Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad
Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar, is the founder and leader of al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam  Reuters

An Iraqi man has been arrested in the southern Italian city of Bari on suspicion of smuggling jihadists into the country and planning terrorist attacks across Europe.

Majid Muhamad, 45, is accused of assisting people linked to international terror cell Ansar al-Islam to get into Europe, including providing them with accommodation and fake passports.

The man, who was released from an Italian prison in 2013 after serving a 10-year prison sentence on international terrorism charges, had won an appeal against a deportation ruling and managed to integrate himself in Bari social community. He rented an apartment and even opened a kebab shop, which quickly became a meeting hub for other migrants.

Muhamad was arrested after Digos, Italy's anti-terror squad, intercepted his telephone calls with members of Ansar al-Islam in Norway. It emerged that the group was planning terrorist attacks in other European countries.

Ansar al-Islam is a terror cell founded in 2001 by Iraqi-Kurdish emir Najmuddin Ahmed Faraj, also known as Mullah Krekar, who was arrested in November along with 17 other suspects across Europe. Six people were arrested in Italy, four in Britain and three in Norway. Some of the suspects may have travelled to Syria or Iraq, according to police.

The network was allegedly planning to free Mullah Krekar, who was already in prison in Norway.

Krekar, who went to Norway as a refugee in 1991, has served several jail sentences in recent years, including for lauding the massacre at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, in which 12 people were killed.

Ansar al-Islam is listed by the UN as a terrorist organisation affiliated with al-Qaeda.