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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 15:36 GMT
Mullah denies Iraq al-Qaeda link
Mullah Krekar
Mullah Krekar has taken refuge in Norway

The leader of a radical Islamic group based in northern Iraq has denied United States allegations that his group provides a possible link between President Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda network.

Speaking to the BBC in Norway where he has refugee status, Mullah Krekar, who is an Iraqi Kurd, said he was opposed to the Iraqi leader and that his group had no links with al-Qaeda.

Mullah Krekar (left) with three other men
I never had links with Saddam Hussein's family, Saddam Hussein's government, Saddam Hussein's party, not in the past, not now, not in the future

Mullah Krekar
Ansar al-Islam is a small, but radical, Islamic organisation which operates from a string of villages it controls in Kurdish-administered northern Iraq, close to the Iranian border.

The US Government says its preparing to unveil new evidence which, it says, links Iraq to al-Qaeda.

Ansar al-Islam is a violent group which has denounced the secular nature of Iraqi Kurdish society.

It has a Taleban type of outlook, imposing strict Islamic rule in the villages it controls.

It is alleged to have tried to assassinate senior officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi Kurdish party which controls the region it operates from.

There have also been allegations that its members include more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters.

But it is American suggestions that Ansar could represent the missing link between Baghdad and al-Qaeda which have created the most interest.

Mullah Krekar categorically denies this: "I never had links with Saddam Hussein's family, Saddam Hussein's government, Saddam Hussein's party, not in the past, not now, not in the future, and not inside Iraq or outside, not directly, not indirectly.

"As a Kurdish man, I believe that he is our enemy, and as an Orthodox Muslim also, I believe that Saddam Hussein and his group are outside of Islam's zone."

Ansar and al-Qaeda

Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaeda, agrees with sceptics who say that Washington has yet to present concrete evidence of links between Ansar and the Iraqi Government.

Ansar al-Islam... is an associate group of al-Qaeda

Rohan Gunaratna
author of Inside al-Qaeda
But he says Mullah Krekar's denials that his group has any al-Qaeda links are another matter.

"Ansar al-Islam has links with al-Qaeda - in fact it is an associate group of al-Qaeda. The group has had a significant presence in Afghanistan. The group did have relations with the Taleban."

Rohan Gunaratna believes that, so far, Ansar al-Islam represents only a local threat.

For now, Mullah Krekar is living freely in Norway after spending four months in jail in Holland.

But his future does not look entirely secure.

The Norwegian Government has launched a process which may lead to him being stripped of his refugee status and expelled.


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