Norway has long been a reliable NATO member and supporter of U.S. foreign policy. It sent a small number of excellent, mountain-trained troops to Afghanistan and has always been willing to mediate in difficult situations ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to peace talks between Sri Lanka and its murderous secessionists, the Tamil Tigers. That is why Norway’s recent dispute with Washington over a terrorist case is so disturbing. If a normally quiet, reliable ally like Norway could hold the kind of position it did, we should expect even less from the likes of France, Germany, or Belgium.
Faraj Ahmad Najmuddin, a.k.a. Mullah Krekar, is an Iraqi Kurd who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and established close links with Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda nebula from its beginning. Soon after 9/11, Krekar and some associates established an organization named Ansar al-Islam (“Supporters of Islam”) near Halabja, in an area of Iraqi Kurdistan close to the Iranian border. According to Qobad Talabani, the Washington representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two major Kurdish organizations, “This is a man who trained in bin Laden camps and has clear ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” (“Al-Qaida cohorts still active in Iraq,” Insight, Feb. 4, 2003) In fact, Ansar al-Islam was a smaller, Kurdish version of the Taliban. During its control of ten remote villages, it banned music, forced women to wear the burka and men to grow beards, and made collective prayers compulsory. It was Kandahar under Mullah Omar all over again.
Ansar al-Islam, which at the peak of its influence had some 1,000 fighters (including hundreds of Arabs, mostly al-Qaeda types and all fundamentalists), also had close links to and harbored Abu Musab Zarkawi, a Palestinian and known al-Qaeda operative who specialized in chemical and biological weapons. More concretely, Ansar al-Islam was involved in a number of assassination attempts on PUK leaders, some successful. Thus, it murdered a prominent PUK military commander, captured and killed by mutilation dozens of PUK fighters, and tried to kill the PUK’s prime minister, Barham Salih (Salih was not killed, but five of his bodyguards were).
Ansar al-Islam is known to be, like its friends in the Taliban and al-Qaeda, ferociously anti-American and anti democratic. Considering its links with Arab terrorists and dependence on their financial support, it is likely anti-Kurdish as well. Its reign had seemed to come to an end this year, when U.S. airpower and PUK land forces dislodged it from its mountainous redoubts and forced the survivors to flee to Iran. However, and with Iran’s tolerance if not support, it has come back again, this time in newly liberated Iraq, and is among the prime suspects behind the chain of bombings in Baghdad, Mosul, and elsewhere. Considering this history, one may think that Krekar is an international terrorist on the run, but one would be wrong.
Indeed, since 1991 Krekar, his wife, children and brother enjoyed comfortable political asylum in Norway, presumably because the nice, humanitarian Norwegians thought that a Kurd in Saddam’s Iraq must ipso facto be an innocent victim. The idea that an ethnic Kurd might also be a worse threat in Iraq and elsewhere than Saddam himself never seems to have crossed the mind of Oslo’s immigration officials.
But then strange things happened and matters became “curiouser and curiouser.” With his Norwegian passport in hand, Krekar repeatedly “visited “ Iraq and Iran—the very countries whose alleged persecution of his poor self provided the main argument for his asylum application. In September 2002, while back from Iran, Krekar was arrested upon arrival in Amsterdam (on a KLM flight from Tehran) under suspicion of being just what he was: a terrorist. The Jordanian government asked for his extradition under a drug trafficking charge, and the United States wanted to “visit with him,” as Secretary Rumsfeld would call it. Here a disturbing and indeed a foreboding pattern emerged.
The Dutch rejected the Jordanian extradition request because they, like all EU governments, believe Amman is too harsh on terrorists – why, they are rough in interrogating them, and if he were found guilty he could even be executed. But they could not just let Krekar go, because Washington was also interested. So Holland threw the hot potato to the Norwegians and expelled Krekar to Oslo.
There, Krekar claimed that he did not want to be “a problem for Norway” but, as the Oslo Aftenposten newspaper noted, he already was. And the strange (for Americans and certainly for Texans) wheels of Viking justice slowly started to move. First, the Ministry of Local Development, finding that Krekar had made false statements upon applying for asylum, withdrew his Norwegian passport and revoked his residence and work permit. But then, Krekar had never had to work in Norway, which had granted him a charitable grant for his religious activities. (Michael Howard, “Kurdish Extremist Leader Arrested at Airport,” The Guardian, Sept. 14, 2002)
Then, after reviewing U.S. information proving the terrorist nature of Krekar and his Ansar al-Islam, Oslo decided to go a bit further and actually expel Krekar, but to where? Jordan, of course, was out of the question, and the United States too was cruel and inhumane, with its capital punishment laws. Obviously, a revenge-oriented Iraq was not the place for a terrorist’s rights to be protected. So, for now, Krekar remains in detention (complete with marital visits, color TV, etc.) in Norway as a terrorist with no rights of residence. He has started what is sure to be a lengthy appeal process. Since there is now proof that Krekar raised funds for terrorism and had telephone contacts with known al-Qaeda operatives in Italy, he may be convicted, which would be egg on the faces of Norwegian immigration bureaucrats, but then what? At the very worst, a few years in a comfortable prison, liberation in Norway, and then residence there, since no country would accept, or be considered by Norwegian legal lights safe for, a terrorist.
The Krekar case is a clear indication of what Washington can expect from Europe. Hundreds of terrorists, most of them associated with al-Qaeda, Algerian Islamist murderers, or others of the same kind, have been arrested throughout Western Europe, but since most have not committed their most serious crimes there, they are only being charged with the bank robberies or credit card fraud, etc. they engaged in for fundraising purposes.
The most effective recruiters and religious enablers of Islamist terrorism are based in Europe, and they do not as a matter of course “kill” anyone. That almost all of them are also under life or death sentences in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Yemen and Morocco actually strengthens their case for asylum in Europe. After all, they have a right to freedom of speech, don’t they? As long as Norwegians, British, Danes, Belgians, or Dutch do not get killed, they have a right to recruit murderers of Egyptians, Jordanians, Algerians—and Americans.
U.S.- European relations are already frayed, largely over France’s position at the UN in the run-up to Iraq. But when Joe Six-pack finds that terrorists who killed or planned the killing of Americans are let free to do it again in Europe, those animosities will become much deeper than mere disputes among diplomats, turning into real dislike.