OSLO, Norway – Police released the founder of suspected Iraqi terror group Ansar al-Islam (search) late Tuesday as Norwegian media reported that rival Kurds had forced some witnesses to testify against him.
Mullah Krekar (search), a refugee in Norway since fleeing Saddam Hussein's (search) regime in 1991, was arrested at his home in Oslo on Jan. 2 and ordered held for investigation of a variety of charges, including conspiracy in the attempted murders of political rivals in northern Iraq.
On Tuesday, Krekar, smiling and carrying his belongings in a white plastic bag, walked out of jail.
"Jail is not good, but the people were good. And I was busy with books," he said before being whisked away.
Ansar al-Islam, a group of Kurds in northern Iraq, is considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States, which claims it has links to Al Qaeda (search). The group had 600 fighters in northern Iraq before being bombed by U.S. forces and overrun by rival Kurdish militias.
"There has been new information in the past few days that results in us not finding grounds to hold him longer," Einar Hoegetveit, the head of the Norwegian economic crime police, said in a telephone interview. The economic crime police started the investigation into Krekar based on possible financing of terrorism.
Hoegetveit would not say what the information was, whether any or all charges against the Kurdish leader would be dropped, or if the investigation was continuing.
"This just happened this evening," he said. "Whatever happens now will take a few days to decide."
Defense lawyer Arvid Sjoedin told the Norwegian news agency NTB that he understood Norwegian police had re-questioned Kurdish witnesses when not supervised by the rival Kurds of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The witnesses claimed to have been tortured into making claims against Krekar, he said.
Another defense attorney, Brynar Meling, said police had released Krekar without a court order.
Chief prosecutor Erling Grimstad declined to comment Tuesday night.
Krekar has repeatedly denied that Ansar al-Islam has links to the Al Qaeda terror network. Ansar al-Islam is suspected of training, and possibly deploying, homicide bombers against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Krekar has also said he no longer leads the group, but the Oslo district court said Feb. 2 it suspected he still played a key role. It granted police the right to hold him until March 1.
Norwegian immigration authorities are seeking to revoke Krekar's refugee status, saying he violated the terms of his sanctuary by repeatedly returning to Iraq, the country he fled when seeking asylum.
Krekar, born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, was arrested at the airport outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Sept. 12, 2002, after Iran denied him entry and sent him back to Europe. He was deported to Norway in January 2003 and was interrogated by a host of intelligence services in both countries.