An Iraqi-born Islamist cleric goes on trial Wednesday for allegedly making death threats against politicians and encouraging suicide bombings in Iraq, and some see the case as a test of Norway's terror laws and its freedom of speech.
Prosecutor Geir Evanger described the charges against Mullah Krekar, 55, as serious and said Tuesday the defendant could receive up to 20 years in prison if he's convicted in Oslo District Court.
Krekar arrived in Norway from Iraq in 1991 and was given refugee status. He made several visits to Iraq and during them founded the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaida-linked group listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations. It is suspected of organizing suicide bombings against U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
A local court declared Krekar a national security threat and ordered him deported in 2005, but later postponed the move because of concerns he could face execution or torture in Iraq.
Two years ago, Krekar told foreign reporters in Oslo that if he were deported to Iraq and killed, Norwegian officials would "pay with their lives," according to a transcript included in the indictment.
Prosecutors say the defendant violated Norwegian terror laws because the threats were meant to cause fear in society and force officials to halt the deportation order.
Charges also include comments Krekar made on NBC's news program "The Wanted" in 2009. He said the American people deserved the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and encouraged suicide bombings against Americans in Iraq. He also is charged with making death threats against others on various websites.
Krekar's lawyer, Brynjar Meling, said Krekar rejects the charges and stands by what he said, but that he did not break the law.
"It should not be looked upon as threats," Meling said, adding that the trial will be "a test case" for drawing the line between Norwegian terror laws and freedom of speech.
Evanger, the prosecutor, disagreed.
"Krekar gave his interviews in Norway, so he can be charged for such threats under Norwegian law," Evanger said. "Under no circumstances can plain death threats be protected by freedom of speech."
Krekar has denied links to al-Qaida and has said he no longer leads Ansar al-Islam.