Interviews with defectors, including several who held senior positions, offer the most detailed account to date of what life was like inside the MEK.

The Intercept: ON A BLISTERINGLY hot summer afternoon in 2006, Reza Sadeghi ran into an old friend at the Iraqi headquarters of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, an exiled Iranian militant group better known as the MEK. The two men had not seen each other in over a decade. Sadeghi guided his friend, who had just arrived from Canada, on a stroll through the desert compound known as Camp Ashraf. He was glad to catch up with an old comrade. But he also had a burning question.

Sadeghi had effectively given his life to the MEK, which means “People’s Mujahideen of Iran.” A 26-year veteran of the group, he had not left Camp Ashraf for over a decade. During that time, he’d had no contact with his family or news of them. The MEK leadership had forced him and most of the other cadres living at Camp Ashraf to abandon even their closest relationships. Most painful for Sadeghi were thoughts of his son, Paul, his only child, now 16 years old. Sadeghi hadn’t seen or spoken to Paul since he’d arrived in Iraq.

As Sadeghi and his old friend strolled through the compound, two MEK minders followed at a distance. Sadeghi walked a bit faster, signaling to his friend that he needed to talk out of earshot of their escorts. Turning a corner between buildings, he whispered: “How is Paul?”

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Sadeghi had first learned about the MEK in early 1980, shortly after the Iranian Revolution, when the group’s leader, a man named Massoud Rajavi, arrived at Sadeghi’s neighbor’s home in Isfahan for a private memorial. Rajavi had come to eulogize Sadeghi’s best friend’s older brother, who lived on Sadeghi’s street. Sadeghi worshipped the older brother, who had died a few years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The shah had been toppled in the 1979 revolution, and the MEK had played a role. They no longer had to hide. Rajavi was there to tell the family and neighbors that the brother was an MEK martyr who had died protecting Rajavi and the MEK leadership from an internal coup when they were still an underground group. The group’s message about freedom and democracy resonated with Sadeghi, and he viewed its armed struggle as heroic >>>