Since they began in 2007, the mysterious attacks – often executed by someone riding up on a motorcycle and attaching a small magnetic bomb to the victim’s car – have taken the lives of five individuals working on Iran’s nuclear program, and may have caused the destruction of a missile research and development site. The officials denied that America has played any role in the assassinations, while Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the American statement, and the MEK termed the allegations “absolutely false.”
Operating under the name “the People’s Mujahedin of Iran,” the group – which has been considered a terrorist entity by the United States for decades – has in the past been accused of killing American servicemen and contractors and supporting anti-American activity in Tehran.
The Iranians have for some time stated their belief that Israel and the dissident group – also known as MEK, MKO and PMI – have been behind the attacks on their scientists. “The relation is very intricate and close,” said Mohammad Javad Larijani, a senior aide to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. “They (Israelis) are paying … the Mujahedin. Some of their (MEK) agents … (are) providing Israel with information. And they recruit and also manage logistical support.”
The Iranian government’s knowledge of the links between Israel and MEK vis-à-vis the attacks stems from the interrogation of an assassin who failed to perpetrate an attack in late 2010, and the discovery of related materials on him, the aide said.
The U.S.-educated Larijani, who has two brothers in prominent positions within the Iranian government, explained the fundamental reasoning for Israel’s actions. “Israel does not have direct access to our society,” he said. “Mujahedin, being Iranian and being part of Iranian society, they have … a good number of … places to get into touch with people. So I think they are working hand-to-hand very close. And we do have very concrete documents
In the most recent attack this past January, Mostafa Roshan died in an explosion in Tehran almost immediately after two assailants on a motorcycle placed a small magnetic bomb on his vehicle. A deputy director at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, Roshan was reportedly involved in procurement for the nuclear program, which Iran maintains is intended only for peaceful purposes. Larijani insists that the assassinations are not impacting on the program and have only made scientists more resolute in pursuing their mission.
According to unconfirmed reports, Israel and the MEK were involved in an explosion this past November that destroyed an Iranian missile research and development site. The attack killed a number of people, including Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, director of missile development for the Revolutionary Guard. Unlike the assassinations, Iran claims the missile site explosion was an accident.
Dr. Uzi Rabi, director of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, believes that the “accidents” could be part of a campaign of “psychological warfare” against Iran. “It seems logical. It makes sense,” he said about the supposed involvement of the Iranian dissident group, “and it’s been done before.” Rabi added that the fundamental goal of such secret operations is “to send a message that could strike fear into the rulers of Iran.”
The alleged participation of the MEK in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists gives the United States a cover of deniability regarding the clandestine killings. Because the U.S. has designated the MEK as a terrorist organization, neither military nor intelligence units of the U.S. government, can work with them. “We cannot deal with them,” said one senior U.S. official. “We would not deal with them because of the designation.”
The MEK’s opposition to the Iranian government has engendered clear vocal support from a number of former high-level American government officials. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Howard Dean, former Governor of Vermont, and others, have called for the United States to remove the MEK from the official U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
“There’s an extraordinary group of bipartisan or even apolitical leaders, military leaders, diplomats, the United States … the United Kingdom, the European Union, even a U.S. District Court in Washington, said that this group that was put on the foreign terrorist organization watch list in 1997 doesn’t deserve to be there,” Ridge said in November. United States elected officials have also been strongly recommending that the American government take measures to protect the 3,400 MEK members and their families at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, located approximately 35 miles north of Baghdad.