In a surprise turn of events, Italy has withdrawn its request for Norway to extradite Islamic cleric Mullah Krekar, to face terrorism charges lodged by Italian prosecutors. Now it seems there are no grounds for his pending imprisonment in Italy, and Norwegian authorities ordered that Krekar be released as well.
Norway’s Justice Ministry, however, received a letter from Italy’s prosecuting authorities on November 25, in which it was stated that the extradition request was being withdrawn. The withdrawal was said to be based on a custody order pending trial that was overturned on March 3.
“There was no explanation as to why the custody order was overturned or why the extradition request hadn’t been withdrawn earlier,” Norway’s state prosecutor’s office (Riksadvokaten) wrote in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon. Nor had the Norwegian authorities received any earlier signals from the Italians that they no longer wanted Krekar to be sent to them.
“We are surprised that the extradition request is being withdrawn now,” said Martin Bernsen of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste). “We have not received any clarification as to why this is happening.”
Krekar a free man again
It nonetheless led to the immediate release of Krekar, leaving him once again a free man on Wednesday afternoon. “I am naturally relieved,” Krekar’s longtime defense attorney Brynjar Meling to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said he hadn’t received any reason for it either.
“The most important thing … is that this isn’t first and foremost a victory for Mullah Krekar or Attorney Meling, it’s a victory for the rule of law,” Meling told NRK, adding that he now thinks Krekar can demand compensation.
“Folks don’t have to like that,” said Meling, referring to Krekar’s extremely low level of popularity in the country that gave him asylum and has hosted him and his family since 1991. “I can’t do anything about that, but more people should realize that there’s been talk here of a dirty political game, and that this (Italy’s initial charges that Krekar led a network of terrorists in Europe) didn’t have anything to do with a terror network.”
Norway ‘must accept’ Italy’s decision
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party, which has been keen to send Krekar out of the country for years, said he could only go along with the evaluations made by the Italian authorities in connection with their criminal case against Krekar. “Norwegian authorities have followed the international regulations and the conventions we are bound by, and handed this case in an ordinary manner in accordance with our rules and routines.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was a target of death threats made by Krekar six years ago that led to an earlier imprisonment, said Norway had to accept the Italians’ decision to drop charges against Krekar. “This is a question for the judicial authorities, not the political,” she told reporters at a press conference held to address an acute budget crisis that’s threatening to topple her government. “If there’s no basis for extradition to Italy, then it’s natural for it to be withdrawn … and we must accept that.”