Feature Articles

June 2003

The Mafia, The Mujahedin, and the Middle East

By James Ridgway de Szigethy

     A change in the Bush Administration�s position regarding an organization on the State Department�s list of terrorist groups has now been reported by the Washington Post. The group in question is the Mujahedin e-Khalq, referred to commonly as the MEK. Most Americans probably do not know much about this group, but visitors to have been reading for many years about the MEK, as the story of these Middle Eastern terrorists has entertwined with many stories regarding the American Mafia.

     The MEK was founded in the 1970s by young Iranian Communists with the aim of overthrowing the Shah of Iran. MEK members were among those in 1979 who invaded the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, kidnapping 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet Communist regime, the new Iranian government banned the Communist MEK and they fled to neighboring Iraq, where they received the support of Stalinist Dictator Saddam Hussein. MEK members fought alongside the military of Iraq during the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran.

     In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States offered support to those in the Middle East willing to fight the Russians. After 8 grueling years of "Russia�s Viet Nam," the Soviets were ejected from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan was then taken over by Islamic fundamentalists calling themselves the Taliban. The Tablian offered support to members of al Qaeda, including its leader Osama bin Laden. There in Afghanistan al Qaeda began plotting a series of terrorist attacks that would eventually include the events of 9/11.

     While the war against the Soviets was being waged in Afghanistan, the U. S. government attempted a brief, disastrous campaign to have interaction with "moderates" of the Iranian regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Such operations led to the Iran-Contra scandal. Then came a tragedy that would have repercussions to this very day regarding relations between Iran and the United States. That tragic event was the July, 1988 incident in which an Iranian airliner was mistakenly identified as a hostile aircraft and shot from the sky by the United States Navy carrier Vincennes. Experts on the Iranian leadership expected the government of Iran to retaliate against the United States, and when, a few months later, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown apart by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, the government of Iran was deemed most likely responsible for this mass murder of 270 people, most of whom were Americans.

     The investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 took a bizarre turn in 1989 when a United States Congressman, James Traficant of Ohio, held a press conference during which he blamed the CIA for the bombing. Congressman Traficant and his sources in this conspiracy theory would eventually be discredited and an operative for Libyan Dictator Muamar Qadafy would be convicted for planting the bomb that destroyed the plane. The motivation for carrying out this terrorist attack on innocent civilians was to avenge the 1986 air strike by the U. S. against facilities in Libya that were involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Among those killed in this raid was the infant daughter of Colonel Qadafy.

     Once British and American Intelligence agencies had determined that it was Libya, not Iran, that was responsible for the bombing of the Pan Am Flight, the question left unanswered was what was the Iranians� revenge plot against the U. S. in retaliation for the destruction of the Iranian jetliner?

     The answer came in February, 1996, when the New York Daily News stunned America with a sensational story of a plot by Iranians to detonate a conventional bomb above New York City containing nuclear waste, an event that would render a large part of Manhattan and surrounding areas un-inhabitable for decades. Such an event would have produced mass panic throughout America, requiring the evacuation of the financial district of New York, one result being the collapse of the stock market. In what is now heartbreaking Irony, the Daily News cover featured a photo of the New York skyline dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

     The Daily News got the story from Colombo Mafia Family money launderer Dennis Pappas, who claimed he was asked in 1993 by agents of FBI Counter-Intelligence to help them bug a building purchased by the Iranians involved in the plot. Pappas said that at first he agreed, then later backed out of the plan, fearing the Iranians would harm his family. Pappas was arrested in July 1995 and charged with being the "financial consigliere" of the Colombo Mafia Family. The Judge in his case then placed him under a gag order "for reasons of National security." Before the gag order was imposed, Pappas had complained about his treatment to reporters at the Daily News, who were able to independently corroborate key claims about his story. Pappas would later accept a plea bargain in his money laundering case.

     While members of the Iranian government were hatching their �dirty bomb� plot against America, their enemies in the MEK were pursuing their own agenda within the United States. Beginning in the early 1990s, associates of the MEK began to funnel enormous amounts of money to U. S. politicians, asking in return that the politicians lobby for their cause in Washington, D. C. In 1993 U. S. Senator John McCain, a former Prisoner of War, entered into the Congressional Record a challenge to the FBI and the Justice Department to share information on the MEK, who are also known as the People�s Mujahedin of Iran and the People�s Holy Warriors. Among those members of Congress who had accepted substantial campaign contributions from associates of the MEK, and who had then lobbied on their behalf, were Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and James Traficant of Ohio.

     Why these two politicians were targeted by the MEK has not yet been revealed, but it is a matter of public record that both men have accepted campaign contributions from members of the American Mafia. Thus, the MEK may have concluded that American politicians who would accept money from members of organized crime would also likely accept money from them as well.

     In February 2001 this reporter published the first of a series of expos�s on the campaign contributions of Congressman Traficant and, later, Robert Torricelli. What ensued was a struggle over many months to disseminate the troubling information regarding the two men�s sources of campaign money from both the American Mafia and members of a foreign terrorist organization. After Congressman Traficant�s acceptance of money from the MEK was reported on the live radio talk show The Louie B. Free Show, Free was fired from the station. ROLL CALL Magazine would then reveal that the station�s owner was a significant contributor to the Congressman�s campaigns for re-election. Louie Free would be fired twice more before the day came when he was able to announce on his program that a Federal jury in Ohio had convicted Congressman Traficant on charges relating to his finances. The charges against Traficant, however, did not relate to the funds he received from the MEK.

     Senator Robert Torricelli would also become the target of a similar probe by the Feds in New York regarding gifts he received from some of his campaign contributors. Torricelli was not charged with any crimes. However, when his rival in the race for the U. S. Senate challenged Torricelli in regards to his acceptance of money from associates of the MEK, the Senator apologized to the public, admitting it was a mistake to have supported the Baghdad-based organization. With the polls showing Torricelli heading for certain defeat, the Senator dropped out of the race.

     After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Bush Administration made the determination that regime changes were necessary in countries that support terrorism. One was Afghanistan. Fearing as many as 10,000 American soldiers would die to liberate that country, Congress reluctantly agreed to support the war. Causalities were in fact very few, as the people of that country, weary of the repressive lifestyle imposed upon them by the Islamic fundamentalists, the Taliban, did not support the regime. Similarly, the vast majority of the people of Iraq did not support Dictator Saddam Hussein and Coalition troops received little resistance as Iraq was liberated.

     What received little Media attention during the liberation of Iraq was that Coalition forces also targeted soldiers of the MEK, confiscating their arsenals of weapons. This information was communicated to the government of Iran as part of an effort by the United States to improve relations between the two countries. However, according to the Washington Post report, the U. S. has received credible information that Iran is the base of operations for several members of al Qaeda, including those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia last month that killed several Americans. The Bush Administration is also said to be very concerned over Iran�s program to develop nuclear weapons, a concern that is better understood in the context of the earlier Iranian �dirty bomb� plot that was foiled by the FBI.

     Thus, the Administration is said to be reconsidering its position on the MEK. To be fair, the MEK has many associates who are not involved in terrorist activities, but are instead activists in the women�s rights movement, whose aim is to replace the repressive regime in Iran with a government that offers equal education and employment opportunities to women.

     Huge numbers of women in Iran participated in candlelight vigils on 9/11 to condemn the terrorist attacks on America. These actions by the Iranian people indicate that many Iranians do not share the anti-American hostility that is held by the religious figures that still run the country. Such evidence of a division between the Iranian government and the general population may be a key factor as the Bush Administration considers affecting a �regime change� in Iran, with the well-trained and disciplined soldiers of the MEK a potential part of this equation.

     According to an old Middle-Eastern saying: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Related Features:

  • MOB WAR!
    Murder, Deception, and Intrigue Inside New York�s Colombo Mafia Family



    James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at

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