Ashcroft backed terror group

Ashcroft backed terror group

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Early last month the White House released its white paper on Saddam Hussein and Iraq, outlining his support for international terrorism. The document, titled “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” said nothing about any Iraqi connection to Osama bin Laden.

Nonetheless it made some of the high and mighty in Washington nervous and uncomfortable. The document spotlighted Saddam’s backing of an obscure Iranian dissident organization known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization or MKO.

Documents revealed one of MKO’s U.S. supporters is a key member of the Bush administration, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Newsweek magazine reported Ashcroft became involved with the MKO while serving as a Republican senator from Missouri.

The U.S. State Department labeled the MKO as a terrorist group in 1997, accusing it, Newsweek said, of bombings, guerilla raids, and assassinations of Iranian leaders. The department said MKO was linked to the murders of several American military officers and civilians in Iran in the 1970s.

MKO commands an army of 30,000 fighters from bases inside Iraq and tried continually in recent years to improve its image. It operates in Washington from a small office in the National Press Building, using the name of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The State Department says it is a front for MKO.

The group insists it has no terrorist affiliations and only targets military objectives. Two years ago that won the support of Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. The group staged a protest rally in New York City at the UN in September 2000. Ashcroft and his fellow Missourian, Sen. Chris Bond, sent a joint statement of support that was read to the crowd.

About 500 Iranians from Missouri attended the event. Ashcroft’s smiling visage later appeared in a briefing book used by MKO officials to present their case on Capitol Hill.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the top lobbyist for the National Council, said he had several meetings with Ashcroft concerning the detention of an Iranian woman who was a spokeswoman for the council. Jafarzadeh said he definitely viewed the former Missouri senator as a supporter of his group.

Ashcroft, however, isn’t the only Washington figure backing away from MKO since Sept. 11. Robert Torricelli in recent years sent his political colleagues a number of letters terming MKO a legitimate alternative to the repressive Iranian clerical regime and urging that the group be removed from the State Department’s terrorist group list. Now Torricelli says he will no longer back MKO.

Last December FBI agents appeared at the home of Jafarzadeh. They hauled away boxes of documents, including the Iranian’s files on the council’s dealings with members of Congress. One of those boxes was labeled ASHCROFT.

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