- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) — The U.S. government Thursday instructed American banks to block any assets of a Kurdish Islamic organization it believes has links to both al Qaida and Iraq's intelligence services.

Under the designation, the United States will submit the organization to the United Nations for its own sanctions committee for organizations and groups associated with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida organization.

"Ansar al-Islam, which operates in northeastern Iraq, has close links to and support from al Qaida," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that a senior Iraqi intelligence official has embedded into the organization. These comments came as part of Powell's 90-minute presentation on Iraq's links to terrorism and evasion of U.N. weapons inspections.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the territory from where Ansar al-Islam operates, welcomed the U.S. decision Thursday. "This is a very positive step. We hope to be in cooperation with the U.S. government to fully eliminate this group from our territory," the PUK's deputy representative in Washington, Qubad Talabani, told United Press International on Thursday.

Last spring Ansar al-Islam attempted to assassinate Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. Earlier this month the group killed PUK senior military commander Shawkat Haji Mushir. The PUK has conducted some military operations against the group's enclave in Biyara, but the core organization remains intact.

The U.S. decision to block the organization's assets comes one day after the Norwegian government revoked asylum, travel documents and a work permit for Ansar al-Islam's leader Mullah Krekar. Krekar arrived in Norway in January after spending nearly five months in the Netherlands, where Dutch authorities questioned him on his links to al Qaida and on the actions of his organization. U.S. officials say information from these interrogations was shared with the United States. Krekar was based in Iran prior to arriving in the Netherlands.

Talabani told UPI that the PUK had asked that Krekar be deported to the PUK's authorities where "he can face charges for the attempted assassination on the PUK's leadership." Krekar is also wanted in Jordan on drug-smuggling charges.

A Norwegian government official Thursday told UPI it is unlikely, however, that Krekar will be going anywhere soon. "He will not be deported just yet because there is no one who will accept him and we would not do this while he has appeals pending on his case."

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