Biden admin walks tightrope amid Albanian police raid on Iranian dissidents that killed one, injured dozens

State Department says it has been ‘assured’ Albanian government did not violate any human rights

By Caitlin McFall    |   Fox News     |     6/20/2023

The State Department has found itself in a precarious position after dozens of Iranian dissidents seeking safe haven in Albania were reportedly injured Tuesday and one allegedly killed in a camp raid by state police after the inhabitants were accused of plotting cyberattacks against the Albanian government.

An alleged 1,000 Albanian police officers from the Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime unit descended upon the Ashraf-3 and Ashraf-4 camps located in Maneza in western Albania, which is home to at least 3,000 Iranian oppositionists from the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) – an Iranian resistance group that supports the establishment of a new government in Tehran.

According to reporting by the Albanian Daily News, the situation was initially described as “calm” as police officials looked for people they suspected of being “infiltrators of the regime of Iran.” But the situation apparently turned violent after the Iranian inhabitants refused to hand over personal computers and devices to the authorities. The police officers turned to tear gas and pepper spray against the camp residents and began breaking down doors to people’s homes before confiscating or destroying personal computers, according to a statement by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian political organization that is based in France and Albania.

The group called the raid “criminal and repressive” and claimed that some 100 camp inhabitants were injured in the attack, though Fox News Digital could not independently verify this account and local reporting put the number of those injured around three dozen. The individual killed was 65-year-old Ali Mostashari, an activist during the Iranian revolution and a senior MEK member, according to Ali Safavi a member of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee based in Paris. The circumstances around Mostashari’s death remain unclear.

“He escaped death several times when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the clerical regime’s security forces tried to apprehend him in the early 1980s. By murdering him, the Albanian police has done what the Iranian regime could not accomplish,” Safavi told Fox News Digital Tuesday.

The MEK and NCRI have called on the U.S., the U.N. and the European Union – which Albania applied for membership to in 2009 and was granted “candidate status” in 2014 – to condemn the raid and hold Albania accountable for human rights violations as defined under international treaties like the Refugee Convention, the World Declaration Human rights and the European Convention.

In a comment to Fox News Digital a State Department spokesperson said Washington had been assured “all actions were conducted in accordance with applicable laws, including with regard to the protection of the rights and freedoms of all persons in Albania.”

“We support the Government of Albania’s right to investigate any potential illegal activities within its territory,” the spokesperson added without commenting on how this could affect the U.S.’s ties to the Iranian dissidents there. The U.S. sits in a precarious position when it comes to the aggressive raids Tuesday as it has supported the Iranian dissidents abroad since at least 2009 when it led efforts to remove the oppositionists from Iraq after the Iraqi government became hostile toward the MEK.

At the time, the U.S. still designated the MEK as a terrorist organization over its militant campaigns that opposed the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, along with the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s, followed by an attack on U.S. soil in 1992. But by 2012 the State Department removed the MEK from its designated terrorist list over the group’s renouncement of violence and open cooperation with the U.S. in Iraq.

Some 2,700 MEK members were then transferred to Albania at the request of the U.S. beginning in 2014, according to EuroNews. The U.S. has also been a top supporter of the Albanian government and, following a July 2022 cyberattack, the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force organized an operational “hunt” to “identify, monitor and analyze adversary tactics, techniques and procedures” relating to the “malicious” assault.

Tehran was blamed for the attack and diplomatic relations were severed.

But the tensions between Albania and Iran over the cyberattack have also put pressure on the dissident community residing within Albanian borders. Albanian Minister of Interior Bledar Cuci on Tuesday rejected any accusation of wrongdoing and claimed the actions taken were in line with a decision made by Albania’s Special Court against Corruption and Organized Crime.

“The Court’s decision is a consequence of actions that openly violate the agreement and commitments made by the MEK group since 2014 when they were settled in Albania solely for humanitarian purposes,” he said in a statement first reported by EuroNews. “Unfortunately, this group did not adhere to these commitments and violated the agreement.”

“The actions of the State Police to enforce the law have been carried out as in any other part of the territory of the Republic of Albania.”

The minister also denied there were any fatalities or injuries as a result from the day’s raid and said that, according to state police officials, “there was resistance within the camp against the work of the State Police, which goes against the procedural framework of law enforcement.”