- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

OSLO (AP) — An Iraqi-born cleric pleaded not guilty in a Norwegian court Wednesday to charges of making death threats against politicians and encouraging suicide bombings.

Prosecutors said Mullah Krekar, a 55-year-old Islamist who came to Norway as a refugee in 1991, faces several years in prison if found guilty.

Since his arrival, Mr. Krekar has made frequent trips to Iraq, where he founded the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations. It is suspected of organizing suicide bombings against coalition forces in Iraq.

In 2005, a Norwegian court declared him a national security threat and ordered him deported, but it later postponed the move because of concerns he could face execution or torture in Iraq.

Prosecutor Marit Bakkevig told the court Wednesday that Mr. Krekar had violated Norwegian terror laws by making threats that “were meant to cause fear in society” and force officials to halt the deportation order.

“The statements appear as persistent threats,” she said.

Two years ago, Mr. Krekar told foreign reporters in Oslo that if he were deported to Iraq and killed, Norwegian officials would “pay with their lives,” according to a transcript included in the indictment presented in court.

Charges also include comments Mr. Krekar made on the NBC news program “The Wanted” in 2009. He said America deserved the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and he condoned suicide bombings against Americans in Iraq. He also is charged with making death threats on various websites against others.

Mr. Krekar’s lawyer, Brynjar Meling, said that his client stands by what he said but that he had not broken the law.

“It should not be looked upon as threats,” Mr. Meling told the Associated Press on the eve of the trial, adding that it would be “a test case” for drawing the line between Norwegian terror laws and freedom of speech.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.