as a "very nice place."
Mazia convinced Somayeh to attend a demonstration in Washington, D.C., and on June 30, 1997, she crossed the border and traveled to the Pirayesh, the MEK's secret base in Sleepy Hollow, Va. Somayeh watched videos of Ashraf and met the head of the U.S. Mujahedin recruiting network, Sima, who offered to send her to Iraq to visit her aunt's grave.
Somayeh returned to Toronto and started Grade 10, but she dropped out to join the MEK. She was only 17 years old, but Sima told the Mohammadys their daughter would be safely returned to them after a month.
Mustafa had a favourable opinion of the MEK back then. The security era ushered in by 9/11 was still three years away, and the Mujahedin had not yet been outlawed as a terrorist group.
"We thought they were a nationalist group that wanted to topple the Iranian government", he said. As for Ashraf, he thought it was "like other camps that were run by nice people. So I consented for my daughter to go there".
"I trusted them", Mustafa,a former activist in the MEK said. "At the time I sent my daughter, I trusted them.... I thought MEK respect the human rights. I never thought they would do the same thing Khomeini did to his people".
Somayeh said her parents paid for her airfare. Mustafa denied that.
"I didn't have the money", he said. The MEK's U.S. office bought the ticket, he insisted.
"I think the purpose was just to deceive some young people and get them there", he said. "At that time, I did not know." He said he thought she would be like an exchange student.
"I thought it was just another program".
In February, 1998, Somayeh flew from New York to Amsterdam, then transferred to a flight to Amman, Jordan. From there, she went by road to Baghdad and then traveled north on a highway for 65 kilometres to a gate where palm trees and Iranian flags marked the entrance to the rebel base.
For the next decade, Camp Ashraf would be her home. ENDS MKO 24906
DECODING THE MUJAHEDIN-E KHALQ ORGANIZATION
Mujahedin-e Khalq: "The Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) is an Iranian terrorist organization that was based in Iraq until recently. It subscribes to an eclectic ideology that combines its own interpretation of Shiite Islamism with Marxist principles.
The group aspires to overthrow the current regime in Iran and establish a democratic, socialist Islamic republic. This Islamic socialism can only be attained through the destruction of the existing regime and the elimination of Western influence, described as “Westoxication”. To achieve this Islamic ideology, the use of physical force, armed struggle or jihad is necessary.
Besides having had an alliance with Saddam Hussein, the organization has or had ties with Amal [from which Hezbollah originated], the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Al Fatah and other Palestinian factions. The MEK is even suspected of past collusion with the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan." Source: "Currently listed entities", Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada:
In the second part of the series, Somayeh's brother Mohammad joins her at Camp Ashraf.