The MeK is a Hybrid Terrorist Organization

Xavier Raufer is the Director of Studies and Research at the Department for the Study of the Contemporary Criminal Menace at University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas. He is also an Associate Professor at Chinese National Police University and China University of Political Science and Law. A world-known criminologist, Professor Raufer published more than twenty books on terrorism, crime or urban insecurity, among which: On social violence (1983), The Superpowers of Crime, Narco Terrorism Survey (1993), Urban Violence and Insecurity (1998-2003), The Albanian Mafia (2000), The Al Qaeda Enigma (2005), Atlas of Radical Islam (2007), The Dark Side of Globalization (2009), Cyber-Criminology (2015) and Globalized Crime (2019). According to Raufer, the most dangerous security threat in in today's world is a new range of terrorists who calls them “Hybrid Terrorists”, who are created from combination of most of what was in the 20th century "ideological terrorism” on the one hand, and "Organized crime" on the other. The Paris University Professor classifies ISIS and the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization among these hybrid terrorist organizations. What come below is the full text of Habilian Association’s interview with this experienced criminologist.

Habilian: Professor Raufer, according to your main expertise, namely terrorism and criminology, if you like, we start the conversation with the issue of similarities and differences between terrorism and organized crime.

Raufer: Let us start with a broad vision of what is in 2019 human hostility, for most parts of the world. Yet, in our chaotic world, can one imagine future confrontations and enemies? Now and even in the past decades? Yes, one can - sometimes even, well in advance. In 1938, the German publicist and professor Carl Schmitt described the global unrest of the future in the following terms: “A global war, largely asymmetric, lacking any kind of control or legal limitations, in which a great neo-imperial power doesn’t so much deploy its forces against individual states as against groups of global partisans (Kosmospartisanen) that operate worldwide using the means and pursuing the objectives of a civil war.” [1]

Thus, today, a body of “global partisans” called “Islamic State” (hereafter IS), “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”, ISIS, ISIL, “Daesh”, or the “tafkiris.” [2] has been wreaking havoc amidst a huge media din. This, as all the former, "classical" forms of terrorism, including the ben-Laden-type jihadis, have vanished from Europe - or are mostly disbanded (IRA, ETA). Out of 28 countries of the European Union, 24 have had no serious terrorist attack on their soil since 2009. The ultimate indigenous terrorist group in Europe, in Italy, is a ghostly "Informal Anarchist federation", having, in 2012 and 2013, mailed two parcel-bombs (to a newspaper in Rome, and to a police station in Brescia) - nothing since then.

So, early 2015, the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen revealed a new type of terrorism in Europe, totally different from the al-Qaida-type, and its actors having nothing in common with the ben Laden-type terrorists. Since in the spring of 2012, in France, Mohamed Merah killed three French soldiers and attacked a Jewish school (7 victims), each and every terrorist having actually killed in Europe, belong to this new category we call hybrids, part criminal/gangsters and part terrorists.

All of them, hard-core criminal, not just some street thugs. Mohamed Merah, killed when he was 23 years old, had already been sentenced eighteen times - ten times for robberies. The other hybrids since then have similar profiles. None of them belong to structured organizations: two brothers here... a man and his wife there... nothing more.

All of them are more or less mentally unbalanced or have low IQ's. Mehdi Nemmouche, the killer of the Jewish museum in Brussels, has a 14 years-old boy's IQ. All of them are human bombs, killing on very short notice. Example: Mohamed Merah is on his scooter one morning around 8 am (in France, school opening time), waiting for the light to turn green. He spots a Hebraic inscription on a door... it's a Jewish school... kids entering with their parents... he starts shooting at once. One minute before opening fire, he himself did not know he would do it. Also, as criminal predators, these hybrids make money in any (criminal) way whatever. The Kouachi brothers (killers of Charlie Hebdo journalists) used to sell counterfeit sportswear, after dealing drugs.

Broadly this is the terrorism we are now suffering in Europe - what we call the dark side of globalization. In our world, most of what was in the XXth century "ideological terrorism" (whatever the original causes, national liberation, etc.) on the one hand, and "Organized crime" on the other have now more or less merged in hybrid and fluid entities. In Europe, the two last "old style" terrorist entities, IRA in Northern Ireland and ETA in the Franco-Spanish Pays Basque, renounced terrorism because they clearly understood that, to keep on fighting, they would have to become gangsters.

Habilian: Regarding your experience as a former member a far-right group and given your research projects and writings on the so-called Islamic Extremism, do you see any similarity between these phenomena?

Raufer: We now see what is nowadays called "Islamism terrorism”: either hybrid family clans (the Kouachi brothers... The Abdesslam brothers... Amedy Coulibaly and his wife...) Or, in the Middle-East, bizarre entities as the "Islamic State", that look more like mercenary groups than a proper - old style national liberation army, for example.

Those entities couldn't be more different from far-right killers-terrorist like M. Breivik in Norway or M. Tarrant in New Zealand. The way these far-right assassins kill, their itinerary before the killings, doesn't at all look like "nationalist" terrorism, or "islamist" terrorism, but completely, like American mass killings, like for instance the one in Las Vegas in October 2017, when M. Paddock killed 58 people in a concert - and to this day, nobody knows why he did it.

Men like Breivik and Tarrant express frustration because of their country's "foreigner’s submersion"... Publish manifestos or videos on the Internet. There may be hundreds of such angry and frustrated men across Europe or elsewhere in the West - and suddenly, one of them takes action, after a usually lengthy incubation period (ideology, logistics, etc.). Here, the difficulty is in the number of xenophobic fanatics - and the fact that only very few of them (thanks God) mutates into a mass killer.

Habilian: Why far-right terrorism has not been on the agenda of intelligence agencies in Western countries?

Raufer: All over the world, police, security and intelligence services have this in common: they only fight one enemy at a time. During the Cold War, for Western intelligence, it was of course the KGB, etc. Then it was salafi jihadists Ben-Laden type. Now, they (slowly...) understand that the hybrids are the target.  

See what happened in London and Madrid, when bombs exploded, dozens of people killed in 2004 and 2005. The Spanish and British officials were obsessed by, respectively, ETA and IRA, and refused to hear the warnings, to see the symptoms of future salafi-jihadi attacks.

Also, the Breivik-Tarrant attack is rather uncommon - and the politicians push their police and intelligence where the last bomb has exploded, where the last killing has occured. Of course, symptoms exist of a Breivik-Tarrant attack - spontaneous generation neither exists in biology nor in criminology. But these attacks are rare: Breivik in 2011... Tarrant in 2019 - a Breivik-copycat attack indeed, but eight years after.

Habilian: As a university professor and expert on terrorism and criminology, what do you suggest to security agencies to proper respond to terrorist threats?

Raufer: There is no effective response - only early warning is efficient. The security equivalent of preventive medicine. Either you act before the killer starts shooting, or it is too late: from Utoya island in Norway, to Las Vegas, and to Christchurch in New Zealand. And what some western politicians call "deradicalization" is just wishful thinking. If a method allowed to change what is in a human being's mind we would know it - and his inventor would have received the Nobel Prize, minimum.

Of course "social engineering" helps, learning to masses of citizens to peacefully live together - but as a criminologist, this is far from my domain, and I leave it to sociologists, psychologists, etc. One troubling thing, though: New Zealand's prime minister's refusal to even name the killer. Everyone knows that whenever a problem occurs (if your child is sick...If your car refuses to start, etc.), the first step of any diagnosis is to name the disease, or the breakdown. Maybe this lady confuses governing and political correctness...

Habilian:  In your opinion, how likely is it to repeat events such as the Christchurch attack in the future?

Raufer: Yes of course, if it doesn't become a priority for the anti-terrorist organizations. But this threat will remain low-intensity: maybe one or two attacks in a decade - of course, many deaths each time, but a rare occurrence. To be efficient, a police or intelligence structure must be given priorities: personnel, finances, technical means, capacity to produce early and sure diagnosis. If those conditions are met, the danger usually disappears sooner or later. But as told before, those far-right terrorists are few. In political terms, is it possible to transform those rare acts into priorities? I doubt it.

Habilian: You had described the period between 1989 to 2001 as a “historical interval” in which the nature and pace of terror changed. Could we call the period between 2010-period, in which the ISIS was created, announced formation of Caliphate and expanded its domain to European cites as another historical interval in formation of terrorism, or it is just a development within that period?

Raufer: After Oussama ben Laden was killed (may 2011), confusion started. Clearly, the period starting with the two first major al Qaeda attacks, (Nairobi, Dar-es-Salam, august 1998), with 9/11 as its apex, ended then. Then, appeared the totally different "Islamic state", looking more like an underground extension of Saddam Hussein's army, than any previous known Islamist entity. As some Iraqis said "Saddam's generals with beards and siwak". Is this entity truly committed to recreate a "Califate”? Or more like a mercenary organization? Here is the real problem. More must be done to identify the sponsors of such entities as ISIS or al-Qaeda - otherwise new terrorist eruptions can occur in the future.

Habilian: What’s your idea about the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MeK)? Could one describe it in the category of underground terrorist organizations during the Cold War?

Raufer: For my colleagues and myself, this entity looks more like an Asian cult (with a guru, etc.) than like a "classical" guerrilla or terrorist organization. For the European union and inside it, for example, the main worry concerning such entities as the Mek or the Kurdish PKK, is their extension as networks all over Europe. Entities difficult to infiltrate because of their fanaticism, and obviously committing many illicit acts, the most visible being racketeering, trafficking in drugs or human beings, etc.

Such structures are dangerous because they are permanent, some of them have been here almost since half a century, tightly knit - and have little political hope. For them, governing Iran for instance or having an autonomous-independent Turkish "Kurdistan", seems a remote hope - in the best of cases.

Thus, keeping thousands of people or families mobilized on the long run, represents a lot of money and huge logistics, facilities, etc. Where does all this money come from? Everyone knows that governments or big business will easily fund anything once, but balks at open-ended funding. This is the real problem. And if the funding is illicit, where does it come from? Membership fees from party activists? Nobody believes that.

Habilian: The MeK founders sought to establish an Islamic government. For this purpose, however, they generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam. My question is that how do you analyse the paradox that group is experiencing, I mean swinging between Marxism and Islamism? Is this ideological shift common between terrorist groups?

Raufer: In the natural world, when a species is weak and has dangerous predators, it usually resorts to mimetism. As chameleons do with colours, a mimetic terrorist or guerrilla entity will easily pretend it is Islamic with Muslims, revolutionary with left-wing radicals, in love with Uncle Sam with Americans, and so on. The mimetic entity doesn't defend any ideology or doctrine, but only wishes to survive. When you want to survive and cannot fight back, mimetism is the only option, I'm afraid.

Habilian: Regarding the MeK’s opportunistic manner and its consecutive transformations, I mean from a classic leftist terrorist organization before the Iranian Revolution to a light-infantry military unit, equipped with Soviet-made armoured personnel carriers and artillery, which used to conduct attacks inside Iran, to an alleged opposition group that claims seeking peaceful transformation of power in Iran, could one describe it a hybrid terrorist group?

Raufer: Of course. Mimetism leads directly to hybridization. In other words, to mercenarism. Thus the danger: a hybrid-mimetic entity will hide its benefactor, sponsor or manipulator's true goals or objectives, behind a familiar or well-known mask: ideological, nationalist or else. This is of course true for MeK, but also for the so-called "Islamic State". Let’s remember: When Abu Omar al-Bagdadi was eliminated near Tikrit in April 2010, the Bagdad press, who knew what it was talking about, unanimously referred to what was then “The Islamic State in Iraq” as a “small group”.

Three years later (2013), the “small group", a riff-raff armed with Kalashnikovs, became the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria". In 2014 (now disowned by al-Qaeda), it conquered, with hundreds of tanks and efficient heavy artillery, the northern third of Iraq - over 150,000 square km. The former “small group” was now capable, according to military experts, of "encircling or isolating enemy units, of disorganising enemy military staffs and supply routes”. It was capable of “launching coordinated and simultaneous attacks”, and its anti-aircraft capabilities were “serious” (helicopters shot down in flight). The “small group” had an elaborate strategy of lakes and dams (crucial for desert territory), with gunboats on the rivers and lot of drones.

This is why hybrid terrorist-guerrilla groups are so dangerous. And this is why scholars and experts from various countries and origins should meet to study and analyse this present serious threat - also, for the foreseeable future.

Habilian: Thank you very much Professor Raufer for your time.



[1] Carl Schmitt, Guerre discriminatoire et logique des grands espaces, Krisis, 2011.

[2] De Takfir wa’l Hijra is an Egyptian terrorist group which advocates an extreme form of Salafism, according to which most Muslims have descended into apostasy and thus deserve death.