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Islamist cleric gets 5 years in prison in Norway

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OSLO, Norway — An Iraqi-born Islamist cleric was sentenced to five years in prison Monday for making death threats against Norwegian officials and three Kurdish men.

The Oslo district court convicted Najmaddin Faraj Ahmad, also known as Mullah Krekar, of making online death threats against the three other Kurdish immigrants he said had insulted Islam. The 55-year-old cleric, who came to Norway as a refugee in 1991, was also convicted of threatening Norwegian government officials in an attempt to force a reversal of a 2005 order to deport him to Iraq.

Krekar is the founder of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish group listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations.

Krekar immediately appealed the ruling and his defense lawyer, Brynjar Meling, said he was "surprised" at the judgment.

Like other Scandinavian countries, Norway places emphasis on the freedom of speech, but the court said Krekar's statements were so strong that they could incite violence.

The court said he had posted death threats on the Internet against the three Kurdish men, two of whom had burned parts of the Quran in a political protest in 2010 that also condemned the repression of women.

The third man had in 2005 published a book containing an academic analysis of the Quran's references to women and sex, which Krekar found was offensive to Islam.

According to the ruling, Krekar said that all three could be killed under Islamic law for having insulted the Quran, statements that judge Per Fleisje said could inspire his followers or sympathizers to commit murder. Krekar claims he was simply explaining what Islamic law says, not making death threats.

Scholars of Islamic law have long had varying interpretations of how Muslims should respond to insults to Islam or its holy book.

The judge said Krekar also crossed the line with comments to reporters at a news conference in 2010 that Norwegian officials would pay with their lives if he were deported to Iraq and killed.

In 2005, a Norwegian court declared Krekar a national security threat and ordered him deported, but later postponed the move because of concerns he could face execution or torture in Iraq.

Prosecutor Marit Bakkevig told The Associated Press that "the judgment shows that the moment your speech creates danger, you can't claim freedom of speech. Threats are punishable."

She expected Krekar's appeal to go to the Appeals Court within two months, and that the case would be taken up for a new trial at that court in the fall.