Five Iranian nationals and two Iranian Americans belonging to the anti-Iranian government group, Moujahedeen Khalq, appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday on charges of raising more than $1 million to fund terrorist activities abroad, according to reports.
Most of the money was solicited from unsuspecting travelers at Los Angeles International Airport and sent to bank accounts in Turkey controlled by, according to the FBI, said the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
According to AFP, The three-year FBI investigation was prompted by a request in June 1997 of the German federal criminal police who were conducting their own investigation into money laundering.
Other reports said $400,000 was sent to the UAE. The money is believed to be used to buy rocket launchers and other weapons to be used in attacks against Iran.
The prosecutors do not have to prove that money was used to buy weapons, according to the US law. Funding a group labeled as terrorist is in itself a crime.
The FBI arrested the seven people Tuesday, said James V. DeSarno Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles office. The arrests were made at various locations in Los Angeles, including one at a West Los Angeles Starbucks.
The Moujahedeen Khalq, also called MEK, routinely solicits money, usually from Asian travelers, at LAX and other airports on behalf of a charity called the Committee for Human Rights, the FBI told reporters.
According to LA Times, the travelers are shown photographs of starving children and victims of alleged Iranian government atrocities and told the money is used to support the refugees. The FBI says the group raises between $5,000 and $10,000 daily, just in Los Angeles.
DeSarno said the agency suspects the money has been used to buy arms, but he said, "We have not been able to tie money from this group to a particular terrorist act."
The organization originated as one of many groups opposing the shah of Iran in the 1960s and 1970s. It was among the forces within Iran that eventually overthrew the shah and occupied the US Embassy in Tehran. After the revolution, the group fell out with the more powerful Muslim clerics who emerged as the leaders of post-shah Iran. The group was eventually outlawed within Iran and members went into exile.
The city of Tehran has been subject to mortar attacks, and the organization, harbored by Iraq, claimed responsibility each time.
The last one was on January 21, the third that the group had claimed in two weeks.
The two earlier attacks targeted intelligence ministry offices and the state security forces.
Khalq has bases in Iraq, with members scattered also in Europe and northern America occasionally with some degree of official support from their host countries, charges Iran.
However, the group is on the blacklist in the US and recently in Britain, according to a list announced by UK’s Home Office.
According to the State Department's terrorist report, “following a philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam, [MEK] has developed into the largest and most active armed Iranian dissident group. Its history is studded with anti-Western activity, and, most recently, attacks on the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad."
The group has several thousand armed soldiers organized into a National Liberation Army in Iraq, the State Department says.
The US classification of the MEK as a terrorist organization has been controversial. In 1998, 220 members of Congress objected to the classification and signed a statement saying the MEK was a legitimate resistance movement.
The State Department has refused to change the classification – Albawaba.com
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