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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK
Kurdish Islamic leader held
Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq
Kurdish guerrillas have been attacked by Ansar al-Islam

The leader of a Kurdish rebel group with alleged links to al-Qaeda has been arrested in the Netherlands.

Mullah Krekar was detained on Thursday at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport en route from the Iranian capital, Tehran, to Norway, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Oslo.
Mullah Krekar
Krekar has praised Osama Bin Laden

Reports say the suspect, who is also known as Najm Al-Din Faraj Ahmad, heads a newly emergent Kurdish Islamic group called Ansar al-Islam, or Partisans of Islam.

The American authorities have expressed an interest in the group because they say its members have trained in Afghanistan alongside al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

Ansar al-Islam controls a strip of Kurdish-populated land near the Iranian border known as Iraq's Tora Bora.

It is unclear which charges, if any, he could face.

Status revoked

Until recently, Mullah Krekar was a refugee in Norway.

But Norwegian authorities revoked his refugee status last month because he had travelled back to Iraq and stayed there for long periods.

Ansar al-Islam is believed to be behind a number of explosions and assassination attempts against senior Kurdish officials.

Sources in the Kurdish region say Iran provides the group with logistical support and facilitates its members' movements and access to the outside world, but Iran denies this.

In fact, Tehran confirmed that it had expelled Mullah Krekar after detaining him earlier this week on the basis that he was an unwanted personality in Iran.

'Jewel in the crown'

Mullah Krekar's links with Afghanistan date back to the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Mullah Krekar with three other men
Ansar al-Islam has instituted Taleban-style rule in the areas it controls
He studied Islamic law in Pakistan under Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam, the mentor of Osama bin Laden.

In an interview that took place in June 2001, Mullah Krekar described Osama Bin Laden as the "jewel in the crown of the Muslim nation".

He has also described democracy as "heresy from beginning to end".

Since its establishment, Ansar al-Islam has instituted a Taleban-style rule in the areas under its control.

There are also reports that his group harbours some 150 "Afghan Arabs", who fled Afghanistan after the US-led attack last year.

Ansar al-Islam forces have been involved in clashes with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties controlling Iraq's Kurdish region.

They are also thought to be heavily infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence.

Mullah Krekar, 47, was granted asylum in Norway in 1991 and brought his family to join him at a later stage.

Reports say that he has not been in Norway since the 11 September attacks last year.

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