US court demands decision on MEK's 'terror' listing

An MEK member displays the group's flag Removing the MEK from the terror blacklist would allow it to lobby the US Congress directly

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A US appeals court has ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to decide within four months whether a dissident Iranian group should be removed from the US terror blacklist.

The long delays in acting on the group's petition to be removed were "egregious", the court said.

The Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) had asked the court to give Mrs Clinton just 30 days to decide.

It says its presence on the list puts members living in Iraq under threat.

The MEK, also known as the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) led a guerrilla campaign against the US-backed Shah of Iran during the 1970s and also opposed Iran's clerical leaders who replaced the Shah.

It was given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein but has fallen out of favour with Iraq's new Shia-dominated leadership.

Members of the group have been based at a refugee camp in Iraq but Baghdad is taking steps to expel them.

In Friday's ruling, the US Court of Appeals in Washington said the PMOI had been left in "administrative limbo" by Mrs Clinton, reported AFP news agency.

Mrs Clinton had not ruled on its petition to be removed from the terror list in 600 days, despite being given only 180 days to do so by the US Congress.

The court gave Mrs Clinton four months to rule or it would issue a so-called writ of mandamus order and remove the group from the list itself.

But the court refused to take that step immediately, citing "national security and foreign policy concerns".

Expensive campaign

In a written response, state department spokesman Mark Toner said it intended to comply with the ruling, reported Reuters news agency.

The ruling was welcomed by PMOI leader Maryam Rajavi as a "triumph of justice", AFP reported. She said maintaining the terrorist designation would be "illegitimate and unlawful".

Those backing the MEK have staged a very expensive campaign to call for the group to be removed - a move that would enable the MEK itself officially to lobby Congress, the BBC's Bahman Kalbasi has previously reported.

But detractors say the government should not bow to the group, saying ample evidence remains to justify keeping them on the terror list.

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