Mohammad-Hossein Sobhani grew up in Saveh, a small city southwest of Tehran. He reportedly was recruited into the MOIS by his brother, Jafar, a member of the Revolutionary Guards and a MOIS agent attached to the Ministry of Education. At the time, Sobhani was a non-commissioned officer in the Army.1
In February 1983, Sobhani was assigned by the MOIS to infiltrate the PMOI. That same year he married Afsaneh Taherian, a supporter of the PMOI who believed Sobhani shared her enthusiasm for the resistance organization.
In January 1984, Sobhani and his new wife traveled to Sulaymanieh, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they joined the National Liberation Army of Iran. Sobhani initially worked at logistical bases and later helped provide transportation security to and from Baghdad.
According to his wife, Taherian, Sobhani often was in contact with his brother. Resistance members grew suspicious of Sobhani and believed he was lying about his past.
In 1989, Sobhani and Taherian divorced. She later said their relationship had been based on untruths and exaggerations:
“His claims about being one of the professional personnel within the PMOI ranks, and a commander of resistance units, were all absolute lies. He says he was a university student studying aeronautics. But this is also not true because he told me that he was a helicopter technician at the Ministry of Defense."2
Ousted from PMOI
The PMOI conducted an internal investigation in 1992 after a series of suspicious incidents. Sobhani was among the people who were of concern. He was viewed as untrustworthy and was asked to leave the compound. But Sobhani refused, saying the wanted to stay so long as his former wife remained at the camp. The PMOI relieved Sobhani of his duties and allowed him to stay in a small apartment.
In 1999, Sobhani left the compound and tried to cross the border into Iran. He was caught by Iraq authorities and sent to jail. In 2002, Sobhani was repatriated to Iran in an exchange for Iraqi POWs held in Iran.
Sobhani was transported to Tehran and taken to the Marmar Hotel to receive details and training for his next assignment. The PMOI obtained a copy of an internal report, dated February 20, 2002, from Ramin Darami, an MOIS agent, to his handler, Haj Saeed. It stated:
“After going through legal channels in Iraq, I entered Iran on January 21, 2002 through the Khosravi region. I was then welcomed pleasantly [and] received by my brother Mohammad Hossein Sobhani. We were a team with Ali Qashqavi, Taleb Jalilian, and Ali Ashrafi. The brothers from the Intelligence Ministry used to come to us every day and resolved any problems we had….I stayed in the hotel for ten days and when I was transferred to Ahvaz, some of our friends, including Mohammad Hossein Sobhani and Hamid-Reza (Barhoun) remained in the hotel in order to see their families….During my stay in hotel Marmar your proposed plans were reviewed several times by brother Mohammad Hossain Sobhani and with us and we were briefed on them."
In March 2002, Sobhani traveled to Germany and filed for asylum. The following month, he participated in a meeting at the home of Bahman Rastagou in Cologne, German, according to Mahmoud Massoudi, a former resistance member who left the organization in 1994 and resettled in Germany. Massoudi interacted regularly with other former resistance members, some of whom were MOIS agents.
Massoudi sent a letter in August 2002 to H.E. Rudd Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in which he discussed the meeting in Cologne:
"I was then informed that on April 5, 2002, a meeting was held at the home of Bahman Rastgou in Cologne, Germany, with the participation of Karim Haqqi, Hadi Shams-Haeri, Mehdi Khoshhal, Mohammad-Reza Haqqi, Bahman (Ali Akbar) Rastgou, and several of the new arrivals, including Mohammad-Hossein Sabhani and Farhad Javaheri-Yar."4
On June 11, 2002, the MOIS website, Mahdis, posted a phone interview with Sobhani in which he stated he had returned to Iran from Iraq on January 21, 2002. He claimed in the interview he had escaped two days later “after an armed struggle which involved shootings.” He said he then fled to Europe in March 2002."5 In a later interview, however, Sobhani claimed he escaped three days after arrival in Iran from a low-security detention center and then fled the country.6
The Mahdis interview was set up to provide a cover story for Sobhani and his presence in Germany. But the scenario he offered is difficult to believe given few prisoners have ever escaped from Iranian authorities and the fact that Sobhani would have been viewed as a highly valuable asset, having lived with the PMOI for so many years, and thus guarded closely.
PMOI Disinformation Attacks
After traveling to Europe, Sobhani claimed in interviews that he had been a “senior member of the Mohahedin.” He said his sole aim was to expose the wrongdoings of the PMOI. He alleged he was jailed at Camp Ashraf after criticizing the PMOI's strategy and ideology. Sobhani alleged the PMOI’s prisons and torture methods were far more severe and greater in number than in Iran. He accused the PMOI of killing Iraqi Shiites and Kurds and said he had been imprisoned for eight and a half years in solitary confinement – all lies designed to undercut the credibility of the PMOI.
1) “Iran: One Agent’s Tortuous Path Throws Light on VEVAK Methods.” Iran Focus. May 22, 2005.
2) “The Iranian Regime’s Agents in Germany: Mohammad-Hossein Sobhani.” The Iranian Refugees Association in Germany. Autumn 2007.
3) “Iran Says Armed Dissidents Attack Embassy Staff in Baghdad.” UPI. December 24, 1991.
4) Letter from Mahmoud Masoudi to H.E. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. August 18, 2002.
5) “The Iranian Regime’s Agents in Germany: Mohammad-Hossein Sobhani.” The Iranian Refugees Association in Germany. Autumn 2007.