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US Orders Iranian Group's Offices Closed - 2003-08-16

The United States Friday closed down offices of the political wing of the Iranian opposition group the People's Mujahedeen (MEK). The political arm of the group, known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, had operated openly in Washington even though its parent is listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.

The decision was announced in a notice by Secretary of State Colin Powell published Friday morning in the U.S. government's official journal, The Federal Register.

That was followed quickly by the closing of the National Council of Resistance offices in downtown Washington by U.S. Treasury Agents.

Despite its affiliation with the MEK, designated a terrorist organization by the United States in 1999, the National Council of Resistance had operated openly in Washington and held news conferences notably one last year in which it released information about two suspected nuclear weapons sites in Iran.

The group's U.S. presence had drawn criticism from the Iranian government and others who contended that it showed inconsistency in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The closure under terms of a 2001 anti-terrorism executive order by President Bush came after an inter-agency debate within the administration, and is understood to have been strongly supported by Secretary Powell.

In the announcement, Mr. Powell said he determined that the National Council of Resistance is an alias for the MEK.

A State Department spokesman said the move was based on information from a variety of sources that the National Council of Resistance functioned "as a part of the MEK" and supported its acts of terrorism.

The MEK supported the 1979 revolution in Iran but later broke with the Islamic government in Tehran and set up camps in Iraq under the patronage of Saddam Hussein.

It is blamed for numerous attacks against Iranian officials and security forces, including a 1981 Tehran bombing that killed more than 70 high-ranking Iranian officials.

The State Department says the group conducted anti-Iranian operations in recent years from Iraq until it was disarmed by U.S. forces in May.

The U.S. move follows a crackdown on the MEK political wing in France, where police raided the group's headquarters in June and arrested scores of people including the group's leader Maryam Rajavi.

The arrest outraged her followers, who staged demonstrations in several European cities including self-immolation protests that left two people dead.