Norway extradites convicted Kurdish cleric to Italy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Muslim cleric was extradited Thursday from Norway to Italy, where he has been sentenced to 12 years in jail for planning terror.

Norwegian Justice Minister Monica Maeland told a news conference that Iraqi-born Mullah Krekar had been sent to Italy.

“We have been waiting for Italy to say it was justifiable to do so, and they thought it was today,” Maeland said.

In July, Krekar, who was born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, was found guilty by a court in northern of attempting to overthrow the Kurdish government in northern Iraq and create an Islamic caliphate.

Earlier this year, Norway has long wanted to get him out of the country, decided he could be extradited on an Italian extradition request. He opposed that, fearing he would be extradited to Iraq. Most recently, he also expressed fears that Italy had become the epicenter of the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

His Norwegian lawyer Brynjar Meiling said authorities in Norway didn’t “have the decency to let him say goodbye to his family.”

“This is a day of shame for all those who have not stood up against the extradition of an obviously innocent man,” Meiling told the VG newspaper. His criticism was directed at Norwegian courts that have ruled in favor of his extradition, the government and the opposition.

Italian prosecutors had alleged Krekar is behind Rawti Shax, a European network aimed at violently overthrowing the government in Kurdistan.

In 2015, European authorities arrested 15 Iraqi-Kurdish nationals on terrorism-related charges. Rawti Shax recruited foreign terrorist fighters to be sent to Iraq and Syria and provided logistical and financial support, according to the Italian prosecutors who spearheaded the probe. They alleged that Krekar was the leader.

A refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan who came to Norway in 1991, the 63-year-old cleric has several convictions in Norway, including for threatening Prime Minister Erna Solberg. He also praised the 2015 extremist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Krekar founded the now-defunct Ansar al-Islam insurgent group of Sunni Kurds, which aimed to install an Islamic caliphate in Iraqi Kurdistan. It reportedly merged with the Islamic State group in 2014.