- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

LONDON (UPI) A revolutionary Islamist force in Iraqi Kurdistan has been thrown into consternation by a switch in Iranian policy that resulted in the arrest in the Netherlands of its military leader, Kurdish sources said yesterday.
The leader is known as Mala Krekar, but his real name is Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad. He is the military leader of Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam), which has seized a number of villages in Iraqi Kurdistan on the border with Iran.
Ansar al-Isla is seeking to overthrow the secular Kurdish authorities and replace them with a Taliban-style regime.
Mr. Ahmad was refused entrance to Iran when he arrived in Tehran last week, and then by Norway before being arrested when he arrived at Schipol Airport in the Netherlands on Sept. 13.
Kurdish sources said Mr. Ahmad would have originally left Iraqi Kurdistan for Europe by way of Iran. Iranian authorities, the sources said, have facilitated travel for Ansar officials to and from their enclave.
Given this past Iranian practice, the Kurds say, Tehran's refusal to admit Mr. Ahmad signaled a change in policy toward Ansar al-Islam. Its members are now afraid to leave their enclave for fear of ending up under arrest.
Mr. Ahmad and Ansar al-Islam are believed by U.S. officials to have ties to al Qaeda and are virulently anti-American.
Jordan has also asked the Netherlands for Mr. Ahmad's extradition to face charges of drug trafficking.
According to officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls the eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan where Ansar al-Islam is ensconced, there are about 120 Arabs, who arrived from Afghanistan, in the 500-strong Ansar al-Islam force. The group first appeared in Iraqi Kurdistan a week or so before the September 11 attacks.

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