- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

U.S. officials said yesterday that two members of an Iranian dissident group living under American protection in Iraq have been kidnapped, and organization members said they fear the men will be turned over to Tehran for execution.

The members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) were grabbed while they were purchasing supplies in Baghdad’s Karrada shopping district on Aug. 4, said the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq.

A PMOI spokesman said they had been escorted on the shopping trip by U.S. military police and were seized by eight men in police uniforms.

PMOI member Hussein Madani said witnesses saw Hussein Pouyan and Mohammad Ali Zahedi bundled out of the back door of the Ministry of Interior later that day and placed into two white sport utility vehicles with tinted windows.

The group, also known as Mojahedin-e Khalq or People’s Mojahedin, has long been on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations because of attacks on Americans in Iran in the 1970s. But the group, fierce opponents of Iran’s clerical regime, also has been an important source of intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear program and has many supporters in Congress.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari late last week urging him to protect the two men. The PMOI thinks they were seized at Iran’s bidding.

“It is of great importance that you safeguard the lives of these two dissidents and be sure that they will be returned to Camp Ashra[f],” said Mr. Towns in a letter on Friday made available by the PMOI.

“We ask you not to allow the actions of the Iranian leaders adversely affect the Iraq people,” Mr. Towns wrote.

PMOI members live under U.S. protection in Camp Ashraf outside Baghdad. All 3,600 members are considered “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which establishes the rights of civilians and noncombatants in times of war.

The coalition said Iraqi police had been asked to investigate the “abduction” of the two men while on “a routine logistics trip” in eastern Baghdad.

“Officials are undertaking a complete review of security risks and procedures in relation to trips off of Camp Ashraf in light of the abduction,” the coalition said.

Mr. Madani, speaking by telephone from Baghdad, said Mr. Pouyan and Mr. Zahedi were under U.S. military police escort when two cars with police markings drove up. Eight men in police uniforms and protective vests jumped out and grabbed the two, he said.

He said witnesses identified the abductors as members of the Ministry of Interior’s special security forces, which are made up largely of the Iranian-trained Badr Corps — the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading political party in Iraq’s ruling alliance.

Mr. Madani said the U.S. escorts were close by but not next to the two men when they were seized. He said the Americans went to a local police station and the Ministry of Interior to ask about Mr. Pouyan and Mr. Zahedi but did not find them.

“We have spoken to many local shop owners and witnesses, and some security elements … and they believe the individuals were with the Ninth Badr Corps and acting under the auspices of the [Ministry of the Interior],” he said.

Citing witnesses, Mr. Madani said the two were taken in separate police cars between 1 and 1:15 p.m. to the fourth floor of the ministry building and within the hour taken out by the back door.

“They were taken to safe houses in Baghdad,” said Mr. Madani, citing military and intelligence officials. He suspects the kidnapping was not the work of ordinary criminals, but was politically motivated.

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