April 30, 2003-05-06
Iranian Rebels Get a New Lease on Life
Group reached a truce with U.S. despite being branded terrorists. Tehran is not happy.
By David Kelly, Times Staff Writer
KARAMA, Jordan — Aid workers called them the Persians, but everyone else in the shabby refugee camp here near the Jordan-Iraq border knew them simply as the moujahedeen.
For two weeks, about 60 of them occupied tents in a dust-blown no-man's land beside 800 Kurds who had fled as Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed. The Kurds, who were Sunni Muslims, were running from the Shiites, but the moujahedeen were running from everyone.
"We all knew who they were. We knew them from Baghdad, but in Baghdad they had uniforms," recalled Mohammed Said, who lived in a tent near them. "We don't like them, though. Nobody liked the moujahedeen."
The Moujahedeen Khalq, or People's Holy Warriors, is an Iranian exile group that is fighting the Tehran government and had allied itself with Hussein. The group has killed U.S. citizens, and it took part in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The State Department lists the group as a terrorist organization.
Ousted from Iran for its Marxist ideology after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the group was given bases in Iraq, where it launched attacks on Iran and plotted the assassination of Iranian officials. In return, Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime used the organization to oppress Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq.
But with the ouster of Hussein, many members of the group — including leader Maryam Rajavi and her husband — fled to the Jordanian border, desperate to get out, Jordanian officials say.
With their longtime quarry cornered, Iran pressured Jordan to refuse them sanctuary and hand them over to Tehran. Iran believed that for once, Tehran and Washington were on the same side.
"It was a unique opportunity, a rare chance to work together," said Mohammad Safaee, the Iranian consul in the Jordanian capital, Amman. "We promised there would be no death penalty, that only the leaders would face trial."
But about 11 p.m. Sunday, witnesses said, dozens of Moujahedeen Khalq members here climbed into a fleet of cars and drove a few hundred yards to the American checkpoint beneath a towering, defaced portrait of Hussein.
Passing the U.S. soldiers who check passports these days, some of the members headed toward Baghdad. A Jordanian official who asked not to be identified said some went to Khanaqin, a city northeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border.
Eight to 10 others were allowed into Jordan, where they boarded planes for France, Germany and the Netherlands, Jordanian officials said
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