The ISIS Wife Swap Mystery
Jacob Siegel, writing on the website, TheDailyBeast.com this afternoon (December 3, 2014), begins by noting “she might be married to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; or, even someone in al Qaeda. But one this is clear,” he writes: “Someone told the Lebanese authorities Saja al-Duleimi was on her way to Syria.”
“Last week,” Mr. Siegel writes, “Saja al-Duleimi and her ten year-old son were taken into custody as they tried to cross a checkpoint from northern Syria into Lebanon. Depending on who you believe,” he notes, “Duleimi was either the wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his ex-wife, or the spouse of one of Baghdadi’s enemies in al Qaeda. She may, or may not have been previously in custody, and exchanged for thirteen nuns. And, her son may, or may not have undergone a DNA test to prove that he’s the offspring of the world’s most notorious jihadi.”
“The answers to those questions wouldn’t just solve a mystery that’s quickly become the talk of the Middle East,” Mr. Siegel notes, “they could offer clues into the nature of the region’s most powerful Islamist armies. Most sources agree,” he adds, “that a woman and child — with connections to a jihadi group active in Syria were arrested in Lebanon [in recent days], but their identities and their connection to ISIS are still something of a riddle.”
“On Tuesday. one Lebanese official was quoted as saying Duleimi had “confessed during interrogation,” to being Baghdadi’s wife; but, ISIS sympathizers quickly took to social media to deny the story. The closest thing to a response from the American government came from the Pentagon on Tuesday, when spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the woman detained by Lebanese authorities is believed to be “a former wife of al Baghdadi.”
On Wednesday morning, the Iraqi Interior Ministry issued its own statements denying the woman captured was Baghdadi’s wife. CNN quoted an Iraqi Ministry spokesman saying, “There is no wife named Saja al-Duleimi,” a judgment based on intelligence sources within the Iraqi government who say that al-Duleimi is not one of the two names they have on file for al-Baghdadi’s wives, Mr. Siegel wrote.
According to several news outlets, including London newspaper — The Guardian — Lebanese officials claimed to have confirmed the boy’s identity through DNA analysis; while other media outlets are reporting that the DNA results are still pending. Since the mother and son have been in the custody of Lebanese authorities for at least several days; and, maybe even longer – one would have to believe that the DNA results are known by now. Mr. Siegel writes that al-Baghdadi’s DNA was likely obtained during his previous imprisonment in a U.S. military detention center in Iraq.”
France24, “meanwhile, has called the whole story into question, citing sources who say that al Duleimi was not al-Baghdadi’s wife; but, the wife of another jihadi leader from a separate group, ISIS’s rival — the al Nusra Front. Adding to the confusion,” Mr. Siegel wrote, “Lebanese media has reported the wife of a al Nusra Front leader was also recently arrested.”
“Duleimi” Mr. Siegel contends, “whether she is of al-Baghdadi’s current wives; or, an ex, she would not have been a stranger to Lebanese authorities, having already been arrested and imprisoned once before in the country, only to be released this past March in a prisoner swap that freed 13 nuns who had been held hostage by the al Nusra Front. She may have been placed under some sort of surveillance after her release in March, and her arrest could have been the result of more than just a lucky checkpoint inspection.” Former CIA officer Patrick Skinner considered the odds on the circumstances in al-Duleimi’s arrest: “It’s clear that either they had the world’s greatest picture of her — which is doubtful — or, they knew she was coming,” Mr. Skinner told The Daily Beast.
“Whoever it is in Lebanese custody,” Mr. Siegel concludes, “they clearly think she is valuable and worth publicizing. It’s unlikely that Baghdadi, or any other [jihadi] leader would share operational details with their wives, though they could reveal useful information. That value may have less to do with intelligence than with Duleimi’s potential as a bargaining chip in ongoing negotiations for the release of Lebanese hostages.” “From the Lebanese point of view,” Mr. Skinner said, they’re looking for leverage,” referring to approximately 20 Lebanese prisoners being held by the al Nusra Front since this summer.” V/R, RCP