A court in Oslo ordered Friday evening that Islamic cleric Najumuddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar, and two alleged accomplices in a terror network be held in custody for up to three weeks. The court clearly found sufficient reason to hold the men based on Italian charges that they were planning terrorist attacks, but it’s likely to take quite a while before any extradition orders are carried out.
Krekar and the two others, a 42-year-old Iraqi living in Drammen and a 38-year-old Norwegian citizen from Northern Iraq living in Fredrikstad, were arrested in the pre-dawn of hours of Thursday on charges that all are involved in a terror organization led by Krekar. According to Italian authorities, members of the organization were willing to carry out suicide bombings, assassinate Norwegian politicians and diplomats and many others in attacks in Norway, the rest of Europe and the Middle East.
A total of 17 people were arrested in coordinated raids on 26 locations around Europe. They included Krekar and the two men living in Norway, seven people in Italy, four in Great Britain and three in Finland and Switzerland.
Hearings behind closed doors
The Oslo court ordered that Krekar be held for three weeks in connection with the Italian charges, with strict control of his correspondence and visitors. Krekar is already serving an 18-month prison term for making threats in Norway, but now his incarceration will have additional restrictions.
The 42-year-old Iraqi defendant was also ordered held for three weeks and, like Krekar, faces an extradition order to face the charges against him in Italy. The 38-year-old from Fredrikstad was ordered held for two weeks but he can’t be extradited because he’s a Norwegian citizen.
The three custody hearings were held behind closed doors on Friday after PST attorneys argued successfully that an open hearing could jeopardize the investigation led by the Italians. The first of the two alleged Krekar accomplices had also requested that reporters not be present. Judge Finn Haugen justified closing the hearings to the public on the grounds that was not unusual in cases tied to extradition to foreign countries.
Haugen stressed, however, that Friday’s hearings would only decide whether the three men charged with terrorist acts should be held in custody, not on whether they should be extradited to Italy. He also said that no one currently serving a prison term can be extradited until the sentence has been completed. That means Krekar, who already is in prison after being convicted on charges of making threats, can’t be extradited until that term is served, probably sometime next year.
Krekar claimed on his way into court Friday that prosecutors once again were bringing “false cases” against him, and compared the courts in Norway to those in Egypt. He was due to plead not guilty to the new Italian charges, which his defense attorney Brynjar Meling claims are based on much of the same issues and activity that Krekar has been questioned about earlier. Meling called it all “old regurgitation” and told news bureau NTB that both he and Krekar were waiting to see the evidence.
Meling also claimed there were no grounds to send Krekar to Italy. “If there are complaints against things he has done in Norway, the case should be heard in Norway,” Meling said. Krekar has resisted being expelled from Norway for years, and remains in the country only because Norwegian authorities haven’t been able to extract an agreement that Krekar wouldn’t face a death sentence back in his own home country of Iraq.
His court appearance on Friday was his 55th in a Norwegian courtroom. “I have great understanding for his impression that this is politically motivated,” Meling said.
Defense attorneys for the other two defendants called the evidence against them “vague” and they also pleaded not guilty as charged. Both were said to be surprised they were arrested. They acknowledge that they know Krekar, but the attorney for the 42-year old said her client “strongly disagrees that they have been involved in any criminal activities together.”
While Norwegian authorities have been eager to deport Krekar, who wore out his welcome in Norway long ago, law professor Jo Martin Stigen seemed to agree with Meling that the extradition sought by the Italian authorities can take years. “There is, at any rate, the possibility to appeal extradition orders,” Stigen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), and defendants can also complain about how the extradition is managed at the foreign ministry. Meling indicated on Friday that he will exhaust every appeal possibility on behalf of Krekar, possibly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Italian authorities and investigators in several other countries who’ve been working on the case, meanwhile, maintained that the arrests made Thursday have thwarted terrorist attacks and they hope the defendants will remain in custody.