WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- When al-Jazeera TV broadcast a tape Wednesday, said to have been made by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 man in al-Qaida, an Islamist terrorist organization, there was a newcomer on the litany of countries to be targeted for attacks.
In addition to the United States, Britain and Australia, all participants in the war in Iraq, Norway was on the list, although Norway opposed the war that toppled Saddam Hussein. Anti-Western Islamists had not previously singled it out.
Al-Qaida's reason for adding Norway to its targets may have something to do with an Iraqi Kurd. His name is Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, but he is universally known as Mala Krekar. That nom de guerre can be translated as Mulla Laborer.
Before joining the Muslim revolutionary trend that seeks to establish a theocratic state by violence, Krekar had been a Stalinist communist. If al-Zawahiri is indeed championing Krekar, it is part of their mutual admiration.
Last November, Kurdistani Noah -- the mouthpiece of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan -- quoted Krekar as describing Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri as true, faithful Muslims.
In 1991, Krekar arrived in Norway and was given refugee status for himself and his family after fighting alongside the anti-Soviet mujahidin in Afghanistan. That status was revoked last February after the Norwegians became suspicious that Krekar was an Islamist terrorist with a bloody record and connections to al-Qaida.
Krekar's troubles began in September 2002 when, after a visit to his family in Norway, Iranian authorities refused to allow him to disembark at Tehran airport on his way back to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.
At the time, analysts say, Iran was doing what it could to dissociate itself in American eyes from support for Islamist terrorism and consequently dropped its support for Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist guerrilla band earlier known as Jund al-Islam. It appeared in northern Iraq on the border with Iran a week before the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Jund was composed of Iraqi Kurds from various Islamist factions and Arabs who had fought on the side of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. By the end of September, it had established a reputation for violence and brutality in Biyara and some 40 surrounding villages. It imposed a repressive Islamism like that of the Taliban.
The Jund was receiving aid from Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad and documents found in Baghdad since his fall allegedly indicate that at least one correspondent of the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station acted as a link between the Iraqi mukhabarat (intelligence) and Jund/Ansar al-Islam.
But Iran also backed the Jund, at least in its early days, Iraqi Kurds and Western analysts believe. They say the Jund could not have established itself in Iraqi Kurdistan without Iranian approval. Indeed, Iraqi Kurdish military officers reported observing Iranian trucks bringing supplies to the Jund, including weapons.
Iran has a strategic interest in Iraqi Kurdistan and especially the eastern part under the rule of Jalal Talabani and his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
A vital element in the area's economy is cross-border trade with Iran. The area also contains a number of Kurdish Islamist groups apart from Jund/Ansar. One of these was the Iranian-backed Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, the first Islamist group Krekar joined in 1988. Moreover, in the past, Talabani had felt obliged to turn to Tehran for help in fighting with the rival authority of Masud Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, a conflict that has since been patched up.
All this enabled Iran to exercise pressure on Talabani, and at its urging, the secularist PUK was obliged to accept Islamists in local administrative posts. But although these Islamists had their own militias, they were unlike the Jund/Ansar with its extreme violence and recourse to assassination.
The most notorious Jund killing was that of the best-known Christian political figure in Iraqi Kurdistan, Fransu Hariri, a senior KDP official in Irbil in the western part of the Kurdish zone that had been free of rule from Baghdad since late in 1991. A year later it tried but failed to assassinate Barham Saleh, the prime minister in the PUK area.
Jund's most brutal single act was probably the massacre of a 42 PUK militiamen in September 2001, decapitated in front of the inhabitants of the village where they were taken as prisoners.
Analysts believe that with increasing U.S. concern over Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the theocrats ruling Iran wanted to increase their say in Iraqi Kurdistan but not to see the area thoroughly destabilized. Krekar and the violence of Jund al-Islam, it seems, came to be seen in Tehran as more of a liability than an asset.
In 2002, Jund al-Islam, soldiers of Islam, changed its name to the less bellicose Ansar al-Islam, supporters of Islam. The name change would not be sufficient to save Krekar, however.
Krekar was in Iraq with the Jund/Ansar from September 2001 until he returned to Norway for a visit about a year later. In August 2002, preparing to go back to Iraqi Kurdistan, he obtained an entry visa from the Iranian consulate in Oslo. But when he arrived at Tehran airport in September, security authorities refused to let him disembark and put him on a flight back to Norway, which also refused to admit him.
He ended up flying to the Netherlands where the Dutch police arrested him on his arrival at Schipol airport. They held him for four months before deporting him to Norway, rather than honor an extradition request from Jordan that wanted him on charges of heroin trafficking.
Then last February Norway revoked his refugee status and in March arrested him.
The same month, the United States labeled Ansar al-Islam a terrorist organization. The way was prepared for the subsequent routing of its 700 fighters at the end of March in a combined effort by U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish militia. Hundreds of militants were killed and many fled into Iran.
There the Iranians turned most of them back, including wounded. But some of the leadership is believed to have been given asylum, joining al-Qaida figures also sheltered by Tehran. Iraqi Kurdish requests for the return of Jund/Ansar leaders have not been met.
Ironically, Mala Krekar was arrested by Norwegian police on March 21, the date of the great Kurdish New Year festival. When police found telephone numbers linking him to al-Qaida operatives in Italy, he claimed the numbers were just for a mosque. After being jailed for 12 days, he was freed on condition he remain in Norway.
The Oslo authorities have so far been unable to decide what to do with him although it is believed they would like to find a legal way to deport him.
Currently investigators are looking into his possibly planning terrorist acts, including recruiting candidates for suicide attacks.
Thursday a spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry told United Press International that there was no clear reason for Norway to be included among al-Qaida's terrorist targets. There was no substantiation that Krekar was the reason for al-Zawahiri naming Norway, he said.
According to observers in Oslo, the Norwegians find it difficult to believe their country would be the object of Islamist violence when there are other countries, such a neighboring Denmark, that approved of the coalition action in Iraq but have escaped al-Qaida's attention.
Whatever al-Qaida's reason, it seems that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri consider declaring a European country a target for terrorist attacks is more worthwhile than worrying about the country being drawn closer to the Great Satan -- the United States -- and its war on terrorism.
Whether they are right in this remains to be seen.