Federal investigators say U.S. woman led terror group that sought to overthrow Iranian regime

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 10:11 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran was a top official for a heavily armed, Iraq-based terrorist organization that seeks to overthrow the Iranian regime, federal prosecutors said in court documents obtained Monday.

The documents say two confidential informants in Iraq identified Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, 51, as a leader of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. One informant told the FBI that Taleb-Jedi was on a council ``responsible for making leadership decisions for the organization, including approving specific acts of terrorism'' against Iran, the papers said.

Taleb-Jedi was arrested in March after flying from Jordan to John F. Kennedy International Airport. A judge agreed to release her on $500,000 bond, and court papers said she's been living at a women's shelter in Manhattan.

Defense attorney Justine Harris has said Taleb-Jedi returned to the U.S. to see her adult son and to seek medical treatment for a severe digestive ailment. Harris said, ``This a middle-age woman with absolutely no record.''

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, who have been investigating the MEK, announced last week that a New York grand jury had indicted Taleb-Jedi on charges of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

MEK, also known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran, and its affiliates were deemed foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department in 1997. The designations bar anyone in the United States from providing material support.

MEK was founded in Iran in the 1960s and moved to Iraq in the early 1980s to base its activities against Iran's government. It sided with Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran.

The State Department says the MEK groups were funded by Saddam Hussein, supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and are responsible for the deaths of Americans in the 1970s.

Taleb-Jedi was among 200 MEK members the FBI detained and questioned in 2004 after U.S. military forces took over parts of Iraq once controlled by the group, the documents said. U.S. soldiers seized tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and more than 420,000 pounds of plastic explosives.

At the time, Taleb-Jedi allegedly told agents she ``wholeheartedly supports the Mujahedin,'' the papers said.

Taleb-Jedi, who was born in Iran, came to the United States on a student visa in 1978 to pursue a master's degree in political science in Georgia, court papers said. She later moved to Queens before settling in Virginia, where she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

In her FBI interview, Taleb-Jedi told agents her husband joined the MEK and went to Iraq in 1986. In 1999, after learning that her husband was killed in a bombing, she ``left her job, sold all her belongings and traveled to the MEK Ashraf Base in Iraq,'' 40 miles north of Baghdad, documents said.

A call to her attorney on Monday was not immediately returned.