Peace Like A River

It was a wide river, mistakable for a lake or even an ocean unless you'd been wading and knew its current. Somehow I'd crossed it... Now I saw the stream regrouped below, flowing on through what might've been vineyards, pastures, orhards... It flowed between and alongside the rivers of people; from here it was no more than a silver wire winding toward the city. - Leif Enger, Peace Like A River

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why Norway?

In this post yesterday, I discussed how the burning of various European diplomatic missions, in particular the embassies of Denmark and Norway in Damascus and Denmark and Austria in Tehran, may have been a message sent to the Europeans by Iran and its toady Syria, warning them of what may happen if they go too far in opposing Iran.

(Update: In a more direct example of Iran getting to the point, the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Tehran were also attacked.)

One question comes to mind, though. Why Norway?

This whole mess started when a Danish newspaper published the cartoons late last year. A Norwegian Christian weekly Magazinet then published them in January in support of the Danish newspaper.

For that reason, it is understandable that the Muslim masses would be angry at Norway and would wish to protest at Norwegian embassies. But what about the terror masters who direct the mobs?

As I noted yesterday, in police states like Syria mobs just don't burn down foreign embassies unless the government allows it. The mob in Damascus first attacked the Danish embassy, and then went to the Norwegian embassy, which is about four miles away. The mob didn't just happen to be in the neighborhood. If this was orchestrated, why would someone want to send that mob to the Norwegian embassy, using the cartoons as a convenient pretext?

Syria has allied itself with Iran, and certainly Iran was trying to send a message. If Syria is doing Iran's bidding here, why would Iran want to send a message to Norway?

Ah, Grasshopper, now there's a tale that may lie in the shadows.

The answer may have to do with Mullah Krekar.

Krekar has been in Norway since 1991 with refugee status. He had been working in the Kurdish areas of Iraq in the wake of the Halabja attack. As this Frontline story says:

According to his autobiography, published in Norway in 2004, Krekar left Iraq because Saddam Hussein had ordered his death for his work with the Kurds. In 1991, Krekar and his family received refugee status in Norway.

However, Krekar continued to work to make the region an independent Islamic theocracy, and in 2001 various factions united to form Ansar al-Islam. The United States considers Ansar al-Islam to be a terrorist group. More importantly for our purposes, Krekar is believed to have become the leader of Ansar al-Islam.

The group became associated with Al Qaeda, and as it grew, developed ties with Saddam Hussein, perhaps out of a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" philosophy.

In fact, Zarqawi, currently the leader of the insurgency in Iraq, is linked to Ansar al-Islam and once spent time with them. Zarqawi has also spent time in Iran, is the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and so is the nexus of Al Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, Iraq and Iran. (Zarqawi may be back in Iran now.)

Ansar al-Islam operated along the border with Iran, and received support from Iran as well, which should not come as a terrible shock, considering Iran's support for terrorism worldwide. From this 2003 report:

Iran supports Ansar by allowing it to operate along its borders. Iran may also provide logistical support by permitting the flow of goods and weapons and providing a safe area beyond the front. The Turkish daily Milliyet has noted that Ansar militants check cars leaving their stronghold en route to Iran, indicating coordination with the Islamic republic. Moreover, the recently apprehended Mullah Krekar spent many years in Iran and was arrested in Amsterdam after a flight from Tehran.

Iran has several possible reasons for supporting Ansar. For one, having a democratic proto-state on its borders threatens the very nature of the Islamic republic. Thus, continued guerrilla activity benefits Tehran, as does any movement designed to spread Islamism in Kurdistan. Furthermore, by supporting Ansar and other Islamist groups in Iraq, Tehran may attempt to gain influence among the various factions that could contribute to a new Iraqi government if Saddam's regime is overthrown.

The group was hit hard during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and ceased to be an effective fighting force for a time. You may recall the March 2003 missile strikes that destroyed their mountain stronghold.

We'll come back to Ansar al-Islam, but let's return to Krekar.

In the wake of 9/11, the US and other intelligence agencies had their eye on Ansar al-Islam, and Krekar. There was certainly a concern about the group's involvement in terrorism.

In August 2002, Norway arrested Krekar on suspicion of recruiting activities. Krekar went to Sweden, but Sweden ordered him to leave. Krekar then went to Iran where he was arrested and sent back to Europe via the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities arrested him.

When Krekar was arrested at Schipol airport in September 2002, the Dutch authorities claimed the arrest took place on grounds of a drugs related extradition request by Jordan. However, the events that followed revealed that the US suspected Krekar of "terrorist activities" as well as relations with al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, although he does not appear on the FBI's 'most wanted' list. On the day of Krekar's arrest, a Dutch Ministry of Justice spokesman claimed that it was related to immigration offences and that "several countries" were discussing his case with the Dutch secret service (which, it was later revealed, provided the "evidence" for this case).

Krekar was put under house arrest in Norway at the end of August 2002 because of alleged recruitment activities for a cell of Ansar al-Islam in Norway. Preliminary investigations were initiated against him on grounds of terrorism and abuse of his asylum status. In face of prosecution in Norway, Krekar left the country for Sweden, but Sweden told him to leave so Krekar took a flight to Iran to travel on to northern Iraq. The Iranian authorities arrested and imprisoned him in Teheran, despite that fact that he was neither convicted of any crimes, nor had he encountered problems with Iranian authorities in the past. Iran used to support Ansar Al-Islam, but according to the Economist, the Iranian secret services have increased their cooperation with 'Western' (American) intelligence agencies.

Krekar was certainly known to Iran, and Iran was supportive of Ansar al-Islam. Why would Iran turn over someone like Krekar to the West? One would think Iran would consider Krekar an ally.

Remember the time frame, though. This happened in August/September 2002, barely a year after 9/11. The US had gone to war in Afghanistan, but it was not clear what the US would do next. In his State of the Union address in early 2002, President Bush had named Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil. I believe Iran was unsure as to whether it would be the next target, and so threw Krekar over the wall to the Europeans, perhaps at the request of the United States, in an attempt to forestall a potential attack. I believe Iran cooperated in this case because it was still afraid of an American attack. (As time went by and the US became entrenched in Iraq, I believe Iran has become much less afraid of a large-scale American attack, and has resumed its belligerence, as we've seen over its nuclear program lately.)

Krekar eventually ended up back in Norway a free man, but his name once again started to become associated with terrorist activities in Iraq and Europe. From Frontline:

Police arrested him in March 2003, after Krekar threatened coalition soldiers in Iraq with "suicide commandos," but the court saw no reason to keep him in jail.

On Jan. 2, 2004, police arrested Krekar again, on suspicion of financing terrorism and planning assassinations of Kurdish leaders. But the case fell apart when the prosecution found that their key witnesses, Ansar al-Islam soldiers in Kurdish custody, might have been tortured or physically coerced to give their testimony.

Krekar's name has also appeared in conjunction with several other European terrorism investigations. Most significantly, he admits to having had contact with Jamal Zougam and Abu Dahdah, suspects in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings. Krekar's attorney maintains the contact was an innocent exchange. "[Krekar and his brother] operated a Kurdish newspaper, and received many requests for help, among them how to get people to Norway," his lawyer told a Norwegian newspaper, VG. The brothers only directed Zougam and Dahdah to the correct Norwegian authorities, he said.

Here is an MSNBC report on the Jan 2004 arrest of Krekar, and his release.

The Oslo court ruling was a blow to U.S. efforts to nail Krekar—an acknowledged advocate of Islamic holy war whom U.S. intelligence officials believe is an inspirational figure to some of the Islamic extremists involved in mounting attacks on U.S. and other Coalition forces in Iraq. As the head of Ansar Al-Islam from December 2001 until May 2002, Krekar was the de facto ruler of a slice of territory along Iraqi Kurdistan's border with Iran where he tried to established an Islamic regime similar to the now-deposed Taliban government of Afghanistan.

But the U.S. interest in pursuing Krekar is not just historical. It has been given fresh impetus, NEWSWEEK has learned, by recent intelligence linking Krekar to ongoing terror plots in Europe as well as Iraq. U.S. officials believe, despite his adamant denials, that Krekar recently has been communicating through e-mail and Internet postings with followers in Iraq and urging them to attack U.S. occupation forces. (During last Friday's raid on Krekar's Oslo apartment, Norwegian police seized his family's computer as well as a fax machine and several mobile telephones.) When a NEWSWEEK reporter talked to Krekar in Oslo last year, the Mullah seemed to be remarkably well informed about the activities of Ansar Al-Islam resistance fighters in postwar Iraq, even though he conceded Ansar had neither a Web site nor newspaper, television or radio outlets.

In addition, officials say, Krekar's phone number was found in the possession of a Kurdish militant based in Italy suspected of recruiting young European Muslims to fight U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. Krekar last fall confirmed to NEWSWEEK that his number had been found in an Italian suspect's possession and that he had the same suspect's phone number in his computer. But he insisted that he was in contact with the individual in Italy not to foment violence against U.S. troops but in his capacity as a spiritual leader.

In the days before his arrest, German intelligence officials uncovered information linking Krekar and Ansar Al-Islam to a threat reported over the New Year's holiday against a German military hospital near Hamburg where U.S. military personnel were rumored (apparently inaccurately) to be under medical treatment. Heightened German security precautions around the hospital remain in force for the moment, a German official said.

In 2005, Norway did finally decide to expel Krekar. Iraq wants Norway to extradite him to Iraq, but Krekar remains in Norway while that issue is haggled out. Norway does not want to him extradite him to where he might face a death penalty.

And so, still free, Krekar had this to say over the cartoon controversy:

"The war has begun," he told Norwegian journalists. Mr Krekar said Muslims in Norway are preparing to fight. "It does not matter if the governments of Norway and Denmark apologize, the war is on."

Let's return to Ansar al-Islam. What became of the group after the severe blow dealt to it in early 2003? The group reconstituted itself in Europe, and again began to steadily grow, forming networks that in part funneled people back to Iraq.

This is from a January 2005 report from The Jamestown Foundation's Stephen Ulph:

A security sweep in Germany gave indications that the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, a group linked with al-Qaeda and the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, is spreading its influence outside Iraq. On January 12, according to a report in the German daily Spiegel ( a nationwide pre-dawn operation on homes and shops in Bayern, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Nordrhein-Westfalen and Berlin, including a mosque in Frankfurt, secured the arrests of 22 persons suspected of providing logistical support to militant networks and recruiting fighters for "holy war." Nationals of six Arab countries, Bulgaria and Germany were among the detainees.

That some of these had ties to Ansar al-Islam was not unexpected, in that over the last year in Europe some 20 supporters of the group have been picked up. Ansar al-Islam's presence in Europe was spotlighted by the case of "former" leader of Ansar al-Islam Mullah Krekar, convicted in absentia of terrorism in Jordan and since 1991 a refugee in Norway. Last January the CIA intercepted messages from Krekar to contacts in Iraq allegedly ordering suicide missions against coalition troops, and his continued connection, despite denials, with the radical group was reported by the Norwegian daily Aftenpost, which highlighted an interview on al-Jazeera satellite channel where the Mullah was openly referred to as its leader. (

While the original aim of the group was to establish a fundamentalist enclave in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam is increasingly promoting a pan-Islamic image. Its activities in Europe appear geared to setting up two-way traffic for mujahideen recruits into Iraq and is expanding throughout the continent. The fears are that this activity will transform into operations within Europe, and the signs are that this has already begun. For instance, in December German police arrested three Iraqis suspected of planning an assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his visit to Berlin. A few months earlier, the group was suspected in a plot to attack the NATO summit meeting in Istanbul. With the return to Europe of combat-trained mujahideen from the Iraq theatre, the fears are redoubled. These were succinctly expressed by Bavarian interior minister Guenther Beckstein, who warned that the over 500 Islamic extremists living in Germany "must be considered extremely dangerous."

The Asia Times reported this in January 2005:

The composition of Ansar al-Islam has changed significantly over the years. Most of its suicide bombers who have given pre-operation videos appear to be non-Iraqi Arabs. While the goal of Ansar al-Islam in its early incarnation was to achieve in Iraq "the Muslims' hope of an Islamic country where Islam and its people are strong", the organization increasingly presents itself as a pan-Islamic movement. Several of its fighters today are from outside Iraq - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and even Europe.

According to the New York Times, Ansar al-Islam was among the groups that recruited Muslims in Europe to fight in Iraq. They were recruited through mosques, Muslim centers and militant websites. The network of recruiters first appeared in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Norway within months of the US-led invasion. That recruitment effort has now spread to other countries in Europe, including Belgium and Switzerland. The network apparently provides forged documents, financing, training and information about infiltration routes into Iraq.

There have been many more arrests across Europe as authorities crack down on terrorist networks, and some of them have involved Ansar al-Islam. Just a month ago, some arrests in Spain involved the Ansar al-Islam network.

The three people arrested in Madrid were suspected of organising the transfer of combatants to Iraq from north Africa while providing cover for those who had returned from Iraq.

"One of the cells had as its objective the recruitment of and logistical assistance for suicide terrorist networks in Iraq.

"The other involved pinpointing, indoctrinating and the sending of combatants to conflict zones, centred on providing forces to the Al Zarqawi-Ansar Al Islam network and facilitating the transfer of operatives from north Africa to their final destination in Iraq," Alonso said.

A full report on Ansar al-Islam's network and activities in Europe over the last year will have to wait for another post.

To answer the question in the title of this post, then. Why Norway?

Probably not over the IAEA meeting in Vienna. Norway's statements were fairly vanilla.

Al Qaeda did name Norway as a possible target in 2003, and Norway has been paying close attention to its own growing Islamic threat. However, I don't think the embassy attack is directly related to that, especially if it was directed by Iran.

I don't have any specific information on what support Iran is giving Ansar al-Islam today, but given its growing influence as a terrorist network in Europe, Iran must be involved behind the scenes somewhere.

The attack on the Norwegian embassy may be a warning to Norway as it decides what to do with Krekar. The attack may be a signal to Krekar that Iran is once again willing to consider him an ally, and the attack may be a sign of solidarity with Ansar al-Islam.

In short, by attacking the Norwegian embassy, Iran may be signaling its support for the terrorist networks in Europe, and may be warning the Europeans that Iran is willing to unleash those networks if pressed too far on its nuclear program.

Krekar said it. This is war.


  • At Thu Feb 09, 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous said…

    good work. you need to drop an app to another agency

  • At Thu Feb 09, 01:26:00 PM, C-Low said…

    I concur with Anonymous good work.

    When the shooting starts with Iran their main source of retaliation is going to be the many terrorist organizations they have coddled and supported all over the world.

    Iran is warning and consolidating their support allies Sadr, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Shia breakaway groups throughout the ME (Yemen just went hot again), and Syria ect.. I just hope that Europe realizes that as ugly as it may be to do the damm thing now it will be a lot less painful than later.

  • At Thu Feb 09, 03:55:00 PM, Jeff said…

    Well said, C-Low. Iran has a number of friends of ill repute, and yes, fighting the rise of Islamofascism is not going to get any easier. Especially if/when Iran has nukes.

    And anon, who would have me at my advanced age...

  • At Thu Feb 09, 07:59:00 PM, Leo Pusateri said…

    I believe that we're merely traversing the foothills of what will inevitably become WWIII...

  • At Fri Feb 10, 12:49:00 PM, Marianne said…

    Thanks for the link - your post was incredibly informative!

    I've followed the Krekar case in the past, but it didn't even occur to me that there could be a link between the case and the embassy attacks.



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