Call for new investigation into banned Iranian group

By Jimmy Burns and Mark Huband
Financial Times; Mar 21, 2003

The government has been urged to launch a fresh investigation into a proscribed Iranian dissident organisation thought to have had close links with Saddam Hussein amid allegations that its members continue to be active in the UK.

Baroness Nicholson, the Liberal Democrat MEP, said she was deeply concerned about reports from Middle East sources exiled in the UK suggesting that activists of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation - known as the MEK or MKO - had been attending rallies, raising funds, and distributing propaganda literature in recent weeks.

The sources claim that the more commonly known MKO has set up an account under the name of a printing company with a leading UK clearing bank into which funds obtained from the sale of literature and other activities are paid.

"My view is that this organisation is still operating in the UK and that it has remained an integral part of Saddam's Iraq. That makes it particularly dangerous in the current circumstances," said Lady Nicholson.

The allegations surprised some Whitehall insiders who believed that the MKO had been largely inactive in Britain since steps were taken at the end of the 1990s to close a charity that had been used allegedly as a front for raising funds, and to disrupt a satellite TV station used for propaganda purposes.

Despite claiming to seek the establishment of a democratic, socialist, Islamic republic in Iran, the MKO was placed on a list of banned organisations in December 2001 for its alleged links with terrorism after reports that it had set up its main base in Iraq.

David Blunkett, home secretary, told MPs yesterday that the government was aware of "only a very small number of people in the UK who may be sympathetic to the Iraqi regime". People about whom the government was concerned on security grounds were "being interviewed" by police and MI5, the security service. "We will continue to keep under close review any threats posed by them or others to our security," he added.

The Home Office said it remained a criminal offence "to belong to, support or display support" for the MKO.