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Baghdadi's wife: Claims and counter-claims Open in fullscreen

Thaer Ghandour

Baghdadi's wife: Claims and counter-claims

Kidnapped nuns were released by al-Nusra Front for women held by the Syrian regime [AFP]

Date of publication: 3 December, 2014

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Lebanon last week said it had arrested a woman named Saja al-Dulaimia, claiming her to be the wife of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reports since have cast doubts on that claim. So who is Saja al-Dulaimia?

The arrest was touted as a huge blow to the Islamic State group: Lebanon had captured the wife of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, reports said - a coup by any standards.

But after the initial excitement over Saja al-Dulaimi's arrest last week had died down, conflicting reports about her identity began to emerge.

Initial reports said Dulaimi was arrested at a checkpoint in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in an operation bolstered by British spies. Sources said she was accompanied by her child with Baghdadi, and two of her children from a former husband.

However, Iraq's interior ministry said that Baghdadi had no wife of that name, and that the woman arrested was the sister of Omar Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi, a man convicted of bombings in Iraq.

Lebanese military sources later told al-Araby al-Jadeed that in fact two women had been arrested: Dulaimi and the wife and children of Anas Jarkas, better known as Ali al-Shishani, an IS military commander from Chechnya.

A platform for news on Islamist militant groups in Lebanon meanwhile said Dulaimi was in fact Shishani's wife.

To confuse matters further, associates of al-Nusra Front stated on Twitter that Dulaimi was Baghdadi's wife and that her brother was fighting with Nusra in Qalamoun, Syria.

And on Wednesday, the Lebanese interior ministry said DNA tests proved one of the children picked up with Dulaimi was indeed Baghdadi's child.

A Lebanese source close to the country's security service said that Dulaimi was picked out by accident at the checkpoint, suggesting it was not so much a precision operation as luck.

So who is Saja al-Dulaimi?

It is not the first time Dulaimi has been arrested. She was picked up by the Syrian regime but released in a prisoner swap deal for nuns held by al-Nusra Front in March.

It is said that the head of Lebanon's general directorate of security, Abbas Ibrahim, played a role in that deal.

"Dulaimi and her family have high status for al-Nusra and are taken care of because of her dedication to this tafkiri organisation," Ibrahim was quoted as saying.

"Her father was a prominent leader in al-Qaeda and one of her sisters was killed while carrying out a terrorist attack. Another sister tried to blow herself up but her explosives failed to detonate."

Ibrahim said that Dulaimi was in her mid-20s and "hid behind her veil a captivating beauty".

It is unclear how a wife of Baghdadi could be held in high regard by Nusra, which is fighting against IS in Syria and refuses to recognise Baghdadi's demand for "allegiance".

It does appear that someone important was caught at that checkpoint in northern Lebanon. But who she actually is remains clouded by rumour and speculation.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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