Iraqi Kurdish Islamic radical cleric Mullah Krekar was sentenced to twelve years in prison on terrorism charges by an Italian court on Thursday, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) has reported according to ekurd.net.
Krekar, whose real name is Najmaddin Faraj Ahmad, has led the Ansar al-Islam organization, al-Qaeda affiliated insurgent group, founded in 2001, as a merger of Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), and a splinter group from Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK).
He left the group in 2003, however, and returned to Norway, where he has refugee status. Nevertheless, he remained prominent in Islamist circles and has since been accused by multiple governments of continued involvement in terrorist activities. He has been listed on the United Nations’ terror list since 2006.
Although he enjoys status as a refugee, which predates his involvement with Ansar al-Islam, he is a problematic figure in Norway, with the government there judging him to be a threat to national security. Norwegian law prevents his deportation to Iraq, given the legitimate fear that he might be executed if sent back there.
His latest conviction is based on a multi-country investigation of Ansar al-Islam offshoot Rawti Shax. In October 2015, seventeen suspects, including Krekar, were arrested and charged with radicalization and recruitment efforts on behalf of Islamic State.
The group is alleged to have planned an attack targeting Norwegian and British diplomats in the Middle East and plotted to kidnap other envoys in a bid to free their leader during his previous stints in custody.
They also are accused of recruiting at least five people in Europe who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, authorities said.
Krekar denied all of the charges.
After repeated delays, the court handed down sentences against Krekar and five other defendants in the case on Monday.
Prosecutors had asked for a ten-year prison sentence for Krekar, but the judge opted for a harsher punishment. The other defendants received between seven-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half years in prison.
Krekar’s Norwegian lawyer Brynjar Meling criticized the sentence and the manner in which the trial was conducted, arguing that Krekar was prevented from defending himself in person at the Appeals Court in Bolzano, Italy.
Meling said Krekar declined to travel to Italy to present evidence because the court had not given him assurances that he would not be extradited to a third country.
He was also denied a request to testify over video-conference.
The verdict will precipitate an extradition hearing, where Norwegian authorities will decide whether to send Krekar to Italy following his conviction.
Krekar was taken into custody by the Norwegian authorities after the sentence was handed down, NRT reported.
Meling told NRK that Krekar would fight any extradition proceedings.
Back in Iraqi Kurdistan, he has been accused of seeking to depose the government and replace it with an Islamic caliphate.
“One of the charges is that that I want to change secularism to Islamic caliphate in Kurdistan,” he told NRT in an interview in March.
In his capacity as leader of Ansar al-Islam, he is accused by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of ordering the beheading of 40 Peshmerga fighters in Kheli Hama village in September 2001.
Krekar has previously been convicted of threatening Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, making other death threats and for praising the slaying of cartoonists at the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in 2015.
Krekar said in 2015 only the Islamic State can “fulfill our ambitions and dreams,” . “The Islamic State is not something strange; it is the only element that can fulfill our ambitions and dreams,” he said in an Al Jazeera interview.
Krekar has immigrated to Norway in 1991 after “Islamic scholarship” and training in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1980s. Earlier his pictures from Afghanistan has been published in many Islamic web sites and Krekar has also confirmed via his lawyer Brynjar Meling that he had meeting with Osama bin Laden already in 1988 in Peshawar in Pakistan.
Ansar al-Islam group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Iraqi Kurdistan government. The group is also suspected in suicide bombings of coalition forces in Iraqi Kurdistan,
Krekar in one of the most wanted in Iraqi Kurdistan region on charges of terrorist attacks in the Kurdish region. Local officials still claim Krekar was responsible for the violence and have demanded he be extradited back to Iraqi Kurdistan.