Norway-based cleric refuses to travel to Italy for trial

COPENHAGEN - A Norway-based Iraqi-born cleric suspected of recruiting fighters in Iraq has refused to travel to Italy where he faces trial, his lawyer said Friday.

Brynjar Meling said he and Mullah Krekar fear Italy "will consider him stateless" and "extradite him after the trial" that starts Monday in Bolzano, northern Italy.

Meling demanded guarantees from Italy and Norway that Krekar could return to the Scandinavian country.

Italian prosecutors allege Krekar, born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, is behind Rawti Shax, a European network aimed at violently overthrowing the government in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The 62-year-old cleric came to Norway as a refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. Norwegian officials have long wanted to get him out of the country.

He denies the allegations and had previously fought an Italian extradition request.

Krekar is willing to be questioned by video link from Norway for the Italy trial, Meiling said. Italy allows trials in absentia.

Norwegian courts have ruled in favour of his extradition and the government has given him travel documents so he can travel to Italy, escorted by Norwegian police. According to Meiling, Krekar lives legally in Norway and cannot be extradited because of fears for his life.

Krekar has several convictions in Norway, including for threatening Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and has praised the 2015 extremist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Krekar founded 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.

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