TEHRAN, June 4 (Mehr News Agency) — To true believers, the ones who are waging a hunger strike to protest the detention in a French jail of the notorious terrorist Maryam Rajavi, she is the smiling face of Iran's future, the woman destined to overthrow the Islamic Republican system and become president of the country.

To detractors, she is a dangerous cult figure who, with her husband, Massoud Rajavi, has led a terrorist movement that sold out to Iran's enemy, Iraq, and accepted Saddam Hussein's sponsorship. They say the Rajavis brainwash followers, forcing them to abandon spouses and children, and imprison or kill those who resist, wrote the New York Times.

What is not in dispute is that the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, the Iraq-based Iranian opposition group the Rajavis lead, has been designated a terrorist organization by both the United States State Department and the 15-country European Union. Now, in an unintended consequence of the American-led war against Iraq, the United States and France are struggling to figure out just who these people are and what to do with them.

The collapse of Mr. Hussein's government has left the fate of thousands of Iraq-based Mujahedeen followers, including heavily armed troops, in American hands. A major French crackdown nearly two weeks ago against the group's local headquarters in Auvers-sur-Oise and sites outside Paris was aimed at preventing the organization from moving the center of its global operations from Iraq to France.

"We could no longer tolerate an organization that was expanding its terrorist operations, and we feared that it could start organizing and planning attacks from French soil," said Pierre de Bousquet, the director of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, France's counterintelligence service, in an interview.

The French government has given political asylum, and even police protection, to the Mujahedeen for more than two decades. But since last fall, Mr. de Bousquet said, French intelligence noticed the arrival of an increasing number of Mujahedeen members and, after the Iraq war, of many of its soldiers. The group had rented a former paint factory in the town of Saint Ouen l'Aumone, which he said it was transforming into a communications center with a television studio and satellite dishes. French intelligence officials reported that the Mujahedeen planned to attack embassies and other Iranian interests in Europe and assassinate 25 former Mujahedeen members. There was a strong desire to crack down on the group at a time when some officials in the Bush administration were suggesting it might be a potential force to use against Iran.

"This is by no means a political movement, a democratic movement," Mr. de Bousquet said. "It was not preparing the restoration of democracy in Iran. They are complete fanatics, a fanatical sect with a total absence of democracy, and a cult of personality towards the leader."

What makes the Mujahedeen difficult to decipher is that it has at least two aspects. One operates a highly regimented operation from inside Iraq with its own army, dress code, calendar, rituals, printing presses, military training camps, clinics and what it calls "re-education camps," wrote Elaine Sciolino in an article in the New York Times in its July 29th issue.

The other has offices in capitals around the world under the group's political arm, the National Council of Resistance, staffed by sophisticated, multilingual representatives in suits and ties. In a contradiction in American policy, the State Department lists the group's political arm as part of the Mujahedeen's terrorist network, but it is allowed to function openly in the United States and is even registered with the Justice Department as a lobbying organization. That designation gives it the right to lobby on Capitol Hill and gather lawmakers' signatures on petitions of support.

Since the arrest in France last week of more than 150 Mujahedeen members, most of whom have since been released, the Auvers-sur-Oise headquarters has become a place of pilgrimage and public relations. In the town where Vincent van Gogh lived and is buried, hundreds of Mujahedeen followers, including dozens of men on hunger strike, have camped out. French riot police officers patrol the area with walkie-talkies. Huge banners bearing Mrs. Rajavi's portrait have been hung.

Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of the late French president François Mitterrand, has paid a visit in a show of support. The mayor of Auvers-sur-Oise has lent them a soccer field to use as a campsite.

For those who have studied the organization — and to some former members — it is far from being a political movement with popular support inside Iran. It has gone through several ideological shifts since its founding in opposition to the Iranian monarchy in the 1960's — moving from anti-imperialism to a blend of Islam and Marxism to egalitarian socialism to a vague philosophy that talks of democracy, freedom and equal rights for women.

"It is a mystical cult," said Ervand Abrahamian, a history professor at Baruch College who has written the most authoritative history of the organization. "It's the stress on obedience to the leader that has kept it going, rather than any political program. If Massoud Rajavi got up tomorrow and said the world was flat, his members would accept it."

The organization has long been intent on showing the outside world its positive face. While its representatives around the world publicly condemned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, inside Iraq there was rejoicing, former members say.

"There were celebrations at all the Mujahedeen camps on Sept. 11," said Ardeshir Parkizkari, 39, a former member of the group's central council who is now a political refugee in Europe, in a telephone interview. "I was in one of their prisons then, and we never were treated so well as we were that day — given juices and sweets. They called the events of Sept. 11 God's revenge on America."

He explained his own rupture with the group: "You lose your identity and are not allowed to think freely. When I started having fights with them and pointed out their mistakes, they put me on trial and sent me to prison for not following the leader's orders." He said he was beaten so badly that he now walks with a limp.

It was devotion to Mrs. Rajavi, who is about 50 years old, that led several of her supporters throughout Europe to set themselves on fire to protest her arrest. Although Mrs. Rajavi sent a message from jail asking her supporters to stop, former Mujahedeen members said that in training camps in Iraq, self-immolation was praised as a fitting response to the possible persecution of the Rajavis.

In interviews, Mujahedeen defectors described a brutal side of the organization in Iraq, where it had been based since 1986.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf war, they said, the Iraq government ordered Mujahedeen soldiers to help suppress revolts against Saddam Hussein by Kurds and Shiites.

"We were told that if the revolts succeeded in overthrowing Saddam Hussein it would be the end of our movement," said Karim Haghi, 42, a former bodyguard of the Rajavis who is a political refugee in Europe, in a telephone interview. "Mrs. Rajavi told us to kill them with tanks and try to preserve our bullets for other operations. We were forced to kill both Kurds and Shiites, and I said I didn't come here to kill other people."

Mr. Haghi said he was jailed, and eventually escaped.

Former members said they were forced to divorce and some had their children taken from them and sent to families in Europe for adoption. They said their passports were taken from them and they were given new identities, and they were forced at group meetings to confess their "sins," sessions that were videotaped as evidence if members tried to defect.

Muhammad Hosein Sobhani, 42, also a former bodyguard of the Rajavis, said in a telephone interview that he was forced to divorce his wife. Their daughter was taken out of Iraq when she was 6 and adopted by an Iranian couple in Denmark.

"They told my daughter, `Your father died in a Mujahedeen operation,' and I was forbidden to have any contact with her," he said, adding that he has since tracked down his daughter, who is now 18.

Mrs. Rajavi  has political refugee status until 2006. As for Mr. Rajavi, who according to American intelligence was last known to be living in Iraq, there is no information of his current whereabouts or even if he is still alive, the article conlcuded.






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