Who Is Hassan Daioleslam?

By Daniel Luban

In my last post, I noted that Hassan Daioleslam — the man at the center of the ongoing NIAC controversy — has been “said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Commentary‘s Jennifer Rubin is skeptical, accusing me of participating in a “Leftist smear-fest”. While I find her general tone rather overwrought, I do think that her request to provide more details to back up the claim is reasonable, so I’ve compiled a few statements (including two by former MEK members) concerning Daioleslam’s role in the group. I believe these statements show that suspicions about Daioleslam’s MEK ties are well-founded.

Massoud Khodabandeh, former MEK member who is now a leading expert on and critic of the group: “I can say without doubt that Hassan Daioleslam is a member of what I call for accuracy ‘the Rajavi cult’ [referring to MEK leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi]. In this respect he is obedient to the Rajavi leadership and would not act in a way inconsistent with their requirements and certainly not without their knowledge or consent (if not to say actual order). The term ‘membership’ describes his relationship to the Rajavis. The MKO, just like Al Qaida, does not have ‘membership cards’. But I doubt very much the MKO would deny that he is a member, just as they never have denied that Alireza Jafarzadeh is a member. Daioleslam’s writing is on the MKO websites. They do not publish just anyone’s writing. Only those obeying organisational constraints.”

Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, former high-ranking MEK member who the group held in solitary confinement for over eight years and then turned over to Saddam Hussein’s security forces for his dissent from offical MEK policies: “Hassan Daioleslam, who is also considered as a member of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation (Rajavi Cult) had been under harsh criticism for a long time by the cult leader Massoud Rajavi because he would not leave the USA and join the cult under the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But now, in the new circumstances in which the remnants of the Rajavi cult after the fall of Saddam Hussein find themselves in western countries, Hassan’s social position and his ability to speak English has grabbed the attention of Rajavi. He seems to be next in line to be consumed [for the group’s interests].” (Taken from a 2007 article by Sobhani; read the whole thing for a fuller description of the Daioleslam family’s deep involvement with the MEK. Daioleslam’s brother Hossein and sister Fatemeh are both leading MEK members.)

Mehdi Noorbaksh, professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University: “I know Daioleslam very closely and personally. He is not a journalist but a perfume merchant. He was a former member of MKO who was critical of the organization for many years. He was living in Europe for several years until he moved to the United States in Phoenix, Arizona. He was re-bought by MKO one more time and he is now active in selling and defending the positions of this terrorist organization. Those who know him know well that his commitment to MKO is opportunistic.”

Other knowledgeable parties have also spoken privately to me about Daioleslam’s MEK ties; anyone with further information they would like to share publicly should feel free to contact me.

For more background on the MKO, see the State Department’s description of the group on its terrorism page. Human Rights Watch also released a report in 2005 detailing the group’s record of subjecting dissident members to torture and solitary confinement.

Founded as a militant group with an ideology combining aspects of Islam and Marxism, the group is frequently described today as “cult-like,” built around a personality cult centered on leader Maryam Rajavi. The State Department notes that members are “required to undertake a vow of ‘eternal divorce’ and participate in weekly ‘ideological cleansings,'” and that “children are reportedly separated from parents at a young age.” After Rajavi was arrested in France in 2003 on suspicions of plotting terrorism, MKO members throughout Europe protested by setting themselves on fire; two of them died.

The group’s hatred of the Islamic Republic led it to ally with Saddam Hussein, and it fought on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Following the Gulf War, “the group reportedly assisted in the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime; press reports cite MEK leader Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks,'” according to the State Department. The group’s alliance with Saddam made it widely despised among the Iranian community at large, as it remains to this day.

However, its militant anti-Iranian stance has made it a favorite of hawks in Washington. Several of them — most notably Tom Tancredo (R-CO) — participated in a 2005 Washington conference in support of the group. The same year also saw the founding of the pro-MEK Iran Policy Committee, headed by Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). The MEK’s neoconservative supporters continue to push for it to be taken off the State Department terror list, which it has been on since 1997. One of the many ironies about the MEK is that, for all the groundless allegations that hawks made about Saddam Hussein’s connections to terrorist groups during the runup to the Iraq war, the terrorist group with perhaps the closest links to Saddam was one that the hawks themselves supported.

So it seems that the neoconservatives who have gotten in bed with Daioleslam may have some explaining to do. If he is indeed an MEK operative, as the evidence strongly suggests, then he is, to say the least, a rather unlikely standard-bearer for the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran.

[Cross-posted on The Faster Times.]

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. i think the subject is important. the road to war always begins with a demonization of the target country and its people. parsi and cohen of the times amongst others who authoritatively humanize the citizens threaten this goal and diminish the public appetite for war. it is important to undermine the crude effort at smearing parsi and other voices of reason.

  2. Of course there is relevance here and if it were not, why would such enormous force stay behind MEK’s message. Before the invasion of Iraq, few Americans had heard of Ahmad Chalabi but that did not prevent him and his friends in neocon movement from affecting the ordinary lives of Iraqis and Americans. Our present_moment_knowledge is not the sole basis for judging the importance of a topic. Many focus on Iran as the most challenging subject of US foreign policy. If that is the case, the groups who want to direct the policies are having a profound impact on Iran and US -and by extension the larger world. There are no accidents in politics and this is another example of how we should follow the message of the ruling class and its PR line to track the eventual target.

  3. The Iranian Communist MEK (MKO, PMOI, NCRI, Rajavi Cult, or Pol Pot of Iran) terrorists are used by the American government to perform terrorist activities and to help other terrorist organizations, such as Jundallah. In September 2002, the White House published a background paper for President George W. Bush’s remarks at the United Nations. That background paper listed two pretexts for the Iraq War: (1) weapons of mass destruction (2) Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorists. Of the three terrorist organizations listed in the background paper, only the MEK was a major one. In 2003, American and coalition forces attacked Camp Ashraf, Iraq, killing some of the MEK. The neo-conservatives (neo-Trotskyites) arranged for the protection and use of these terrorists.

  4. The last two comments miss my point. I don’t deny that U.S. policy towards Iran is vital. I just don’t think MEK is a particularly important part of the story. The American people will not fall behind an Iran policy – be it bellicose or pro-engagement – as a result of anything to do with MEK. Trying to “expose” the neocons and their ilk by revealing their involvement with MEK goes right over the head of the average citizen. And the Obama people don’t need any of us to educate them about MEK; they aren’t babes in the woods. If you want to put a roadblock on the road to war, you need to talk about the effects a war would have on America. That’s how to mobilize the citizenry; this sort of inside baseball is just parlor intellectual stuff.

    What we really need to worry about is how much backbone Obama has. He came into office with the possibility of becoming a true popular leader in both domestic and foreign affairs. Instead he’s been a compromiser; a low-key kind of guy. He doesn’t want to look like an “angry black man” I suppose. What he fails to realize is that he can never placate those who are opposed to him. He’s letting himself get pushed around – by the generals on Afghanistan, for example. If he’s not careful he’ll be irrelevant in a couple of years. I’m beginning to wonder why he wanted to become president. If he isn’t going burn some political capital to affect real change, then he’s either a coward or a fool (for the record, I don’t think he’s a fool). In the crisis (or rather, crises) facing the country, a Lincoln, or an FDR, or a Reagan is needed, not a calculating pantywaist who wants to offend no one.

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