COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Italy has decided to pull back an extradition request for a Norway-based radical Iraqi-born cleric suspected of enticing recruits to fight in Iraq and Syria, the Norwegian security service said Wednesday.
The PST agency says Najmaddin Faraj Ahmad — known as Mullah Krekar — will be released Wednesday.
Italy had claimed Mullah Krekar is behind Rawti Shax, a European-wide network aimed at violently overthrowing the government in the Iraqi-Kurdish region and replacing it with a radical caliphate. Norwegian courts had permitted his extradition — something Krekar had opposed.
Krekar’s lawyer Brynjar Meling, whose client has denied the accusation, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK “it is a victory for the rule of law.” Krekar holds a Norwegian residence permit.
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It wasn’t immediately clear when or why the Italians retracted the extradition request.
The decision was based on “judgments made by the Italian authorities in connection with their criminal proceedings,” Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said.
In reply to an Associated Press request seeking to know when and why the Italian justice ministry apparently withdrew an extradition request, its press office pointed to an article by Italian news agency ANSA denying that Italy had dropped the move. The ANSA story cited unnamed ministry officials as explaining that a Trento judge had revoked the arrest warrant for the mullah and, “thus, there is no basis” to go forward with extradition procedures.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the Trento magistrate decided to revoke the warrant.
Norwegian courts have backed his extradition — something Krekar had opposed.
Leading a European investigation, Italians claimed Krekar had developed a network of followers who communicated via online chats. They called the breaking-up of it “the most important” in Europe in 20 years.
A total of 13 people, including Krekar, had been arrested in Italy, Britain and Norway in connection with the case a year ago.
Krekar was the founder of 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.
The 60-year-old Iraqi has previously been convicted of threatening Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, making other death threats and for praising the slaying of cartoonists at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio contributed to this story from Rome.