Beirut swaps Baghdadi’s former wife with soldiers
A former wife of Daesh’s leader was released Tuesday after more than year in custody in Lebanon as part of a prisoner swap involving Lebanese security forces held captive by militants in Syria.
Lebanese authorities handed over Saja Al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi who was briefly married to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the presumed head of Daesh. Along with Saja was a group of mostly radical detainees, according to officials in Lebanon’s military.
In return, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate released 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen captured more than a year ago near the Syrian border, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authorization to discuss the issue.
The exchange took place near a town on the border with Syria and marked the culmination of months of Qatari-brokered negotiations involving Lebanon’s government and the Al-Qaeda faction, known as Jabhat Al-Nusra.
Video of the exchange showed dozens of Nusra fighters, clad in fatigues and waving assault weapons, celebrating the release on Lebanese soil.
A Lebanese military intelligence officer familiar with the issue suspected that Baghdadi asked Nusra militants to include Saja in the swap. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The deal also was a turning point in a heart-wrenching saga for many Lebanese, who watched in horror as the militants executed several of the captured soldiers. Lebanon has faced a surge of militant attacks linked to the nearly five-year civil war in Syria.
As many as two-dozen of the soldiers and police were seized after fighters linked to Nusra and Daesh briefly captured the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August 2014. The fate of rest of the rest of captured Lebanese security personnel remains unclear.
In an interview with Qatar-based Al Jazeera television shortly after her release, Saja said she intended to travel to Turkey, although she did not specify details.
Released with her were an unspecified number of prisoners, including several women, Lebanese military officials said. They confirmed that one of the released women is the wife of a senior Nusra commander.
Over a year ago, Lebanese authorities arrested Saja, who was then pregnant, accusing her of secretly transferring cash to militant groups.
She is believed to have wed Baghdadi about seven years ago, before he became head of Daesh, which now controls vast territory spanning parts of Iraq and Syria. Their union lasted only a few months, but the couple had a daughter, the officials said.
While held in a Lebanese military prison, Saja also gave birth to a boy from a different man, the officials said.
“It’s a shame that they were able to do this. How can anyone accept that such a group can operate openly like this inside Lebanon?” said Ali Khoder, 27, a resident of Beirut.