A leader of jihad in limbo in Norway 'after his time'
By Ivar Ekman
International Herald Tribune
Published: December 3, 2007
OSLO: Mullah Krekar, once a jihadi superstar, has faded from the international limelight, but in Norway he won't go away.
An outspoken Islamist, founder of the militant Iraqi Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, and targeted by CIA agents in 2003, he was the incarnation of a truly bad guy.
Nowadays, even American intelligence agencies seem to have little interest in the 51-year-old Iraqi Kurd. At the same time, the five-year-long “Krekar case,” as it is known in Norway, grinds on. A month ago, an Olso court upheld an expulsion order against him, and he was thrust back onto the Norwegian front pages.
“Sadly, it has become a farce,” said Anders Romarheim, a terrorism researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. “The time for this to get a decent solution has long passed.”
Krekar was granted refugee status in Norway in 1991 but was ordered to be expelled to Iraq 2003 on national security grounds.
The expulsion order has yet to be carried out because Norwegian law forbids deportation to countries that permit the death penalty.
So Krekar is still here, in an apartment in the heavily immigrant Gronland neighborhood of Oslo, without a passport or the right to work, but very much free to speak his mind.
“They are after me because of my Islamic ideology,” a boisterous Krekar said in an interview in his apartment, seated before a TV where he follows the struggle between guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the Turkish Army in northern Iraq. “Those mountains are better to hide in than Tora Bora,” he said of the mountain region that is allegedly Osama bin Laden's hideout in Afghanistan.
He very seldom goes out, he said, and he is supported by the small earnings of his wife, who works in a kindergarten.
Krekar, who was born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad in 1956, first made headlines in Norway in 2002, when a television documentary showed how he frequently slipped back into northern Iraq to lead the radical armed separatist group Ansar al-Islam, which sought the establishment of an Islamic state.
In 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government portrayed Krekar and his network as a link between Al Qaeda and the government of Saddam Hussein. The claim, however, was never substantiated. He was arrested several times, in Norway and abroad, and charged with crimes ranging from terrorism to drug smuggling, but nothing held up in court.
In 2003, a CIA agent who allegedly had taken part in the abduction of the Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan came to Oslo and stayed for a month. No attempt to kidnap Krekar was made, but the Norwegian capital buzzed with rumors, and Krekar's lawyer was given police protection.
Interest from American intelligence agencies seems to have waned since then.
Ansar al-Islam no longer exists in its old form, although its former members are still thought to carry out attacks on both coalition forces and civilians in Iraq. And Krekar appears to have few direct ties to his homeland.
“He probably doesn't have as much influence in jihadist circles as he once did,” an American counterterrorrism official said. “Obviously, he's still of some interest to us, and if he does anything, we'll follow it. But his time has come and gone.”
Despite this, Krekar's notoriety continues. One big reason is that despite a stated wish to stay in Norway – his wife and four children are Norwegian citizens – his views remain unabashedly militant.
Comparing Al Qaeda and bin Laden to the early Zionists and Communists, he believes that they are laying the groundwork for a future Caliphate, or pan-Islamic state.
He also says that this end, which he portrays as a fight for freedom from Western domination, justifies practically any means, including the slaughter of civilians.
“If you have airplanes and I don't, I will hit you where it really hurts, and 9/11 was like this,” he said. “Bush says bin Laden, al-Zawahari and Zarquawi are terrorists, but for me they are symbols of courage.”
These views, and his links to a terrorist organization, were enough for the Norwegian High Court to uphold the expulsion order.
Justice Hans Flock wrote that it had clearly been shown that Krekar “represents a risk for the national security by being able to draw terror actions toward Norway.”
It was not enough to send Krekar back to Iraq, however. And the legal limbo in which he finds himself – a confirmed deportation order that is unlikely to be carried out anytime soon, and outcast status in Norwegian society – has spawned different reactions here.
Some, like Anders Romarheim, a terrorism researcher, feel that Norway has to find a better way to handle threats to national security of Krekar's kind.
“The Norwegian system can't deal with this adequately,” he said. “This case illustrates the need to clear up the paragraph jungle.”
Others, who think that the Krekar case has been politicized, even if they strongly disagree with what Krekar stands for, believe that some kind of leniency might be warranted, if nothing else for Norway's own sake.
“He sits there isolated in his apartment, and after a while you get suspicious of the way all bad things are pinned to him,” said Atta Ansari, a radio journalist who has followed the case closely.
“Soon enough, he will start getting sympathy, and this will just give him more room to play.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington .