Called by some a terrorist group, dismissed by others as a cult, the People’s Mujahideen is a secretive organization that has existed on the fringes of Iranian politics for decades.
The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, has received strong support from prominent American figures, including President Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton.
Inspired by Marxist ideology, the organization began activity in the mid-1960s, opposing the highly unpopular US-backed Shah of Iran.
But the MEK soon came to reject the theocratic regime that replaced it after the 1979 revolution.
The group became increasingly violent, carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations against the Iranian government – actions that caused its popularity to decline.
By the mid-1980s the group had moved its headquarters to Iraq, where it received protection under Saddam Hussein.
Despite the US State Department designating the MEK as a foreign terrorist group in the late 1990s, it nevertheless received US protection during the Iraq War.
After US troops began winding down operations in Iraq, the MEK came under fire from the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.
In 2012, the US removed the MEK from its terrorist list and worked with the United Nations to find an alternative host country.
A year later, Albania welcomed the group, hoping to curry favor with Washington.
Attempts by journalists to enter the MEK have remained unreachable.
Although the group has renounced violence, supporting the peaceful overthrow of Iran’s theocratic government, some former members have said they were ‘brainwashed’.
Recently, a New York Times reporter gained rare access to the group’s headquarters on the outskirts of Albania’s capital.
He also interviewed ex-members living in the country who claimed they were forced to give up romantic relationships and that all sexual thoughts were forbidden.
But other members have denied these claims, arguing that any discipline of thought was necessary to fight the despotic Iranian regime.