Iran will have to ” accountable “, thundered the White House, Wednesday, September 7, in a virulent press release, after the government of Albania, its ally in the Balkans, was the victim of a cyberattack last July. This attack was “orchestrated and sponsored” by Tehran, castigated the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, who in the process severed his relations with Tehran and demanded the immediate departure of all the staff of the Iranian embassy in Tirana.
In addition to the bitterness of the international negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue, it is the closeness of the ties between Washington and Tirana which explains this scathing response from the two partners. Since the fall of its totalitarian regime in the early 1990s, Albania found itself under the American umbrella.
A future base for US special forces
It was in Albania, a member of NATO since 2009, that the United States announced, last January, the installation of a “forward headquarters of the special operations forces”, justifying this choice by the “close relationships” between the two countries and the strategic location of the country. It is also in Albania, in the port of Vlora, that the American companies Excelerate and ExxonMobile are going to build a terminal for liquefied natural gas.
“The United States speaks, Albania complies”, summarizes an expert who wishes to remain anonymous. This is how in August 2021 Albania welcomed Afghan refugees after Washington asked it to “serve as a transit country”. In 2013, it was already an ideal volunteer to serve as a haven for the troublesome members of the Iranian People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI).
After a bombardment of their camp, the High Commissioner for Refugees had participated in their gradual relocation from Iraq, where they had been exiled since the 1980s and where they had become undesirable after having fought alongside Saddam Hussein against Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini.
The PMOI removed from the list of terrorist organizations in 2012
The time was no longer to stigmatize the organization, with its sectarian functioning and the origin of attacks. The Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency accuses him of “martyrdom of at least 17,000 Iranian civilians”. In 2012, during the Obama presidency, the PMOI was removed from the US list of terrorist organizations, after having been on it for fifteen years.
Many leaders then saw in this organization a resistance movement capable of succeeding the hated regime of the mullahs, some even going so far as to praise the democratic convictions of its members.
Others are more prosaic: “They are now our terrorists and we have no hesitation in sending them to Iran…for the usual secret service activities,” as justified by Ray McGovern, a former CIA agent, quoted in an analysis by David C. Speedie of the Carnegie Council published in 2012.
Recurring tensions between Tirana and Tehran
Many American leaders have become fervent supporters of the PMOI. Last June, former Vice President Mike Pence visited them in Albania to bring the “support of the American people”.
Today there are around 3,000 mujahideen living in the brand new city of Ashraf 3, near Tirana, which testifies to the significant financial resources available to the organization. It is an understatement to say that they are a stumbling block between Tehran and Tirana, which had already expelled the Iranian ambassador in 2018.