Prosecutor Signe Aalling of Norway’s police intelligence agency PST claimed at a press conference Thursday afternoon that neither Norwegian interests nor politicians have been the targets of any “acute or concrete threats” posed by Mullah Krekar’s alleged terrorist network. Aalling seemed to downplay the threats that Italian police reported earlier in the day, when announcing their crackdown on the network.
Italian police said in Rome that Krekar, the Islamic cleric who’s stirred trouble in Norway for years, led a terror network that included suicide bombers willing to sacrifice their lives in attacks in both Northern Europe and the Middle East. They mentioned possible attacks either within Norway or on Norwegian embassies abroad, along with planned assassinations of Norwegian Members of Parliament and both Norwegian and British diplomats.
Aalling of PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) stressed in her opening remarks, however, that there were “never” any “acute” threats against Norwegian citizens. “If there had been concrete, acute threats against Norwegian citizens or interests, we would have been told about them so that we could prevent them,” Aalling said under questioning by Norwegian reporters. “According to our evaluation, that hasn’t been the case.”
Deferring to the Italians
She had no explanation as to why the Italians would allege that Krekar’s network planned attacks such as assassinations of Norwegian politicians, which seemed rather concrete indeed. Aalling repeated that PST was not made aware of any specific threats or targets.
She also deferred repeatedly to the Italian investigators, saying that they “took the initiative” to the investigation that began in 2011 into Krekar’s alleged Kurdish-Sunni terror network, called Rawti Shax. Italian officials, she said, directed the investigation while Norwegian officials merely “investigated and contributed to the investigation in Italy.”
Aalling presented Thursday’s early morning arrests of Krekar and two others, a Norwegian citizen living in Fredrikstad and an Iraqi citizen living in Drammen, as a response to legal requests from Italian authorities who ordered the arrests. The Italian authorities, she said, had “chosen to take responsibility” for both the investigation into Krekar’s alleged network and the subsequent arrests, which the Italians said numbered 17 at more than 20 locations around Europe. Aalling said she couldn’t offer any details of the Italian investigation, and couldn’t answer questions about what relations the two men from Drammen and Fredrikstad had either with Krekar or each other.
Extradition of Krekar ‘not a theme’
“We have had a dialogue (with their Italian counterparts), we have been oriented (about the investigation),” Aalling allowed, but she was intent on placing the Italians in the lead role with the Norwegians merely acting as assistants, carrying out orders and responding to requests.
Norwegian politicans including Justice Minister Anders Anundsen and several Members of Parliament expressed relief that Krekar now faces an extradition order to Italy that Norway can comply with. Norwegian authorities have been trying to send Krekar out of Norway for years but Aalling insisted that the pending extradition “wasn’t a theme at all,” or a goal, in the Italian-Norwegian investigation. She added that PST regarded the arrests and extradition requests as relatively ordinary in cases of international police cooperation.
Krekar and his two alleged accomplices now under arrest face custody hearings on Friday. Defense attorneys are expected to object to both incarceration and extradition. Legal questions were flying, as to why Krekar should be prosecuted in Italy instead of in Norway on charges that may include attacks on Norwegians or allegedly running a terrorist network from his cell in Kongsvinger, northeast of Oslo. Aalling wouldn’t comment on how Krekar’s communication had been monitored: “The Italians must answer for that.” Krekar’s defense attorney Brynjar Meling claimed his client has not had Internet access while in prison.