UPDATED: Norwegian authorities who’ve been trying for years to expel Islamic cleric Mullah Krekar may finally be able to do so, after Italian authorities claimed Thursday that Krekar led a terrorist network with concrete plans to attack Norway.
The sensational charges, unfolding in Italy on Thursday, also maintain that several members of Krekar’s alleged network were willing to volunteer as suicide bombers. Police coordinated by Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, arrested 17 terror suspects during the night in six different countries including Norway. All of the suspects allegedly reported to Krekar from cells located around Europe.
Krekar, whose official name is Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, was already in prison after being convicted of making threats. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported he was arrested again on new charges at the Kongsvinger prison, while a Norwegian police commando unit conducted pre-dawn raids on two locations in eastern Norway and arrested two others. They were later identified as a Norwegian citizen living in Fredrikstad and an Iraqi citizen living in Drammen. Other raids and arrests were reportedly carried out and made in Germany, Switzerland, Finland, the UK and Italy.
All three of those arrested in Norway, including Krekar, are charged in Italy with planning terrorist attacks, with Italy demanding their extradition. The Norwegian authorities are expected to willingly comply and send both Krekar and his alleged accomplices to Rome.
Eurojust described Krekar’s alleged network as an “evolution” of the Ansar Al Islam organization Krekar headed in the 1990s. It’s been listed by the UN as a terrorist organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The new organization, said to be of Kurdish-Sunni origin, is called Rawti Shax (the “new course”) and allegedly aims to overthrow the current Iraqi Kurdish government.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, currently in Malta for meetings with European leaders on how to handle the refugee crisis, said she appreciated the efforts of the Italian police and their cooperation with their Norwegian counterparts. Cooperation among all allied countries is important in the fight against terror, Solberg said.
“It is a sad scenario that several people are arrested in a terror case against others,” Solberg told news bureau NTB. “But there’s no problem with an extradition regarding a criminal case in Italy.”
Long a ‘threat to national security’
Krekar came to Norway as a refugee in 1991 but returned to Northern Iraq to lead a guerrilla group. He’s been in and out of prison ever since, on charges ranging from encouraging terrorism to making threats. He most notably issued death threats against Solberg herself when she was still a government minister in charge of immigration issues in the early 2000s, and again five years ago.
Krekar was branded as a threat to national security in Norway years before that, but Norwegian authorities have been constantly stymied in their efforts to sent him back to Iraq because they haven’t received assurances that Krekar wouldn’t be executed. Norwegian officials’ concerns over ensuring Krekar’s safety now seem ironic, given the charges that Krekar himself was leading plans to attack and kill them.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the alleged network around Krekar planned attacks on Norwegian authorities and possibly assassinations of Norwegian Members of Parliament. The alleged attacks were due to be carried out either in Norway or at Norwegian embassies abroad. Italian police claimed Krekar’s alleged network also worked to help finance recruitment of warriors to fight in Syria and Iraq, especially against Kurdish authorities in Krekar’s home region of Northern Iraq. The goal, according to police, was to establish as so-called kalifat, or Islamic state authority, in Northern Iraq.
Defense attorney warns against ‘false evidence’
Police investigators in several countries believe Krekar used the Internet to recruit people for illegal activity and that he has ties to the brutal organization IS (ISIL) himself. The ties reportedly were revealed through surveillance of Krekar’s Internet activity.
Giuseppe Governale, leader of Italy’s anti-terror police, called the arrests and crackdown on Krekar’s alleged network “a result of good international cooperation, with investigations going on for five years.”
Brynjar Meling, Krekar’s longtime defense attorney in Norway, claimed Krekar can’t be sent out of Norway right away. “I have registered that the prime minister has already said that this is an opportunity to get rid of Krekar,” Meling told NRK. “I hope this case proceeds properly and that no false evidence will be produced. A lengthy cooperation between Norwegian and Italian authorities doesn’t necessarily form a basis for confidence.”