Norway’s most controversial refugee, Mullah Krekar, was under arrest in Oslo on Tuesday after being seized by the Norwegian police intelligence agency PST and held on the request of Italian authorities. His arrest came just after an Italian court sentenced him to 12 years in prison for planning terrorist acts.
Drama has swirled for years around Krekar, an Islamic cleric whose legal name is Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad. He came to Norway nearly 30 years ago as an asylum seeker from Northern Iraq and was allowed to later bring his family to Norway as well. He later was found to have violated the terms of his refugee status by traveling back to Iraq and leading a guerrilla group. Krekar has expressed support for extremist Islam on several occasions, been convicted of making threats including one against Erna Solberg years before she became prime minister, and he was declared a threat to national security as early as 2003.
He has avoided deportation, however, because Iraqi authorities won’t guarantee that he wouldn’t be sentenced to death in his homeland. He also avoided extradition to Italy after authorities there charged him with being part of a terrorist network in Europe. His trial finally moved forward this week without Krekar, who had refused to travel to to Italy to defend himself.
On Monday he was sentenced to even more prison time in Italy than Italian prosecutors had sought (NRK). Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that five other men charged in the alleged terror network were sentenced to up to nine years in prison. Krekar, however, was viewed as being the leader of a terror group known as Rawti Shax, with ties to the mostly defeated brutal terror group IS.
Italian authorities issued a new arrest order for Krekar and called for his extradition to Italy once again. Norway’s PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) announced just before midnight Monday that it had followed through, seizing Krekar in line with “an international warrant and decision on arrest from Italian authorities.”
Already appealing his conviction
Brynjar Meling, a Norwegian attorney who has defended Krekar for years at taxpayer expense in the many cases brought against him over the years, told NRK he was surprised by the arrest, claiming that Krekar has consistently cooperated with authorities not only in Norway but also around Europe. He claimed there was no reason to believe Krekar would attempt to elude authorities now.
Meling told NRK that Krekar has already appealed Monday’s court verdict in Italy, delaying an extradition case. Krekar has constantly criticized Norway and western lifestyles but nonetheless has fought to remain in the country, and will likely resist extradition once again if his conviction and prison term are confirmed.
That will set off a whole new round in court in Norway even though Norway’s Supreme Court has earlier cleared the way for his extradition to Italy. Mads Andenæs, a law professor at the University of Oslo, told NRK that Monday’s arrest order and extradition request rest on “an entirely new legal basis,” therefore setting off new legal challenges.”
Andenæs is currently a guest professor in Rome and familiar with the Italian legal system. He and others have noted how the Krekar case has been subject to political pressure, from the government Prime Minister Erna Solberg now leads. US authorities have earlier wanted Krekar confined as well, and had him on a list of terror suspects. Terror researcher Lars Gule told NRK that the Krekar case can be part of a large political power play.
“That’s what (public defender) Meling has pointed out several times,” Gule told NRK on Tuesday. “We know that Norwegian justice authorities have been in Italy with the goal of getting Italian authorities to call for his extradition. That means that you have a political dimension here that’s very difficult to overlook.”