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Isis leader’s wife and child captured by Lebanon army

Saja Hamid al-Dulaimi, a hairdresser, may be used as bargaining chip for release of Lebanese soldiers

The Lebanese military has captured one of the wives of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” of Isis. The woman, who was identified as Saja Hamid al-Dulaimi, was arrested nine days ago, along with a child.

She was set again tonight to become a valuable bargaining chip, this time for the Lebanese government, which has been negotiating with Baghdadi’s group, also known as Islamic State, over the release of almost 30 kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and police officers. The group has also captured Iraqis, Syrians and foreigners across the swathe of territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Initial reports said Dulaimi was accompanied by her son when captured, but a senior Lebanese security official claimed a daughter had been DNA tested and was a match with Baghdadi. It is unclear where the Lebanese authorities obtained Baghdadi’s DNA. The Isis leader was held by US forces at Camp Bucca in Iraq a decade ago.

Footage has emerged of a woman thought to be Saja Hamid al-Dulaimi, the wife of Abu Bakr al-BaghdadiThe Beirut-based As-Safir newspaper, which first broke the news of the arrest, said the operation was conducted with the help of “foreign intelligence”. A US-led coalition has been attacking Isis in Syria and Iraq since September. Dulaimi was being interrogated at the headquarters of the Lebanese defence ministry in Yarze. She reportedly hails from a family of firebrands; both her father and sister died fighting for Isis. She was released in March from a Syrian jail as part of a prisoner exchange for 13 Syrian Greek Orthodox nuns, who were kidnapped last year from the town of Maaloula.

That deal involved Qatari mediation and militants from the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. A senior member of that group, Abu Maan al-Suri, revealed that Baghdadi’s wife Dulaimi and her two sons and younger brother were among those released for the nuns. The deal almost fell apart when the rebels tried to use last-minute pressure to bargain. In return for the nuns’ release a number of female prisoners were freed. At the end of a rebel video of the release, a throng of women was heading towards the rebels, including two young children. They were suspected to be the children of known rebel commanders who had been taken along with their mothers.

The total number of wives and children Baghdadi has is unknown. It is rumoured that he has two Iraqi wives and a third, who is Syrian. Dulaimi is the only one previously identified, although under Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives.

Reports have identified her as Baghdadi’s first wife, whom he married in roughly 2000. The only picture of her in existence shows a woman veiled in black with a prominent nose.

Yesterday, there were unconfirmed reports about her career as a hairdresser and seamstress in Iraq, and claims that her sister was a suicide bomber in the Kurdish capital, Erbil. It was claimed by the Saudi news channel Al-Arabiya that her father, Ibrahim Dulaimi, was an Isis “emir” in Syria, killed in September last year during fighting against government forces.

Now, months after her release in exchange for the nuns, Dulaimi is set to be a bargaining chip again. The Lebanese government is negotiating with Jabhat al-Nusra and Isis over the fate of 27 security personnel who were captured in the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the Syrian border, in August. Isis has beheaded two soldiers already, Jabhat al-Nusra has shot one, and both have demanded the release of Islamist prisoners in return for the freedom of those that remain alive.

Yet Isis could well scale back to a sole demand: the release of Baghdadi’s wife and child, said Imad Salamey, an associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

“It is definitely a new bargaining chip that the Lebanese government can use. It will change the entire negotiation conditions,” he said. The location of Dulaimi’s arrest is yet to be confirmed, but it is said that she was caught travelling with bogus identification documents. Some reports said she was captured near the border.

Lebanese soldiers during clashes with Islamic militants in Tripoli in October (AP)

Mr Salamey said merely being married to a criminal did not automatically make you one, adding: “The most important question is: is she here [in Lebanon] for a vacation or on a mission related to the activities of the Islamic State?” A Lebanese security official told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Dulaimi was detained near Arsal. Lebanon has been cracking down on militants with jihadist sympathies and has shored up its border security. Its military has seen two major confrontations with Islamist fighters in the past four months.

Lebanon is part of Baghdadi’s vision of an Islamic Caliphate, stretching across Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. In an audio recording released last month, Baghdadi claimed Isis also had bases in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Algeria. The US is offering $10m for information leading to the location, arrest, or conviction of Baghdadi, an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarai. Born in 1971, he comes from an Iraqi family of preachers and Arabic teachers, according to a biography distributed on Islamist forums that says he studied at the Islamic University in Baghdad.

In June this year, his group named him “caliph for the Muslims everywhere”, and called on all Muslims to pledge allegiance. Although he is rarely pictured, a video released in July showed him preaching in a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, dressed in a black robe and turban.

Lebanese authorities have also detained the wife of Anas Shirkas, a Jabhat al-Nusra leader, security officials said.
The troubled border: 20 minutes from Europe

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife is believed to have been arrested near Lebanon’s porous northern border with Syria, currently closed to all traffic. The only legal crossing is at Masnaa, in the Bekaa Valley which has seen some 1.1 million Syrian refugees cross into Lebanon. Parts of the 300-mile Lebanese-Syrian border have seen major clashes between the Lebanese army and Islamist fighters. Clashes between the two in August resulted in Islamic fighters temporarily capturing Arsal – a border town home to many of the Syrian war refugees.

The army has, however, repelled jihadists’ attacks with British assistance. Some £20m in support from the UK has gone into fortifying Lebanese border posts as well as building new ones. They will help stop Isis fighters entering Lebanon, which is “only 20 minutes away from Europe”, says the British ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher.

Maclean Arthur


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