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Inside a group caught between three powers

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"He pulled my ear to his lips, and said: 'Don't cry; be sure that I will come with you. I can't stay here; they are not human beings,' " Roshan recalls, trying to control her trembling voice.

But Mr. Amini - a Karate kid with an orange belt, who his parents say was recruited to join the MKO in Tehran with promises of completing two school grades in one year and gaining a place in college - was forced to remain behind.

"He took his uniform off, stamped on it, and shouted: 'I can't go back! My life will be in danger!' " Roshan recalls during an interview in Tehran. MKO officers and US troops insisted the young man stay, and Roshan climbed alone onto the bus home. "I was like a dead person," she says.

The voices of former MKO militants give a rare glimpse inside a group they say demands a cult-like control over members, practices Mao-style self-denunciations, and requires worship of husband-and-wife leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi.

Recruited from the United States and Europe, or even drawn directly from Iranians held in Iraqi prisoner-of-war camps and jails, the former fighters describe a high level of fear, and speak of their own awakening - and freedom from the MKO's grip - as if it's an epiphany.

The US State Department lists the MKO as a terrorist group that conducted assassinations against American citizens in the 1970s - and was behind bombings and killings of hundreds of members of the Iranian regime starting in the early 1980s.

By one count, after the recent invasion of Iraq, the MKO surrendered to US troops 300 tanks, 250 armored personnel carriers, 250 artillery pieces, and 10,000 small arms. Still, the group is reported to be able to continue antiregime broadcasts into Iran.

The Pentagon - after bombing MKO camps in Iraq in the first stages of the invasion - quickly worked out a truce with the group some civilian hawks in the Pentagon believe should be supported and turned into a US tool of opposition against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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