Massoud Rajavi, the once-presumed-dead former leader of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an organization labeled as a “terrorist” group by Iran, reportedly passed away three years ago due to health issues while under the supervision of the United States, according to Iranian media reports.
Rajavi’s demise, as per a report by the state-linked Tasnim news website, was attributed to a heart attack after a prolonged period of illness. The report quoted an unnamed security official, marking the first unofficial confirmation of his death.
Neither the MEK, which advocates for the overthrow of the Iranian government, nor U.S. authorities have officially acknowledged Rajavi’s death. In his absence, his wife, Maryam Rajavi, has taken on the public leadership of the organization for the past two decades.
Rajavi’s last public appearance was in 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Speculations about his fate have included theories of his death or imprisonment outside of Iran.
Rajavi’s Legacy and the MEK
Massoud Rajavi played a significant role in the lead-up to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. He joined the MEK, a left-wing group opposing the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. His leadership of the organization led to his imprisonment during the Shah’s reign. He was released alongside other political prisoners after the revolution’s success.
However, Rajavi’s differences with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of the new republic, led to his exile in Paris in 1981. In collaboration with Iran’s first-ever president, Abolhassan Banisadr, who had been impeached, they founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran as the umbrella organization of the MEK. Rajavi advocated a more aggressive approach toward Tehran, leading to bombings and assassinations that killed Iranian civilians and political figures, including the attempted assassination of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current Supreme Leader.
Rajavi’s involvement in Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s presented an opportunity to escalate the conflict. He relocated to Iraq, where he formed a “liberating army.” However, his forces suffered a significant setback when they attempted to invade Iran, resulting in numerous casualties and his eventual retreat.
Rajavi’s Disappearance and Allegations
The recent Tasnim report alleges that Massoud Rajavi sustained severe injuries to his feet and face during a U.S. operation in Iraq, leading him to avoid public appearances. He reportedly fled to Jordan but lacked proper medical care for his diabetes and blood pressure issues, ultimately losing his vision and undergoing amputation of one foot.
Over a decade ago, the MEK succeeded in having the U.S. and European Union remove it from their lists of “terrorist” organizations, leading to a relocation to Europe. According to the Iranian report, the U.S. insisted on Rajavi maintaining a low profile, under U.S. guard and supervision, with his wife assuming leadership.
Present-Day MEK Activities
The MEK, operating under Maryam Rajavi’s leadership, has continued its activities, particularly online, with an increased focus during periods of unrest in Iran. It remains a divisive figure within Iran, despite its high-profile support from current and former U.S. officials, notably during the Trump administration’s approach to Iran.
Iran continues to designate the MEK as a “terrorist” group, citing its alleged involvement in the deaths of over 17,000 Iranians over the decades. The group’s main camp in Albania faced police raids in June, citing unauthorized political activities as the reason for the action.