Mullah Krekar during his trial in Norway in which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2012. Photo: Scanpix.
BARCELONA, Spain – Radical Kurdish cleric “Mullah Krekar” and 14 other Iraqi Kurds were arrested across Europe on Thursday in a coordinated police swoop on Islamist militants planning attacks, Italian media reported.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper said the suspects were arrested in countries across Europe in collaboration with police from Italy, the UK, Norway, Finland, Germany and Switzerland. A non-Kurd, a man from Kosovo, was also arrested.
Among the suspects picked up for links to the Islamic State group (ISIS), seven were arrested in Italy, four in Britain, three in Norway and one in Finland.
Media reports said the network was masterminded by Faraj Ahmad Najmuddin, known as Mullah Krekar, who was arrested in Norway on Wednesday night. The group was planning attacks in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, reports said.
“The investigation started when this military group was still in Iraqi Kurdistan and had suffered a defeat between 2011 and 2012,” the newspaper quoted national prosecutor Franco Roberti as saying.
“From the destruction of this group another new military formation was born – very dangerous – that is now affiliated with ISIS,” he added.
Reports quoted sources as saying the group was also planning attacks against Norwegian and British diplomats in the Middle East. It also recruited people in Europe to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Krekar was the founder in 2001 of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist Kurdish Sunni group with the aim of creating an Islamic state in Kurdistan.
He was released from prison in Norway at the end of January after a two-year sentence for threats against Prime Minister Erna Solberg, before she came to office, and three Kurds.
Only ISIS can “fulfill our ambitions and dreams,” he said soon after coming out of jail.
“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 this year.
The 58-year-old preacher added that all Muslims calling for resistance to the extremist Sunni ISIS “Caliphate” are “cowards,” and accused them of following orders from the United States and Shiite Iran.
He called upon ISIS to appoint someone “with the courage to fight the infidels and truly lead.”
Krekar has faced multiple legal charges in Norway, where he has lived with his family since 1991.
A Norwegian newspaper reported earlier this year that Norway was considering Krekar’s extradition to Italy, where authorities may want to question him about allegedly running a network to recruit jihadists in several European countries.
Krekar is wanted in the Kurdistan Region on terrorism charges dating back to the late 1990s and early 2000, when he admits to founding the al-Qaeda affiliate, Ansar al- Islam.
He declared a caliphate-like colony in the southern Kurdish towns of Biara and Tawela in the run up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
The US air force demolished Ansar al-Islam strongholds after the Iraq invasion and dismantled the group’s network.
Kurdish authorities say Ansar al-Islam was responsible for killing and torturing numbers of locals in the area who resisted the caliphate and want to try Krekar for the atrocities.