In an interview with Balkans Post, Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, a Canadian-Albanian historian who is specialized in the history of Islam, nationalism and religious reformation in Southeastern Europe, said America is turning Albania into a safe haven for international Jihadism. Below, the full transcript of the interview has been presented:
Navid Nasr: When did the MEK come to Albania and for what ostensible reason?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: The Iranian Mojahedeen-e-Khalq organization which were designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Canada until 2012, started to come to Albania in 2013. A few months after the Obama administration removed them from the terrorist list, the Americans asked the government of Sali Berisha in Albania to offer asylum to 250 Iranian Mojahedeen commanders who could not stay in Iraq. The coming of the Mojahedeen was not the first time that Albania had hosted international jihadis on her soil. In 2010 Albania gave asylum to five Chinese Uighurs who were captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Americans jailed them in Guantanamo Bay and later sent them to Albania. Even though China protested against this move and accused Albania of breaking international laws and conventions, the Americans defended Albania for this illegal act.
The Albanian government of Edi Rama has hosted even many FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization) members, whom the government of Turkey has accused of terrorism in conjunction with the failed coup d'etat of 15 July 2016. In the past months, different media outlets and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria have claimed that Albania is planning to host jihadis of ISIS in the country, even though the Edi Rama government has denied this assertion.
The Iranian Mojahedeen are the largest group of foreign fighters that Albania has ever hosted. When the Americans brought the first group of Iranian jihadis into Albania, the Iranian government protested this move. At the time, Prime Minister Sali Berisha assured the Iranians that the MEK were being hosted in Albania only for humanitarian reasons and no action against Iran would be taken by this group.
However, time showed that unlike with the FETO members and the Uighurs, the Iranian Mojahedeen had come to Albania not just for asylum but their intention was to turn Albania into a second Afghanistan in the heart of Europe. At present the Mojahedeen are using Albania as a base to launch psychological, espionage and probably even jihadi military operations against Iran. In these illegal activities they are supported by some American senators, in the same way that the Mojahedeen were supported in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in 1980s.
The governments of China, Turkey and Iran that suffer from international terrorism have in the past become very worried with the way the United States is using Albania, as a base for hosting international terrorist groups and organizations.
How many MEK fighters, members and cadre are in Albania at the present? Does anybody know their actual numbers?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: Most of the Mojahedeen who are in Albania live in the paramilitary camp of Manza which is situated near the port city of Durres. The camp which is closed to the public and journalists, receives time after time foreign delegations that MEK calls on in order to improve its public image. Its paid supporters like Struan Stevenson, Giulio Terzi, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Robert Toricelli, Rudy Giuliani, Ingrid Betancourt, Jérard Deprez etc claim that the group is open, democratic and anyone can visit them.
However, independent journalists from foreign and Albanian media who have attempted to go and visit the camp, including those from such outlets as the Guardian, Channel 4, Al Jazeera, Top Channel, TRT, Gazeta Shqiptare, CNN Albania etc have either been beaten, insulted as agents of Iran or prevented outright from entering the camp. Since an independent inspection of the Mojahedeen camp is not allowed, we cannot know their exact number and military structure. Many MEK defectors who have managed to escape from the camp and now live in freedom in Tirana, have shown the names of some of their commanders who move outside the camp to manage the affairs of the Mojahedeen. However since most of the defectors are foot soldiers, we do not possess exact numbers and a full breakdown of the structure of MEK’s paramilitary and ideological command. The Albanian Police has compiled a report on MEK, its numbers and the danger that they pose for Albania, but the numbers of this report do not match with the numbers that other state institutions have provided in Albania.
What we know for sure is that MEK is headed by Maryam Rajavi, the second wife of Massoud Rajavi, the deceased Rehber ("Leader") of MEK. She has built a cult like image of herself and portrays herself to MEK soldiers as a holy woman with supernatural powers. While for the MEK members she is depicted as a holy person, to the Western audiences she portrays herself as the president-elect of Iran, even though MEK is a totalitarian organization which does not organize free elections and does not tolerate any form of disobedience.
The MEK members live very isolated lives and are under the total control of their commanders. They have no phones, no free access to the internet and live in prison-like conditions behind the walls of their paramilitary camp. They are radicalized on a daily basis, made to believe that if they walk out of their camp Iran will kill them, and that their only salvation will come if they continue to live like soldiers and believe in the holy mission of Maryam Rajavi who will establish her own rule over Iran. They are not allowed to have sex, to marry, to talk to their families or to walk out of their camp in freedom. If they manage to escape, the organization labels them Iranian agents and traitors.
As the Albanian police report of 2018 shows, MEK is very ruthless with its defectors who want to deradicalize themselves and abandon the Jihad. Many defectors who have abandoned the Mojahedeen have received death threats. In July 2018 when Mostafa Mohammadi, the Canadian father of Sommayeh Mohammadi was in Tirana to meet his daughter who had been abducted by the MEK in 1997, MEK attacked and hospitalized him and kept Sommayeh in total isolation even though this is contrary to Albanian law. MEK has total control over its members and getting open access to them is impossible not only for journalists but even for their international supporters.
Until 2018 we were told that Albania is hosting around 3000 Mojahedeen. In 2016 Voice of America announced that Albania would take 2000 Mojahedeen in exchange for 20 million USD. However, the latest numbers from the Albanian Institute of Statistics show that in 2017 Albania had accepted 2.195 Iranians, while in 2016 it received 1.963. If we include here those who came in 2013 the total number of the Mojahedeen as of 2017 should be around 4.400 people. We have not included here the numbers of those who came during 2018 since their number is still a secret.
We have learned from the media that the Americans are planning with the Albanian government to build a new camp in Albania between Tirana and Durres. This camp will host some 4.000 people. We do not know if this camp will be used to host the Mojahedeen who live in Manza, or the defeated soldiers of DAESH / ISIS jihadis as the Bulgarian Prime Minister declared in Albania in June 2018.
From the data that we possess we can conclude that up til now Albania has probably received around 4.500 Mojahedeen. From these, around 400 have managed to escape and abandon the jihad and live a civilian life or have smuggled themselves into Europe. The remaining 4000 are still radicalized and loyal to Maryam Rajavi's jihad (their slogan is to free Iran) against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
What activities are they engaging in inside of Albania?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: The radicalized MEK members who live in the paramilitary camp of Manza, or Ashraf 3 as Maryam Rajavi calls it are engaged in a number of illegal activities. From what the defectors have told us, we know that the MEK camp in Manza is run as a paramilitary organization. Even though we do not have any information that proves that they possess weapons, the defectors show that the MEK camp is run as an army. It is protected by an armed private Albanian Security company. Inside the camp MEK has a high command which gives orders and runs the everyday life of the Mojahedeen. The supreme commander of the Mojahedeen is Maryam Rajavi and her dead husband Massoud Rajavi. Maryam Rajavi, who has total control over the MEK, directs the organization through a commanding council where people like her first husband, Mehdi Abrishamchi are major people who supervise the organization.
The common soldiers of MEK are segregated inside the camp. The women live in their barracks, and the men live in theirs. They are not allowed to mix with each other and men and women cannot speak with each other unless they are ordered to do so. Common soldiers are not told that Massoud Rajavi is dead. MEK defectors have told me that, on a periodic basis, they get recorded messages from Paris, where the voice of Massoud is played on tape where he tells the soldiers to wait for the moment when they will launch their jihad and free Iran from the Mullahs.
Inside the MEK camp there are a number of other commanders whose names are not known. We see time after time some of their commanders come to Tirana and meet government officials, or as in the case of the beating of Mostafa Mohammadi, they lead MEK gangs to beat their opponents. Some of the commanders that we have seen in Tirana are Behzad Saffari, Jila Deyhim and Ahmed Taba. They were trained by the Mukhabarat of Saddam Hussein and some have even killed or tortured people in Iran and Iraq. Some MEK commanders, like Farid Mahoutchi, have changed their names or surnames after coming to Albania, since in the past they have been accused of killing people in Iraq and leading tank divisions against the Kurds.
MEK analysts believe that inside the MEK camp there are other commanders who in the past have made major terrorist attacks. It is believed that they have changed their names and appearance and now hide happily and unpunished for their past crimes and assassinations. Apart from these, in the Manza camp there are many other MEK members who are simple soldiers. Many of them work in maintenance, some work as dentists, some are self-made doctors, some are cooks etc. However, around 2.000 of these soldiers have in the recent months turned themselves into cyber jihadis. As a recent Al-Jazeera documentary revealed, from the Manza camp, MEK organizes fake news production, twitter attacks, propaganda and espionage against Iran and European governments that support the Nuclear Deal with Iran. MEK is not shy to show that it works day and night to overthrow the government of Iran, even though such an act is considered a terrorist crime in Albania and all MEK members who do this should be imprisoned from four up to ten years.
But as you might imagine, the Americans have put pressure on Albania to save MEK from the laws of Albania. MEK today is like the Mojahedeen during the Soviet war. They are great American patriots!
How is MEK using Albania as a base of operations aiding the organization both regionally and internationally when it comes to its efforts at weakening and undermining the Iranian government?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: MEK is attacking the government of Iran from Albania in a number of ways. Since their coming to Albania, MEK has engaged itself in a massive recruitment drive for supporters. By offering money, gifts, free trips to Paris and Rome in support of Maryam Rajavi’s protests against Iran, and by indoctrinating innocent Albanians with hate against Iran, they have created a large number of followers who believe that the government of Iran is criminal and should be overthrown. Their American and European supporters have exerted a lot of pressure on major Albanian political parties, the Socialists and Democrats, to send their members to the Paris meetings of Maryam Rajavi and speak against Iran. MEK commanders do weekly activities and meeting with Albanian deputies, government officials and even youth whom they radicalize by spreading fake news against Iran. In the same way that DAESH and Jabhat al-Nusra managed to indoctrinate many Muslims in the Balkans to join the Jihad in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s government, by claiming that Assad was killing his own people, MEK is doing the same. If you see the websites run by MEK, like the NCRI, they produce fake news on a daily basis. This news is translated in Albanian and is then sent to Albanians via email or Facebook.
The news that MEK produces claims that Iran is killing its own people, beating women, hanging and torturing prisoners etc. These same tactics were used by DAESH and many Western media outlets in 2012 who created the idea that Bashar al-Assad was killing his own people in Syria. The same tactics were used even in Libya against the government of Muammar al-Gaddafi. As a result of this, we had thousands of European Muslims join the Jihad in Syria. Now, MEK is preparing a Jihad 2.0. against Iran. They are mass-radicalizing many Albanians, Europeans and Iranians with hate against Iran. We have government ministers in Albania, like Pandeli Majko who have already declared themselves to be Mojahedeen and dream to go one day to Tehran and do Jihad against the government of Iran.
MEK is proving very effective in radicalizing many Albanian politicians, officials and youth. By using Albania as a base they are launching anti-Iran campaigns even in Europe. In the European parliament, in the Italian and French senate, and in other parliaments in Europe they have managed to recruit and radicalize a number of MP’s who now believe that MEK is a democratic organization, while Iran lives in a dictatorship.
While, after coming to Albania from Iraq, MEK lost its capacity to carry direct terrorist attacks against Iran, it is developing new grounds of Jihad against Iran. By producing fake news on daily basis – such as the story about an alleged terrorist attack against MEK in Albania in March 2018 – they are depicting Iran as a terrorist country that wants to kill Europeans. This kind of fake news is creating much enmity and hatred in Europe. The CIA and Israeli Mossad are making great use of MEK in their geostrategic war against Europe, Iran and the Nuclear Deal. MEK, its paid supporters and fake news are being used as a major blackmailing tool against Europe to force her to cut her relations and trade with Iran.
The MEK have turned Albania into a second Iraq – like the Iraq of Saddam Hussein – from where they are harassing Iran. The Americans have ordered the Albanian authorities not to interfere in their business. Pandeli Majko, a minister in the present Albanian government told Maryam Rajavi on December 15 that Albania is a castle for MEK. They can do whatever they want here.
Is Albania itself deriving any benefit from hosting the MEK on its soil?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: Albania is deriving no benefit but only headaches, scandals and bad name for what it is doing with MEK. The media in the Balkans and the region, from Serbia, to Greece, Macedonia and Italy, have reported with great concern the coming of MEK to Albania. Europeans are also upset with what Albania is doing.
The only people who are benefiting from hosting the MEK is organized crime and some Albanian politicians who run gangs of drug dealers. Many Albanian politicians, like Prime Minister Edi Rama, Minister of Diaspora Pandeli Majko etc are building personal relationships with American politicians like John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Patrick Kennedy etc, who are opening their doors to Washington. In their yearly “Free Iran” meetings that MEK organizes in Paris, Maryam Rajavi is enabling many corrupt Albanian politicians to meet major European and American neocon politicians. And this is a lot for them.
Is there any internal debate inside the country on whether or not it should be playing host to this organization? What do the Albanian people think of all this?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: When the news of MEK’s coming to Albania broke out in 2016, many Albanian analysts, journalists and the general public protested against their coming. They compared MEK to ISIS and did not want them in the country. They said why are we exporting a foreign conflict and a terrorist organization into our country.
MEK has spent a lot of money the past several years by paying journalists in major TV stations like Vizion +, News 24 etc to portray them as “harmless” war refugees, asylum seekers, victims of the “Iranian regime” etc. The public discontent for the coming of MEK was silenced by the coming of many US senators in Albania, people like John McCain, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani etc who ordered and dictated to Albanians to welcome the MEK. When many politicians were asked why the Americans brought MEK to Albania and not to the United States instead; the answer was: America gave us Kosovo, so we have to give them something in return.
The campaign by American warmonger senators like John McCain and John Bolton to silence the fears of Albanians about the MEK was quite successful. However in July and August 2018 when the Albanian public learned that MEK was keeping hostages in its camp, as with the case of Sommayeh Mohammadi, the public was shocked. When MEK started attacking journalists, as was the case with Channel 4, many TV stations and news portals were appalled. The public was shocked to see Sommayeh Mohammadi, the daughter of Mostafa Mohammadi, being kept in isolation and paraded in front of the camera by MEK commanders like Farid Toutonchi and being made to denounce her father as an agent of Iran. Albanians have gone through these staged TV denunciations during the era of communism and they understood then the monstrous nature of MEK.
To counter these scandals, MEK paid a lot of money to silence the media and show itself as a democratic organization which was targeted by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran. They brought some retired European and American guests in their camp, who tried to convince the Albanian public that MEK was good. They produced a few TV interviews inside their camp with paid journalists who tried to show that everybody was happy in the MEK “resort” of Manza.
Some newspapers and TV stations that reported on past MEK crimes and their present isolation and indoctrination of their members, were later silenced. Some journalists claimed that MEK blackmailed them, while MEK commanders met with media owners and offered them “sponsorship agreements” to buy their silence.
What is the position of the Albanian media on the MEK? Other than yourself, are there dissenting voices and if so are they getting any airtime?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: The beating of Mostafa Mohammadi and the hostage issue of Sommayeh Mohammadi was generally portrayed accurately in many media outlets in Albania. Albanians who had many of their fellow citizens join the Jihad in Syria could not understand and tolerate MEK for doing the same thing with young Iranians.
Most Albanian journalists know what MEK is. Some journalists who have written against MEK have been blackmailed by their commanders or the owners of their media. But since Albania has no real independent media and the two major political parties of Albania, the Democratic and the Socialist parties, have been ordered by the Americans to support MEK – the public debate is silenced from the top. No Albanian politician dares to attack MEK and no major media outlet dares to criticize MEK openly, since the Mojahedeen will accuse them of being agents of Iran.
On the other hand, MEK hides itself from the Albanian public and media. Their 4000 members live in isolation in Manza camp and are not allowed to walk in public and meddle with the public. Albanians do not see them in the streets. They live in a prison and in their isolated reality and Albanians do not know what happens beyond the Manza camp.
Whenever news against MEK breaks out in international media, MEK supporters like Struan Stevenson, Giulio Terzi, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Ingrid Betancourt, Jérard Deprez, Rudy Giuliani etc rush to Albania, or publish pieces written by MEK, where they defend MEK and accuse Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, Iranian agents etc of making up stories. MEK translates their pieces and publishes them in some major newspapers who work with the MEK and the story gets over. MEK commanders who have blood on their hands do not show themselves in public. They use people like Struan Stevenson, Giulio Terzi, Alejo Vidal-Quadras and others to say what they want to say. They do not accept public debates and a democratic debate about their nature and activities. Many Albanian media outlets have asked MEK to come out and have a public debate about their activities in Albania, but they never show up. Even their paid supporters like Struan Stevenson, Giulio Terzi, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Ingrid Betancourt, Jérard Deprez, Rudy Giuliani do not dare to debate the MEK issue with Albanians. When these people come to Albania they make monologues. They go to paid studios, deliver their attacks on Iran and defense of MEK and then run away.
Albania is a US colony where democracy does not work. When the Americans do not want to debate something in our country, they have ways and means to do that. And unfortunately Albania, as Minister Pandeli Majko declared to Maryam Rajavi on December 15, 2018 has become a castle for MEK.
Explain the role that the MEK played in the recent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from Tirana.
Since their coming to Albania, MEK has continuously attacked the Iranian embassy in Tirana. In their fake news articles they claim that the Iranian Embassy is a nest of snakes that is about to launch a terrorist attack against the Mojahedeen and kill them. For this, they have continuously asked from the Albanian government to close the Iranian embassy. They have conveyed this request to their European and American supporters too.
MEK and Maryam Rajavi was and is very anxious with any activity that Iran does in Albania or in the Balkans. In March 2018 when the Bektashi Community of Albania organized a congress for Imam Ali and celebrated the Festival of Nowrooz with its Bektashi community and the Iranian diplomats in Tirana, MEK asked the Albanian authorities to interrupt this religious event and arrest two Iranian journalists – by falsely claiming that they were terrorists.
After failing to find any terrorists among the Bektashi Albanians and the Iranians, Maryam Rajavi continued with her demands to close the Iranian Embassy in Tirana and expel the “Mullah’s diplomats”. Rajavi, who depicts herself as the president-elect of Iran, is jealous of the presence of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana, since she claims to be the representative of Iran in Albania and not the government of Iran.
The MEK are worried by the Iranian presence in Tirana for two major reasons. Reason number one is that they suspect that the Iranian Embassy is helping many MEK members to deradicalize themselves, abandon MEK and return back to Iran. This is a nightmare scenario for MEK, since many of its members are tired with their military life. They want to break free and return to a normal civilian life. MEK defectors have told me that inside the MEK camp there are hundreds of members who want to abandon MEK, escape from the camp, get married, find a job and forget their past terrorist life. For this reason, MEK is doing all it can to keep its members isolated from Iran and their families in Iran.
Reason number two is the Iranian families. MEK has asked the Americans, to order the Albanian government to stop any Iranian family from coming to Albania to meet their enslaved children who are with the MEK. MEK commanders tell their members that if you talk to your families, you are agents of the Mullahs. The families and the Iranian Embassy are two major factors that can deradicalize MEK soldiers and convince them to return to a peaceful normal life. For this reason Maryam Rajavi did all she could to degrade the Iranian Embassy's activity in Tirana and she is doing all in her power, together with the Americans, to keep her soldiers isolated from their families in Iran.
The order that John Bolton gave via twitter to the Albanian government on 20 December 2018 to expel the Ambassador of Iran and another diplomat from Albania was a major victory for Maryam Rajavi. The attack against the Iranian Embassy was made in a full coordination with Israel and the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised Prime Minister Edi Rama for removing the Iranian ambassador. The Albanian government, who cannot say no to America and Israel, had to obey Maryam Rajavi’s request and remove the ambassador from the country.
However, the Albanian government was not happy with this major scandal that John Bolton and Maryam Rajavi forced Albania into. Until this very moment, Prime Minister Edi Rama, President Ilir Meta and Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati have made no statement about the expulsion of the Iranian diplomats. They are not happy with what MEK forced them to do, and now they have finally understood what MEK is capable of doing in Albania.
The reason that the Americans gave for the expulsion of the Iranian diplomats from Tirana, was that they were planning to stage a terrorist attack against MEK. This is what Maryam Rajavi had been saying for many months. The next dream of Maryam Rajavi would probably be to take over the Iranian Embassy in Tirana and turn it into her residence. Time will show if the Americans and their Albanian vassals will enable her to do this next diplomatic scandal.
What leverage does the US government have with the Albanian government? Is there any kind of implied or implicit threat behind their asking the country to host the MEK? What can the US really do if Albania says no?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: If Albania says no to the American dictate to host MEK or ISIS fighters, the Prime Minister and the President of Albania can end up like Mossadegh in Iran. Albania is not an independent country. The US Embassy in Tirana and its ambassadors are the supreme leaders of the country. If you read the Wikileaks on Albania, you will see how the Americans have files for almost every politician in the country.
What is the best way for Albanians, or citizens of any other country, to voice their displeasure with the Albanian government and its policy with regards to the MEK?
Dr. Olsi Jazexhi: We as Albanian citizens, but even the citizens of other countries, must ask the United States to stop funding and supporting terrorist organizations like DAESH, Nusra, and MEK.
The Albanian government, which is not free to do what it wants, must be pressured through EU agencies, civil society organizations, the media and other international organizations, to stop its support for MEK and other terrorist groups. We must tell Albanians that they must stand up for their independence and not allow their country to be treated as an American colony.
The European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which are not happy with what Albania is doing, must be asked to raise their voice against the MEK’s activities. These three organizations must extend their deradicalization programs over to the MEK and must not use their programs only against Albanian Muslims who want to do Jihad in Syria.
EU bodies must ask Albania and the Americans to come out with an action plan to deradicalize MEK in the same way that they are jailing and deradicalizing ISIS sympathizers. France must do the same. They must not allow Maryam Rajavi to use French soil as a base for violent Jihadi propaganda against Iran or any other country. The Europeans must ask MEK to open its camp, deradicalize its members, stop its Jihadi propaganda and its members must be allowed to marry, find jobs and start free civilian lives.
We must also ask international media to come to Albania, investigate the MEK and put pressure on the Albanian government to open the MEK camp to media and the public. The Mojahedeen must abandon their violent jihad, integrate and deradicalize. The same policies that Europe is implementing against radicalized Wahhabi Muslims must be implemented against MEK. The Mojahedeen must be taught to live in a secular democracy and stop their illegal activities.
If the United States and Israel want to wage war against Iran, they should not do this through illegal and terrorist groups and should not use Albania as a rogue state for such criminal activities.