Residents of Tirana no doubt welcomed news that members of the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq organisation (MEK) have moved out of the capital to a closed camp in Manëz, Durres a few kilometers from Tirana. Citizens had been disturbed by the bizarre, anti-social behaviour of the group’s members and puzzled by their lifestyle.
However, they might not be so pleased if predictions come into play. That is, the arrival of widows and orphans of killed Daesh fighters to occupy the apartment blocks and university campus recently deserted by the MEK.
There is every possibility this will not happen though. The agreement brokered between Sali Berisha’s government and the Obama Administration in 2013 to bring the MEK there included the establishment of an Institute for De-Radicalisation which would have made sure the 3000 radicalized MEK fighters were rehabilitated safely back into normal society.
This did not happen. There is, therefore, no American funded Institute to de-radicalise incoming Daesh members. Instead, the MEK locked down on its control over its own members and has further managed to groom Albanian politicians, officials and mafia heads into cooperating with and supporting them. This latest move to a new base is part of the MEK’s overall survival strategy – hold on to members and promote the MEK’s brand as instigators of regime change against Iran.The building of a new base was first exposed when investigative journalist Gjergji Thanasi uncovered shipments of cement which were not linked to tax or import documents. Further investigation revealed plans to build a terrorist training camp in the Manëz area. The camp has a small-arms firing range, reinforced concrete armoury, 3.5-meter-high walls with lookout turrets to guard the entrance. The entrance is guarded by MEK personnel. Albanian authorities have no jurisdiction inside the camp. It is a de facto extra-judicial enclave.
The MEK, led by Maryam Rajavi from France, keeps its members behind closed doors in a state of modern slavery which neither the UNHCR nor the UN-IOM appear able or willing to deal with. Significantly the camp is named ‘Ashraf Three’ after the MEK’s original military base in Iraq, gifted to them by Saddam Hussein to help his war effort against Iran (1980-88). The newest camp has also been gifted to the MEK by its backers.
With this backing, the MEK feel secure enough in Albania to have conducted several open acts of violence. Two in Tirana and one in the European Parliament. But it is events in Iran which are a greater cause for concern.
Now that the protests and unrest in Iran have been quelled, some facts are emerging which could have serious repercussions throughout the Balkans region. What began as working-class protests against economic hardship and government corruption were quickly politicised by agitators who introduced violence. Security authorities arrested hundreds of protesters who were alleged to have taken part in this violence. Most have since been released pending further investigation. These investigations will look closely into interference by external forces behind the violence. A state of affairs acknowledged in a Security Council meeting on Friday 5th January when the isolated Trump Administration was warned by other members against interfering in Iran’s internal affairs.
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) announced that a number of people involved in the violence had been trained by the terrorist MEK. Iran’s Intelligence service in the western Iranian province of Lorestan also said it had disbanded and arrested four members of a terrorist cell linked to the MEK in Boroujerd city. According to Iran, Intelligence services have uncovered a network of agitators organised from Afghanistan and Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This network had been making preparations for several months and had planned to launch violent actions later in 2018. It appears that the spontaneous working-class protests against high prices and corruption triggered the network to jump on this bandwagon ahead of schedule.
If the plan was to provoke Iran’s security services into a harsh crackdown on the protesters which would be spun in western media as human rights violations, this did not work. Instead the establishment brought out its supporters in massive counter demonstrations. But above all, when the protests turned violent, ordinary people went home. They wanted no part in manufactured regime change.
The discovery of MEK involvement is not surprising. The group has been a favourite tool for anti-Iran regime change pundits for decades when it was based in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In an interview with Serbian Sputnik, political analyst Aleksandar Paviç warned that “Trump, along with Israel, has a clear plan and this is being activated today by Albania. The CIA and Israeli services are preparing soldiers to send them to war in Iran to overthrow the regime”.
Although the MEK has lobbying offices in nearly every major western capital, there is only one MEK terrorist training camp. It is in Albania – Ashraf Three. The camp may look innocuous and may be far away from civilian eyes. But Albania and thereby the greater Balkan region – a kind of frontline between Russia and America - will pay a high price for hosting this group.
The MEK is not only calling for violent regime change from inside Albania, it is actively training terrorist agents to deploy for this mission. This means that Iran, a Russian ally, now has a direct interest in this region. Albania can now be considered a frontline country in Iran’s fight against terrorism.
At the same time, no wonder that the European Union regards Albania not as a friendly neighbour but as a security risk right on its doorstep. There is no chance whatsoever of Albania joining the European Union while it hosts the MEK terrorist group.
The Gordian Knot of Balkan states which neither the Americans, Russians nor the EU have been able to unpick would be best served if these countries found common cause in ridding this sensitive area of the one group which serves none of their interests. Nobody wants it cut by an Iranian sword.