Terrorism: September 23, 2002


Mullah Krekar, Al-Qaeda and Iraq: Strange Ties- In early September, Kurdish guerilla leader Mullah Krekar (real name Najmuddin Faraj or Najumuddin Faraj Ahmad or Mullah Najm al-Dsin Faraj Ahmad) was apprehended in Iran and expelled. Having a valid Norwegian refugee status, he was enroute to Oslo when Dutch police arrested him at Amsterdams Schiphol airport on 12 September. He was expected to be rapidly extradited, and by the 14th, Jordan had asked Holland that he be extradited to their custody and fully outlined their reason for the request, on charges of heroin smuggling. 

Krekars lawyer aired his conspiracy theory to the press on the 15th, involving at least three countries: the extradition request from Jordan, the deportation decision by Norways Ministry of Municipal and Regional Affairs and the arrest in the Netherlands could only have been the result of prior knowledge that Krekar would be in a certain place that would allow his arrest at a certain time. However, the attorney had no concrete evidence for this theory and could only point out that everything had coincidentally happened at the same time. Krekars Dutch lawyer announced that his client would fight extradition on the 16th, and Norway apparently shunned him the same day, based on information found in open sources (among them an interview with Krekar in a NRK TV documentary). On the 17th, Jordan denied that its request to have Krekar extradited had any connection with his alleged role as a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. 

After being in North Iraq to fight for almost a year, Krekar paid a visit to the Oslo Police District on 2 August 2002 in order to renew his Norwegian travel documents. Norway's intelligence agency investigated Krekar and on 28 August, Norway's Directorate of Immigration ruled that Krekar was no longer eligible for political asylum, having spent too much time in his homeland, North Iraq. Krekars wife and four children are still living in Norway, although Norwegian television claimed that he had not been seen in Oslo since the September 11 attacks. Krekar arrived in Norway as a refugee in 1991. Krekars European vacations are regularly followed by influxes of thousands of dollars into Al-Ansar coffers and his brother Khaled minds the group's treasury. 

Krekar had led a violently anti-American group of militant Islamic extremists, known as the Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam or Supporters of Islam), long linked to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda movement (based partially on Krekars own bragging). The 46-year old Krekar studied Islamic jurisprudence under the Palestinian ideologue Abdullah Azzam (founder of Al-Qaeda and mentor of bin Laden) in Pakistan during the 1980s. In a 1997, in a television interview conducted from his headquarters and aired in Kurdistan, Mullah Krekar described his relationship with Bin Ladin and their long history in Afghanistan. Jund Al Islam also sent 34 members to Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. One of their leaders is an Arab named Abu Wa'il, a former Iraqi army officer. Throughout the summer of 2002, they caused havoc in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq by skirmishing with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the factions opposing Saddam Hussein.

On 11 November 2001, sources close to Ali Bapeers Kurdistan Islamic Group reported that Krekar had been wounded. Krekar disappeared into Iran sometime around June 2002. Al-Ansar's 500 militiamen are largely made up of Iraqi Kurds from several radical Islamic groups which merged late in 2001. They control a string of villages in the plains and mountains between the town of Halabja and the mountain ridge which marks Iraq's Iranian border, knick-named 'Iraq's Tora Bora'. In August, intelligence officials say the group was providing a refuge and major training base for 100-150 al-Qaeda fighters who had fled Afghanistan. There are also reports that the group is testing the effect of toxic agents such as cyanide gas and ricin on farm animals. 

Al-Ansar (Ansar al-Islam) reportedly received funds, arms and personnel from Al-Qaeda (although the most-skeptical of western observers thought it was unclear if this is put about by the PUK for self-serving reasons). There were also rumors of Iraqi intelligence support and Iranian help. For example, the PUK seized some of the TNT used by Al-Ansar in its suicide attacks. Kurdish explosives experts identified it as product of Baghdads military industrialization department (which can only be released on the approval of the Iraqi military intelligences chief).

The PUK have presented Abu Iman al-Baghdadi, a captured Iraqi intelligence officer of 20 years' standing, to draw a connection between Al-Ansar and Baghdad. Interviewed in a Kurdish prison, Al-Baghdadi said that Abu Wa'il was actively manipulating Al- Ansar on behalf of Iraqi intelligence. Abu Iman al-Baghdadi was captured by the PUK after Iraqi intelligence sent him to check what was happening with Abu Wa'il, following rumors that Wa'il had been captured and handed over the CIA. Al-Baghdadi also claimed that Al-Ansar's basic allegiance is to Al-Qaeda, that Baghdad smuggled arms to Al-Ansar through the Kurdish territory and used the group to make problems for the PUK., but some of them were trained in Iraq and went Afghanistan. 

Iran has no love for Iraq and had a strong relationship with the PUK, but is now displeased with the Kurds' secret discussions with the Americans about plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Having no desire to see Saddam displaced by an American-led regime that would allow US forces on Iran's western flank, Iran armed and trained Al-Ansar members (despite Tehran's official denials). Ansar wounded were also treated in Iranian hospitals. The Iranian Government has a security curtain along its Kurdistan border, using these Islamic groups as a pressure card on the secular groups. A Kurdish intelligence officer described the Iran/Iraq /Al-Qaeda support of a small radical Islamic group as a move to preoccupy Kurdish forces, sidelining them from participation in a US offensive against Saddam Hussein. Adam Geibel


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