Dispatches > The Buzz

The one that got away

Germans convict al-Qaeda accessory, but the U.S. still has no comment on why Iraqi terrorist leader Mullah Krekar was expelled from-not arrested in-Norway

Issue: "Portable Pentagon," March 1, 2003

Circumstantial evidence may not be enough for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder when it comes to linking Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden, but it was enough for a German court to link a Moroccan accountant to al-Qaeda's Sept. 11 hijackers. A five-judge panel sentenced Mounir el Motassadeq to 15 years in prison-the maximum-as an accessory to 3,000 murders. That's 12 days of punishment per victim. The judges acknowledged that the loose-knit nature of al-Qaeda left them with little more than circumstantial evidence, but they ruled that it was enough to tie Mr. Motassadeq to Sept. 11 atrocities in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Circumstantial evidence apparently isn't enough for U.S. or European terrorist hunters to keep a prominent Iraqi terrorist in custody. The Justice Department will not say why it allowed Norway to expel Ansar al Islam leader Mullah Krekar. Mr. Krekar, who claimed refugee status in Oslo, was ordered deported on Feb. 19. "We have decided to expel Mullah Krekar for reasons of national security," said immigration minister Erna Solberg. "Ansar al Islam is an armed fundamentalist Islamic group which, we have reason to believe, is linked to the al-Qaeda network."

Ms. Solbert said Mr. Krekar's asylum status in Norway was undermined by repeated trips to northern Iraq. Returning from one such trip via Iran and the Netherlands, Mr. Krekar was arrested in Amsterdam last September. Dutch authorities told United Press International at the time that he would soon be extradited to the United States. But the transfer never took place, and Dutch officials later rejected a request for extradition from Jordan.

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Although U.S. law enforcement had Mr. Krekar under surveillance prior to Sept. 11 (when he disappeared for a year), Mr. Krekar was released from Dutch custody one month ago, just weeks before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council the group he headed was an intersect for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and sheltered a factory producing chemical weapons. Mr. Krekar was greeted by reporters upon his return to Oslo. He also held a press conference there after watching Mr. Powell's Feb. 5 presentation to the United Nations, and denied that he had links to al-Qaeda.

Kurdish officials in northern Iraq say they protested Mr. Krekar's release. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan spokesman Qubad Talabani said the party asked Norwegian authorities to "hand him over to our jurisdiction or to be tried in court where we could send witnesses." The PUK controls the region directly adjoining Ansar al Islam territory, and Kurdish officials believe the group was involved in at least three assassination attempts in the region, including the Feb. 8 killing of Kurdish leader Shawkat Hafi Mushir.

With so much riding on the link between Baghdad and bin Laden, why would the United States let an Iraqi terrorist get away? "We have no comment at this time," said Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo.


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