The ISIS of 39 Years Ago: How Did the MKO Choose Its Targets?

39 years ago, with the entry of the MKO into the armed phase, they manifested certain actions which were quite similar to those of the ISIS in recent years. In this report, we address part of this group's strategy in creating terror.

The last days of June 1981 (first days of Tir 1360 according to Persian calendar) were some of the most inflammatory days in the political history of Iran. The day before the ouster of Bani Sadr from the presidency by the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the MKO set off an armed revolt, conducting a series of assassinations and civil war, namely “the armed phase of resistance”. After the declaration of Abolhassan Banisadr’s incompetence for presidency, the group called on its forces to hold large-scale violent demonstrations.

Harbored in team-houses, the MKO leaders and its central cadres triggered the armed phase which was initially limited to assassination of the government leaders or, in their words, “the top of the pyramid”. Examples of these great tragedies include bombing in the Islamic Republic Party Headquarters on June 28, 1981 and Prime Minister's Office Bombing on August 30.

After September 27, 1981 (which was the anniversary of the armed demonstrations), there was not any sign of neither the social element that the MKO wished to force into the scene nor that revolutionary potential they thought existed. They assumed wrongly that by coming to streets and breaking this oppressive climate, this potential within people would be activated. As a result, the MKO faced failure and once again felt frustrated and this caused them to take revenge for the failure of their analyses on the mass of people and start assassinating them in the streets. Since the country was involved in war and a major part of the military and intelligence power was focused on the fronts and also because members of the MKO lived in secret, it was difficult to distinguish them from ordinary people. After September 27, they started bombing public places and carrying out targeted and blind assassinations.

Nonetheless, with focus of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Intelligence Unit on MKO’s activities and detection of their team-houses along with the September 10 strike and death of Mousa Khiabani, the group’s potencey to conduct terrorist activities inside the country was diminished. Thus, the MKO members gradually moved abroad and by allying with Saddam Hussein, provided Ba'athist regime in Iraq with intelligence.

Establishment of telecommunication interception units along the front lines of war with Iraq, interception of radio communications of Iranian forces, wiretapping and monitoring telephone conversations, putting the captives under pressure and using them for the purpose of propaganda, tampering with the captives' letters, recruitment of those who were weary of fighting, and finally invading Iran in an operation called Eternal Light (Forough-e Javidan in Persian), which led to slaughter of many people in western cities of Iran, were among their services to Saddam.

Simultaneously with the invasion of Iran, the remnants of the MKO in prisons revolted in the hope of joining them in case they succeeded in reaching important cities.

In this report, through citing confessions of captured members of the MKO, we intend to examine how they assassinated people on the streets and review different phases of their revenge against the nation.

Throwing Molotov cocktails and grenades at shops and houses


Sepehri, under the name of Maziyar, joined the MKO in the summer of 1980 and began mounting a propaganda campaign. When captured in one of the team-houses outside the city in November 1981, he was the commander of a military unit.

Pointing to, in his confession, some of his experiences in throwing cocktails and grenades at houses and shops, he says, “I was directly involved in such operations and carried out the instructions dictated by the superiors. Once, for instance, I threw a cocktail at a house located in Ghar Square in Tehran with the justification that the house proprietor was an adherent of the government’s ideology and had been cooperating with the revolutionary organs. We went to the location by a motorbike at about 6:30 AM, threw a cocktail at the door and window. They caught fire, and we fled”.

He mentions another example of throwing a grenade at a chandelier shop on Hafez Street in Tehran again with the justification that the shop owner was ideologically in line with the government and was possibly exposing the group’s members. He says, “we approached the shop and noticed that, to our surprise, too many people were there given that it was 2 PM and supposedly the least crowded time of day. We thought to ourselves that ordinary people were likely to get injured and martyred. We, therefore, returned and put forward this matter with our commander. He reacted furiously and said, ‘That is not a big deal. Go back. Even if four ordinary people are killed in that shop, it does not matter. Let them get killed on the way of revolution’. So, we went back and threw a grenade at the chandelier shop which resulted in the martyrdom of 4 people”.


Hussein Sheikh al-Hokama had been a member of the MKO since early 1979. At first, he was in charge of the student section of one of the central-east districts and later on, the Military Security Department of the boys’ Student Union of Tehran. After June 20, 1981, he became the military commander of the student section of the central-east districts and eventually, the military commander and in charge of the eastern region. He was arrested in early 1982.

Regarding the group’s justification for murdering innocent people and customers of shops, Sheikh al-Hokama, after being arrested, says in a TV interview, “A customer has no right to purchase items from a Falange! Therefore, all people ranging from those who carry photos of Imam Khomeini and signs of the Islamic Republic and are, in one way or another, supporter of the government to those who have different viewpoints, have to be assassinated. This is what the MKO would dictate".

After the strikes of February 8 against the MKO and the death of Mousa Khiabani and Ashraf Rabiee, and also the strikes on May 2, 1983 which was followed by the death of 50 high-ranking cadres, remnants of the MKO inside the country disregarded all human standards and values and to prove that the MKO still exists, began taking revenge on ordinary people on the streets. From this point onwards, members gradually started abandoning the group and the rate of assassinations decreased. Yet, the variety of people from different classes who were assassinated increased. They showed no mercy to anyone whom they felt was, even a bit, revolutionary and pro-government.

Mohammad Kalantari, under the name of Manouchehr, was the MKO’s commander of the special terrorist teams. He came into contact with the group in October 1980 and began his activity in the university section. After Nowruz (Persian new year) of 1981, he was transferred to the teachers' section and was a member of the propaganda team of teachers until June 1960. Next, he became the leader of the propaganda teams and after the strike on May 2 1982, he was transferred to the military unit and became the commander of the special terrorist teams of the MKO.

With respect to the armed phase after the strikes against the MKO such as the May 2 strike, the August 1 strike on the MKO’s intermediaries, and the death of Mousa Khiabani, he explains: “The MKO officials provided us with an analysis in which the circumstances and the instructions to be followed were explained. According to the analysis, the group was in a life-and-death situation and its existence was at jeopardy. The possibility existed that, with another strike, all members would have been lost. Therefore, it was necessary that each two people form a unit, patrol the streets and carry out at least one terrorist operation each day. The reason provided for that matter was that those terrorist activities would create panic among people and cause them not to cooperate with the Islamic Republic anymore. Targets of these operations included houses, shops, automobiles with pictures of the officials of the Islamic Republic, anyone with a beard who looked like a pro-government, those who would ride a Honda 125cc motorbike, any location in which there were suspicious communications or locations where suspects for collaborating with the government would visit, anyone who showed resistance against the terrorist activities and vehicle theft and as I said earlier, anyone who looked like a pro-government”.

Committing murder and arson in case of carrying photos of Imam Khomeini and martyrs!


Kalantari, in his confession about assassination methods, adds: “The units would patrol the street and open fire on houses, shops and cars with pictures of the officials (Imam Khomeini, Martyr Beheshti and Martyr Ayatollah) or they entered shops which they suspected, asked the owner to take down the photo and then, assassinated him.

Mohammad Kalantari continues and mentions some examples of the MKO’s quasi-ISIS operations in the early years of the revolution: “The first example is that a worker at a dry-cleaner's was murdered. It was carried out by Nasrollah Mahmoudi’s unit on the morning of August 16 on Dampezeshki Street in Tehran. Two members of this unit who were under our authority namely Mousa and Ali, after stealing a motorbike in that vicinity, patrolled the area and identified a dry-cleaner's which had a number of photos of the Islamic Republic officials. They parked and went into the shop. Mousa told the shopkeeper to take down Imam Khomeini’s photo. Being at gun point, he took down Imam’s photo and tore it. Then Ali asked him to do the same with martyr Ayat’s photo hanging on the other corner. He procrastinated and they shot him and martyred him and then ran away on their motorbike.”


The second example is the assassination of an old shoemaker next to the Islamic Unity Square on the morning of August 18. Here, again, Nasrollah Mahmoudi’s unit, patrolled the area, stole a motorcycle, identified a shoemaker’s shop which had photos of the Islamic Republic’s officials, asked the owner to take them down and then shot him and martyred him. However, due to the atmosphere of the area, they could not set fire to the shop and had to flee! Another terrorist attack similar to previous ones was again carried out by Mousa and Ali on Shoush Street, this time under Mohammad Saeb’s authority, in which workers of a motorbike repair shop were assassinated and martyred.

Next phase: Assassinate all suspects!


Explaining the group’s third line of terrorist attacks, Hussein Sheikh al-Hokama says: "We were told to assassinate those who visited suspicious houses and shops, those who had a beard and resembled a pro-government and those who had military uniforms on. In addition, the locations had to be demolished. In summary, owners of shops with photos, pro-government looking individuals, those who are talking in gatherings and looking religious all have to be murdered and the locations have to be destroyed as well”.
Mohammad Kalantari, whose position in the MKO was mentioned earlier, regarding these operations explains, “The unit’s members namely Keyvan and Javad, entered a grocery store at the intersection of Azerbaijan and Karun streets in Tehran and after stealing the shop owner’s property, martyred him. On their way out to the second target location which was a car exhibit, they noticed 9 people coming out of the exhibit toward them. Keyvan started firing his Uzi submachine gun and murdered 6 of them and left the other 3 injured”. This is merely one out many terrorist attacks which the MKO units launched against people, houses, and shops they suspected.


If he does not surrender his motorbike, murder him!


These murders were not limited to suspicious people who had pictures of Imam and the martyrs with them, but in the next phase, the MKO instructed their forces to assassinate those who refused to surrender their vehicles in case they did not cooperate after 3 times of verbal warning.

In the organization's instructional booklet, it was stated that “If the vehicle owner says a word, you ought to shoot him with a pistol and silence him and if he refuses to surrender his vehicle, you have to shoot him decisively as experience has shown that those who resist are agents of the government”.

It was written in another part of the booklet, “Beware of the vehicle owner taking the switch and escaping and in case this happens, first shoot your guns into the air and if he did not stop, fire your guns at him, stop him and seize the switch”.

Abdul Karim Moazzez started his activity in the early July of 982 and became a member of the Special Terrorist Unit of the MKO. With respect to these types of attacks, he mentions “In Ahangaran Alley in Pamenar region of Tehran, we stopped a man, who was in his early twenties, and asked him to get off his motorbike without resistance. He said, ‘The motorbike is not mine, but I will take you wherever you want’. We did not accept. My superior officer put a gun to his head and said the he would count to 3 and if he did not surrender, he would shoot. He refused to cooperate and my superior officer fired at him and martyred him. We then, took his motorbike and disappeared. It needs to be said that some people in that alley left the place when the saw the shooting and some whose houses were in that alley, watched the incident through their doors!”.

In another MKO member’s confession, it is stated, “We asked a motorcyclist with a beard, who was highly likely to be a worker, to get off his motorbike without resistance and stand against the wall. He replied, ‘I’m merely a worker and this motorbike is all I have. Please let me go’. But since we needed his motorcycle for an assassination, we did not listen to his words. We asked him to get off and he did. But when we ordered him to stand against the wall, he resisted. So, we fired at him, took his motorcycle and fled the scene!”.

These activities constitute only a minor part of the MKO’s quasi-ISIS terrorist attacks for taking revenge on innocent people who turned into their assassination targets just because they did not cooperate with them. In the future, we will review other terrorist activities of the MKO in the 1980's.


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