Radical Kurd leader goes on trial in Norway

Mullah Krekar, the founder of radical Iraqi Kurdish Islamist group Ansar Al Islam, went on trial in Norway on Wednesday accused of making death threats, most notably against a former government minister.

The 55-year-old mullah, whose real name is Najmeddine Faraj Ahmad and who figures on terrorist lists drawn up by the United Nations and the United States, pleaded not guilty on the first day of his trial before the Oslo district court.

According to media in Norway, where he has lived since 1991, he risks up to 15 years behind bars if found guilty.

Krekar has among other things been charged with threatening Erna Solberg, the current head of the Conservative Party and a former government minister who signed his expulsion order, deeming him a threat to national security.

The deportation process began in 2003 but has yet to be carried out since Norwegian law prevents him from being deported to Iraq until his safety can be guaranteed and as long as he risks the death penalty.

"Norway will pay a heavy price for my death," he said during a meeting with international media in June 2010.

"If for example Erna Solberg deports me and I die as a result, she will suffer the same fate," he said in Arabic, adding: "I don't know who will kill her: Al Qaeda, Ansar Al Islam, my family, my children. I don't know... But she will pay the price."

Before the Oslo court Wednesday, wearing traditional Kurdish attire, Krekar hinted he would gladly repeat those declarations.

His lawyer Brynjar Meling stressed however that his client's words merely referred to Islamic principles and were protected under freedom of expression laws.

Krekar also stands accused of criminal incitement after he during an interview with US commercial broadcaster NBC called for attacks on US soldiers in Iraq.

While he acknowledges having co-founded Ansar Al Islam, which also figures on international lists of terrorist groups, in 2001, Krekar insists he has not led the group since 2002.

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