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Police Raid Iranian Opposition Camp in Albania, Seize Computers

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Albanian authorities on Tuesday raided a camp for members of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq to seize 150 computer devices allegedly linked to prohibited political activities, and several people were injured.

Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci and the head of the national police, Muhamet Rrumbullaku, said both police officers and Iranian dissidents were injured during the raid at the Ashraf-3 camp near Manze, a small hill town 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) west of Albania’s capital. Representatives of the Mujahedeen group said one person was killed; Albanian authorities disputed that the raid caused the man’s death.

The Special Structure Against Corruption and Organized Crime’s office has opened investigations into suspected political activities by Mujahedeen members. Cuci and Rrumbullaku referred questions about the nature of the alleged violations to prosecutors, saying police were only carrying out a court order to seize evidence. 

The agreement the government signed with the MEK when Albania agreed to shelter Mujahedeen members in 2013 states they are not supposed to engage in any political activity and must abide by the country’s laws. 

Some 2,500 Iranian exiles who initially were housed in separate locations built the Ashraf-3 camp in 2019. It consists of 127 buildings in an area of 40 hectares (100 acres), which Rrumbullaku said is Albanian territory. 

Some camp residents tried to block the police officers who moved in to seize the computer devices housed in 17 buildings, and their leaders did not cooperate, according to Rrumbullaku. Fifteen officers were injured, and 21 Ashraf-3 residents were taken to a hospital with injuries from the pepper spray the officers used to defend themselves.

Cuci, the interior minister, said he was “indignant and offended” by the reception police received. 

In an email message to The Associated Press, Shahin Gobadi, the MEK’s spokesperson in Paris, said an Iranian man was killed and more than 100 camp residents injured “due to police firing pepper spray.” He identified the man who died as Ali Mostashari.

The statement from the Iranian opposition headquarters compared the Albanian police raid with those they saw in Iraq before coming to the Western Balkan country.

Cuci denied police actions resulted in the death of a man in his late 70s, and said authorities were awaiting the results of an autopsy.

“I guarantee that death was not caused from any action of the police forces,” he said at a news conference. “We paid all the necessary care not to create any incident with the residents within the camp.”

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq began as a Marxist group opposed to the rule of Iran’s then-Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution but soon had a falling out with Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and turned against his clerical government, carrying out a series of assassinations and bombings in the Islamic Republic.

MEK members later fled into Iraq and backed dictator Saddam Hussein during his eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, leading many people in Iran to oppose the group. Although now largely based in Albania, the group claims to operate a network inside Iran.

MEK members in Albania have proudly told local journalists how they have hacked or penetrated communication systems of the Tehran government and Iranian institutions. 

Ties between Iran and Albania have been tense since Albania gave MEK members a safe haven a decade ago. 

Albania suffered a cyberattack last year that the government and multinational technology companies blamed on the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The attack, believed to be in retaliation for Albania sheltering the Iranian opposition in exile, led the government to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry denied Tehran was behind an attack on Albanian government websites and noted that Iran has suffered cyber-attacks from the MEK. 

The United States, NATO and the European Union supported NATO member Albania in the dispute, with Washington vowing unspecified retaliation against Iran for what it called “a troubling precedent for cyberspace.”

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