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Norway arrests Muslim cleric after Italian terror trial

This June 13, 2016, file photo shows Najmuddin Ahmad Faraj, better known as Mullah Krekar, at Oslo District Court in Oslo, Norway. (Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix via AP)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- A Muslim cleric found guilty in Italy of planning terror has been detained in Norway on an Italian arrest warrant, The Norwegian domestic security agency said.

    Iraqi-born Mullah Krekar was detained late Monday, the PST security agency said. It was not immediately clear whether he would be extradited.

    The agency tweeted hours after an Italian court found Krekar guilty of attempting to overthrow the Kurdish government in northern Iraq and create an Islamic caliphate, and sentenced him to 12 years.

    Italian prosecutors had alleged Krekar, who is based in Norway, is behind Rawti Shax, a European network aimed at violently overthrowing the government in Kurdistan. Krekar, who has denied the allegations, plans to appeal, said his Italian lawyer, Marco Vernillo.

    In 2015, European authorities arrested 15 Iraqi-Kurdish nationals on terrorism-related charges. Rawti Shax recruited foreign terrorist fighters to be sent to Iraq and Syria and provided logistical and financial support, according to the Italian prosecutors who spearheaded the probe. They alleged that Krekar was the leader.

    Only Krekar and five others were charged, according to Vernillo.

    Krekar, born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, had refused to travel to Italy, fearing he would be extradited to Iraq after the trial.

    A refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan who came to Norway in 1991, the 63-year-old cleric has several convictions in Norway, including for threatening Prime Minister Erna Solberg. He also praised the 2015 extremist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

    Norwegian officials have long wanted to get him out of the country.

    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.

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

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