Alleged terror group members fighting extradition


Three men alleged to be key members of an Islamic State-affiliated terror group that plotted to execute attacks across Europe and kidnap diplomats are fighting extradition from Britain.

Bakr Hamad, Zana Rahim and Awat Hamasalih held senior positions in Rawti Shax, a "trans-national, radical and fundamentalist group", whose purpose was to carry out violent acts in the West, it is claimed.

Via cells in Britain, Italy, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Finland and Norway, as well as Middle Eastern nations, it aimed to "intimidate the population and to put pressure on public powers and international organisations", according to prosecutors.

The Sunni-Kurdish group's primary objective was to overthrow the government of Kurdistan and establish a caliphate alongside Islamic State (IS) territory in Syria.

But when its leader, Mullah Krekar, was arrested and jailed in Norway in 2012, it prompted the group to draw up plans to kidnap and hold dignitaries, including the British ambassador, to barter for his release.

Hamad, 38, of Kingston-upon-Hull, Rahim, 32, of Derby and Hamasalih, 38, of Birmingham, were arrested last Thursday as part of coordinated raids across Europe led by the Italian authorities.

A total of 13 people were taken into custody in Italy, Norway and the UK as part of the investigation.

Italian prosecutors initially issued European Arrest Warrants for four individuals living in Britain, although action against one alleged member of the group was dropped.

The trio appeared in custody at Westminster Magistrates' Court where prosecutor Daniel Sternberg, representing the Italian authorities, described the alleged threat posed by the group.

He said: "The organisation aimed to establish caliphate in Iraqi Kurdistan and sought to establish cells in Europe to share and disseminate jihadi material and to participate in jihad in Iraq and Syria together with Islamic State and Al Nusra."

The organisation was structured with secrecy at its core and its members communicated online through a "virtual headquarters" called KurduIslam, the court heard.

Mr Sternberg continued: "It drew up plans to carry out violent actions against European and Western targets to intimidate the population and to put pressure on public powers and international organisations."

The organisation also helped finance fighters training with the Kurdistan Battalion in a camp on the Afghanistan-Kurdistan border destined for Syria, it was claimed.

Hamad, of All Saints Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, Rahim, of Curzon Street, Derby and Hamasalih, of Finchley Road, Birmingham, all denied consent for extradition at an earlier hearing.

The men's lawyers explained they would be challenging the extradition on grounds of "refoulment", the illegal returning of refugees. They may also invoke Article Two (right to life) and Article Three (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A fourth man arrested last Thursday was earlier told he no longer faced action.

Sharif Kadir, of Gleadless Road, Sheffield, appeared ahead of the extradition hearing.

Mr Sternberg said a judge sitting in Trento, northern Italy, had reviewed the evidence against the 52-year-old and stayed the request before issuing documents to the National Crime Agency in Britain, the court heard.

"As far as the reasons for that are concerned there is not a great deal I can say as to why it has been withdrawn," the prosecutor said.

The hearing continues.

Mr Sternberg described Rahim as a "leading man" of Rawti Shax, an offshoot of the Kurdish-Iraqi jihadist network Ansar al-Islam.

"He is the son-in-law of Krekar and is described as a close collaborator in the direction of the organisation," he said, adding he often acted as the group's spokesman and an "administrator" in its chatrooms.

Rahim headed the group's "press and distribution committee" charged with disseminating the leader's orders and propaganda which he also appeared in, it was said.

The material was smuggled out of the Norwegian prison by family members and visitors, although Rahim was also a trusted conduit for passing sensitive information on to the leader, the court heard.

Various financial matters were part of Rahim's job description in the network, as was protecting the security of its chatroom, the court heard.

Some members of the group feared it may be infiltrated by British spies.

Hamasalih had been a "lead member" of Rawti Shax since 2009 and had links to militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammad, the court heard.

He sat on the terror group's "Sovereign Commission" as "minister of financial and economic affairs" and stepped in as leader when Krekar was jailed in 2012.

By sitting on the "board of directors" he contributed to the survival of the secret arm of the organisation, Mr Sternberg said.

Hamasalih encouraged members to donate money to support the widows of the group's jihadis killed in action.

He also encouraged fundraising for missions and "to purchase bullets for the mujahideen," the court heard.

Hamad was described as a member of Mullah Krekar's "entourage" and was involved in conversations over a "plan to kidnap the British ambassador", Mr Sternberg said.

In 2012, the Mullah was convicted by a Norwegian court for making death threats and jailed for five years.

The conviction was overturned on appeal, although Krekar was ordered to remain in prison for two years and 10 months for intimidation.

The prosecutor said: "His detention caused other members of the organisation to debate what action they should take and whether they should kidnap European diplomats to be exchanged for their leader's release."

He added Rawti Shax also discussed ways of waging violent jihad in Scandinavia in 2012.

An Italian member of the cell claimed Krekar had told him the organisation was "ready to bring missiles to Norway to carry out jihad," the court heard.

Italian prosecutors issued European Arrest Warrants for alleged terrorist activity that began in 2011 and continued until last week's arrests.

If their extradition is approved by Senior District Judge Howard Riddle they will be sent to answer charges of conspiracy to commit international terrorism or subverting democracy.

The charges carry a potential jail sentence of up to 15 years under Italian law.

The prosecutor said: "Each European Arrest Warrant states that the conduct that is alleged occurred in Rome in Italy and elsewhere from May 2011 and was considered to still be in progress when the warrant was issued two weeks ago."