Terrorists Plan D.C. Fundraiser
Sam Dealey, The Hill, Jan. 21, 2004
House Administration Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) will ask Attorney General John Ashcroft today to investigate a charity event for ties to an Iranian terrorist group backed by Saddam Hussein.
The event, to be held Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, is billed as a “night of solidarity with Iran.” The organizers, led by the Iranian-American Society of Northern Virginia, hope to raise $140,000 to help survivors of the earthquake in Bam on Dec. 26, which killed 30,000 people.
But a number of sponsoring groups have strong ties to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and the fundraiser may violate the prohibition on providing material support for global terrorism.
“I intend to ask the attorney general to investigate this,” said Ney. “The MEK is hiding behind earthquake victims; you’ll find those are false groups. They’re not supposed to operate, and I don’t know what they’re going to do with the money. I just think it smells.”
An MEK representative in Washington did not return repeated calls for comment.
Spokesmen for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI said they were not aware of Saturday’s event and declined to comment on the sponsor groups.
An official with the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia declined to provide any details on the participating groups.
“It’s about solidarity with victims of the earthquake in Iran and to support the Iranian Resistance and call for referendum in Iran,” said the official, who would not give his name.
The Iranian Resistance is a pseudonym for the MEK.
The official said all of the money raised would be donated to the American Red Cross, but the Red Cross has backed out of the event.
“The American Red Cross will not be accepting donations from this fundraiser,” said spokeswoman Jacki Flowers. “Given the political undertones of the event, we just could no longer field donations because of the potential to compromise our neutrality.”
The MEK is an Iranian opposition group formerly based in Baghdad but with a continuing strong presence in the United States, primarily for fundraising and efforts to reverse its terrorist designation, first imposed in 1997.
The U.S. intelligence community alleges the MEK was responsible for the deaths of at least six American servicemen and civilians in Iran during the mid-1970s and actively participated in the 1979 U.S. Embassy seizure in Tehran. Having fallen afoul of Khomeini, in 1986 the group took refuge in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein.
In addition to its periodic hit-and-runs inside Iran, intelligence sources say, the MEK took part in Saddam’s grisly suppression of the Kurdish and Shiite minorities.
Saddam’s backing of the MEK was used as one justification for the Iraq war, and coalition forces viewed the MEK as enemy combatants. Last fall, federal law enforcement raided several MEK-related organizations in the Washington area.
Of the 23 organizations listed as sponsors for the event, 17 are known MEK front groups or linked to prominent MEK members and activists. None appears to be registered with the Internal Revenue Service or state agencies as legitimate businesses or charities.
The MEK has often created fictional philanthropic and social organizations to convey legitimacy. In a 1994 dossier on the group, the State Department noted that “many of these member groups are actually shell organizations, established by the [MEK] in order to make [it] appear representative and … popular.
“Likewise,” the report continued, “the [MEK] has formed associated groups with benign names, such as the ‘Association of Iranian Scholars and Professionals’ and the ‘Association of Iranian Women.’”
Among the groups sponsoring the earthquake benefit is the Association of Iranian Women USA. The group is also known as the Association of Iranian Women, and is headed by Behjat Dehghan, whom intelligence sources have identified as a prominent MEK member in the United States.
Other sponsors of the event that have been identified in media reports as MEK front groups include the Iranian Society of South Florida, the Iranian-American Society of Texas, and the National Committee of Women for a Democratic Iran. Ramesh Sepehrrad spearheads the latter group. Intelligence officials say Sepehrrad is a major MEK organizer in Washington.
A number of the sponsor groups are known to have strong MEK sympathies. They include the Iranian-American Cultural Association of Missouri, Colorado’s Iranian-American Community, the Society of Iranian Americans in Dallas and the Association of Iranian-American Scholars in Southern California.
A website for US for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran, yet another program sponsor, is www.defend-maryam-rajavi.org. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the MEK, was arrested in Paris last year on terrorism charges. The group’s site was registered to Hamid Azimi, once president of the Southern California Society of Iranian Scholars and Professors, another MEK front group.
A prominent member of US for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran is Saeid Sajadi, who is also known to law enforcement as an MEK member. He is also president of the Iranian-American Solidarity Society of Kansas City and the Society of Iranian-American Medical Professionals. Both groups have strong MEK sympathies; neither is registered as a legitimate professional organization.
At least one group that is not affiliated with the MEK - Loyola University of Chicago — says it was fraudulently listed as a sponsor.
“Absolutely not,” said university spokesman Bud Jones. “In no way does Loyola University of Chicago support this group or the event. That would be totally inaccurate.”
The Iranian-American Society of Northern Virginia would not comment on Loyola’s sponsor status.
Other groups that do not have apparent ties to the MEK but are listed as sponsors are the Justice Matters Institute, the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press and the Women’s Freedom Forum. Spokespeople for the groups could not be reached immediately for comment.
La Leche League International, another sponsor, withdrew its support upon learning of the possible MEK ties.
Following the earthquake, the Bush administration temporarily lifted sanctions on donations by Americans to Iran, which is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“This sounds to me like the MEK is trying to feed on and exploit that legitimate concern of Iranian Americans for their own political purposes,” said Ken Timmerman, publisher of the Iran Brief newsletter.