UK courts rules for Iranian group

British court ordered an Iranian opposition group removed from the government's list of terrorist organizations Friday, potentially giving one of the Iranian government's fiercest foes more freedom to organize and raise money in Britain.

The People's Mujahedeen of Iran is considered a terrorist organization in the United States and European Union and experts say it has trained operatives devoted to toppling the Iranian regime.

The group's British backers say it no longer engages in any kind of armed struggle and that Friday's court decision in London could help bring the organization back in from the cold.

Hundreds of group supporters in Paris and London danced, clapped their hands and waved green-and-red flags as news of the decision was announced.

The ruling, which the Home Office has said it will appeal, was an important victory for the group, which has been fighting to shed its terrorist tag after a series of bloody anti-Western attacks in the 1970s - and nearly 30 years of violent struggle against the Iranian theocratic regime.

The Iranian Embassy in London did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment, but the ruling is likely to infuriate Tehran, which has made choking off the group's international support one its foreign policy priorities. British lawmaker Andrew Mackinlay, one of those behind the group's effort to clear its name, said that was the point.

"I have no doubt that will be extensive anger in Tehran, and, well, so be it," Mackinlay said.

He said the ruling would help embolden supporters in the United States to push for the group's removal from the U.S. State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

"There's growing empathy on (Capitol) Hill for recognizing the community of interests between the United States and the principle Iranian exiles - of which the PMOI is a principle part," he said.

Originally a Marxist-Islamist group, the People's Mujahedeen was set up in the mid-1960s to oppose the U.S.-backed dictatorship of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. During the 1970s, it killed U.S. citizens working in Tehran and supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy there, according the State Department.

Although the group participated in Iran's Islamic Revolution, it soon fell out with the clerical government and launched a campaign of assassinations and bombings in an attempt to topple it.

The group moved to Iraq in the early 1980s and fought Iran's Islamic rulers from there until the United States invaded in 2003. U.S. forces have since disarmed thousands of members and confined them to a camp near Baghdad.

The State Department accuses the group of participating in attacks on the Iranian military and law enforcement personnel and of displaying "cult-like characteristics."

But backers reject the cult label and argue it no longer engages in armed struggle - either against the United States, Iran, or anyone else - a position the court accepted Friday.

"The PMOI has conducted no military activity of any kind since about August 2001, whether in Iran or elsewhere in the world," the court said.

While still officially outlawed in most Western countries, the standing of the People's Mujahedeen standing is complicated by the looming confrontation between Iran and the international community about Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Intelligence provided by the group helped uncover evidence of clandestine Iranian nuclear activity, and the group's ambition of overthrowing Iran's theocratic regime has won the praise of U.S. lawmakers worried by allegations that the country is attempting to build a nuclear bomb.

The group's devoted following among Iranian exiles and its aggressive media operation has also helped it garner considerable sympathy in Europe. The group is backed by some European parliamentarians, and, in Britain, the effort to appeal its terrorist status was supported by 35 peers and lawmakers. ( AP )

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