[MEK, MKO, PMOI] Supporting the Takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979

Independent academic research by an Iran Policy Committee, IPC Task Force uncovered primary source documents of the period that cast serious doubt on the likelihood that MEK members supported the U.S. Embassy takeover or subsequent seizure of Americans. Understanding of the political situation was so limited that many groups were easily confused and mistaken for rival and even hostile organizations. In particular, the American Embassy was confused about the identity and role of the MEK during this period of the Iranian Revolution.

To illustrate this puzzlement, consider one example of IPC Task Force material, a declassified document, originally classified “Secret.” The document comes from the Office of Security of the U.S. Department of State, titled, “Threat Assessment: Iran,” dated June 14, 1979. The 22-page report states that when the American Embassy was first attacked on February 14, 1979, it was the forces of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) “that came to the aid of the Americans.” In fact, the Khomeini elements ostensibly “protecting” the U.S. Embassy in June 1979 were actually special Komiteh security forces of the Iranian government, led by Mashallah Kashani. By this time, these forces were in open conflict with the MEK and brutally attacked MEK members on the street. The historical record and recollections of those actually involved make clear that the MEK neither supported nor benefited from the American Embassy crisis.

The adversarial position in which the MEK found itself vis-à-vis the faction of Ayatollah Khomeini at the time of the takeover was described in very clear terms by Massoumeh Ebtekar, spokesperson for the student group that took over the Embassy and later Vice President for the Department of the Environment in the administration of President Khatami. Her book, Takeover in Tehran, provides an eyewitness account of the crisis. She states that they had completely excluded the MEK and its members from participation in the embassy takeover.




Prepared by: Stephanie C. Stuaffer, 632-1864

Approved by: Bowman H. Miller, Sid T. Telford, 632-2412

June 14, 1979




…has been engaged in training activities, you can also act as a spearhead for an assault on the embassy for U.S. personnel off the compound. Such a force, trained and disciplined, would pose a more serious threat than the elements that attacked the embassy on February 14.

(U) The Chariks and the Mujahedin operated clandestinely until the demise of the Peacock Throne. Both groups continue to be viable terrorist groups; however, both have, to some extent, changed their directions of interest in recent months.

(LOU) on February 14, 1979 the U.S. embassy in Tehran was attacked and overrun by the Chariks, an organization which had previously not focused on American targets because they felt such incidents would bring too strong a response from the Iranian security agencies. However, with the Iranian government in internal chaos, they struck and were quite successful, taking control of the embassy compound and nearly 100 Americans including then Ambassador Sullivan. To add and even more disconcerting note, the forces that came to the aid of the Americans and were at the time acting as the provisional police, were members of the Mujahedin. The Mujahedin since 1972 have assassinated six Americans ( three military personnel and three Rockwell International employees). They also attempted the bombing assassination of a U.S. Air Force brigadier general, the kidnapping of an American ambassador, and mistakenly assassinated non-Iranian employee of the U.S. Embassy (the actual target was a U.S. consular official at the present time, and element of the Mujahedin protects the embassy compound ( see section titled “ security of the compound” for a more detailed explanation).

(U) among the gravest problems for the Khomeini government is the capability of restive tribes and regional groups demanding autonomy to harass the beleaguered central authorities. The government is trying to rebuild the armed forces to a capability similar to that which existed under the Shah. Iran’s guerrilla groups are resisting this, trying instead to create a “people’s army” run by soldier committees and elected officers. Several government atempts to dissolve these groups and sees their arsenals of weapons have failed. The guerrillas’…

… Americans. Private vehicles were set on fire, fire bombs tossed through private residence windows, a number of restaurants in Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz which catered to foreigners were attacked, bombed, and set afire.

(S) Anti-U.S. feelings, which appeared to have abated several months ago following the evacuation of most Americans, are on the increase. The fractionalization of the Islamic movement and the many political groups competing for public favor may once again find the U.S. an attractive target for propaganda and aggression. Recent demonstrations protesting Senator Jacob Javits’ resolution on Iran point out the fact that any political decision which Iranians in general consider disadvantageous to them could trigger anti U.S. demonstrations and or incidents. In this regard, a decision to allow the deposed Shah and or family members to visit or settle in the United States could have serious consequences. The Iranian reaction would probably be immediate and possibly violent. Such a decision would probably be the one cohesive and unifying factor in the entire Iranian political spectrum.

Security of the Compund

(S) At present the compound is protected by an element of the Mujahedin led by Mashallah Kashani who claims to hold credentials directly from Khomeini. His forces, which supposedly number approximately 40 with a reserve located in two mosques in the area, are untrained, lack discipline, and are armed with a variety of weapons (some stolen from the U.S. embassy) as well as radio equipment removed from the Chancery net February 14, 1979. Foreign Service personnel report that only five to ten of these guards are on the compound during daylight hours. During evening hours the forces increase to fifteen or twenty. Periodic checks at night usually find most, if not all, the troops asleep.

(S) Of definite concern is the Embassy’s lack of control over the after-hour activities of Mashallah and his troops. He has used the Embassy compound to run his own revolutionary and intelligence operations. He has brought SAVAK agents on the compound and used the motor pool office for interrogation purposes. Upon learning of the possibility that Mashallah may have tortured a prisoner on the compound, the Charge ordered these activities stopped. It is believed that this activity ceased; however, Mashallah has found other ways to amuse himself. He has run an operation against the Soviets and also some Iranians from the compound. An embassy vehicle was used in the seizure of three Soviets, and the safe house was located off the rear of the compound. Indiscriminate shooting at each other and at unknown persons firing at the compound during darkness is another inherent problem with Mashallah and his Mujahedin. Lastly, Mashallah and his forces control access to the compound. Attempts are being made for police forces to gradually take over some of the security responsibilities of the Mujahedin.

Tribal Unrest in the Provinces

(C) Nationalist groups, who were active underground until the downfall of the show, are now openly demanding full autonomy for their ethnic groups. This includes the Kurds in the west, the Baluchis in the southwest and the Azeris in the northwest. The most recent Hope and expansion of hostility occurred in Khorramshar on May 30, 1979 following an incident in which a Revolutionary Guards-man killed two Arabs in the course of a labor dispute at the port. The air and community attacked the port in public…




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