15 arrested in terror cell swoops across Europe
Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30
Police in six European countries arrested at least 15 suspected members of an Islamist militant group that was planning attacks in Norway and the Middle East, according to police.
They said the militants planned to strike Norwegian and British diplomats in the Middle East and politicians in Norway.
Police in Oslo said there had never been a "concrete or acute threat" against any Norwegian citizens or interests.
The early-morning raids targeted the Rawti Shax group, which police said was a Kurdish Sunni Muslim group dedicated to overthrowing the government of Iraq's Kurdistan region and replacing it with rule by sharia (Islamic law).
Italy's national Carabinieri police led the investigation, with security forces in Italy, Britain, Norway, Finland, Germany and Switzerland taking part in the swoop.
"This was an incredibly difficult and complicated investigation that has been going on for five years," said prosecutor Franco Roberti, the head of Italy's anti-mafia and anti-terrorism unit.
A total of 17 arrest warrants were issued, almost all for Iraqi Kurds, and 15 suspects were picked up immediately. One of those wanted was believed to be in Iraq, while it was not yet clear whether another suspect had been found in Switzerland.
All of them face international terrorism charges, Italian police said.
Among those detained was Mullah Krekar, the one-time leader of the Ansar al-Islam militant group. He was served the arrest warrant in a prison in Norway, where he was already serving an 18-month term for making death threats against a Kurdish man and encouraging others to commit criminal acts in a TV interview.
Krekar went to Norway as a refugee in 1991 and had earlier been deemed a threat to national security. However, Norwegian authorities did not expel him to Iraq because authorities there could not guarantee that he would not be executed.
Italian investigators said Rawti Shax, which means 'The New Course', was rooted in Europe, with cells communicating via the internet and providing logistical and financial support to send fighters to Syria and Iraq.