Italian police say that three people connected to Finland belonged to the group and had also served in the ranks of ISIS, while a fourth faces a 15-year ban on entering Finland.
According to Italian sources, four members a jihadist group targeted in a Europe-wide sweep had links to Finland. One of them is a Kurdish man who previously lived in the south-western city of Turku, but who has been banned from entering Finland.
Police in half a dozen European countries arrested 17 suspected members of Ansar Al-Islam, a Sunni Salafist militant group that was planning attacks in Norway and the Middle East. Previously linked to al-Qaeda, the group partly merged with ISIS last year.
Two killed in ISIS combat last year
Italian police say that three people connected to Finland belonged to the group and had also served in the ranks of ISIS. Ansar Al-Islam was reputedly run for a time from inside a Norwegian prison by Mullah Krekar, who has lived in Norway for decades.
The Italian public broadcaster Rai says that two of these individuals, which it names, were killed in fighting last year: the leader of the group’s Finnish cell, who reportedly died in Iraq in December 2014, and another member of it, who was “probably” killed in Syria in March 2014.
Rai says that another Isis member left Syria last year and went in Italy in July 2014 “after being rejected by the Finnish authorities”.
Deported – and re-deported
Furthermore, one of those taken into custody in Britain on Thursday was a Kurd who had lived in Turku and who was part of Mullah Krekar’s inner circle. A British citizen in his early 30s, he is believed to have run Ansar al Islam activities from Britain.
The man was deported from Finland late last year at the demand of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo). The deportation request had been filed several months earlier. He was said to have been recruiting people to join terrorist organisations and spreading violent propaganda.
The man returned to Finland in April, when he was immediately deported again. He is banned from entering Finland for 15 years, which is the longest such ban possible for a citizen of another EU country.
Earlier on Thursday, some Italian media reported that one of the detainees had been apprehended in Finland. The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation denied that report. It said that there had been an international warrant out for a person thought to be in Finland, but who could not be located on Thursday. The NBI said it had supported the European operation, but declined to provide any details.