- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

LONDON — The United States and various European countries are seeking to interrogate the founder of Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist group suspected in Sunday’s suicide attacks on two Kurdish political parties in northern Iraq.

Washington also is believed to be seeking the extradition of Mullah Krekar, who is being held in Norway.

The founder of the Kurdish exile whose group — believed to be linked to al Qaeda — appeared in court in Oslo yesterday, where his detention was extended for another four weeks.

The mullah was arrested after Attorney General John Ashcroft urged during a visit in August that Norway revoke his asylum status and allow U.S. officials access to him.

Mr. Ashcroft called Ansar al-Islam a “very dangerous group” and said the organization continued to maintain terrorist training camps in northern Iraq despite being routed during the war.

The personal secretary of Jalil Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said from Irbil by telephone yesterday that he believes Ansar al-Islam was behind Sunday’s attacks.

Suicide bombers struck simultaneously at the headquarters of the two official parties during the celebration of an Islamic festival, the Eid of the Sacrifice. They killed at least 67 persons, including senior Kurdish leaders and commanders.

“Our intelligence is that the actual killers were probably Ansar, but the great efficiency, and the simultaneous explosions, indicates the planning and preparation was al Qaeda itself,” said Araz Talabani, the leader’s nephew.

The PUK is one of two main Kurdish political organizations.

Under U.S., Italian and German pressure, Norwegian authorities arrested Krekar at his Oslo apartment on Jan. 2.

Since claiming asylum in 1991, the mullah had used Oslo as a base for frequent forays to northern Iraq while officially a political refugee from that country.

Just before the war, he was seen there rallying his fighters and supporters with calls for martyrdom in the battle against the infidel.

Italian police have interviewed him over suspected attempts to recruit suicide bombers and Islamic resistance fighters in Milan. No charges have been brought.

German authorities last year claimed Ansar al-Islam was planning a suicide attack on a U.S. military hospital in Hamburg in December. After a CIA tip-off, authorities temporarily shut down the hospital.

In a recent television linkup from Oslo with the Al Jazeera satellite network, Krekar boasted about a suicide bombing that killed some Kurds and an Australian free-lance cameraman in Kurdish territory during last year’s war.

The mullah says he no longer heads Ansar al-Islam, but he offered no correction when Al Jazeera described him as the head of the movement.

The Washington Times reported on Dec. 31 that Ansar al-Islam had obtained 169 suicide jackets that were made by Saddam Hussein’s security services but which fell into the hands of arms dealers after the war.

Such jackets are believed to have been used for the first time in Sunday’s attacks in Irbil.

Krekar’s Norwegian attorney Brynjar Meling said the charges faced by the cleric were based on information provided by the CIA about conversations in which he participated.

The CIA interpreted the Internet discussions in which his client had taken part as nothing more than “theological, political analysis about jihad,” the lawyer said.

He said the CIA believed Krekar was using the Internet to “order suicide bomb attacks in the last months of 2003.”

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