LEBANESE authorities have detained the suspected wife and young son of the Islamic State’s leader and are questioning the woman and conducting DNA tests on the boy, according to army officials.
They refused to give further details about the woman, believed to be a wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS group’s reclusive leader.
Very little is known about Baghdadi’s personal life, including how many wives and children he has. Conservative interpretations of Islam allow men to marry up to four wives.
IS did not comment on the detentions, but the reports were treated with disbelief by IS supporters and militant websites.
One of the Lebanese officials said the woman and child were taken into custody about ten days ago while carrying fake identification cards. He initially identified the woman as Syrian, but later said she is Iraqi and was in Syria before travelling to Lebanon.
He identified her as Saja al-Dulaimi, who was held by Syrian authorities and freed in a prisoner exchange with the Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaeda-linked branch, earlier this year. The woman “confessed during interrogation” that she was Baghdadi’s wife, the official said.
There was no official statement from the Lebanese military.
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In March, the Nusra Front freed more than a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns, ending their four-month captivity in exchange for the Syrian authorities’ releasing dozens of female prisoners.
The reported detentions came amid attempts to reach a prisoner-exchange deal between Lebanese authorities on one side and IS and the Nusra Front on the other. The militants have been holding more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage since August and have demanded the release of Islamist prisoners held by Lebanon. On Monday night, the Nusra Front threatened to kill one of the soldiers it holds captive.
If the woman is confirmed to be Baghdadi’s wife, Lebanese authorities could use her as a bargaining chip in their attempts to win the freedom of the troops.
A judicial official said the interrogation of the woman is being supervised by Lebanon’s military prosecutor, Saqr Saqr, and that a DNA test is under way to confirm that the child is her son.
Experts said it would be difficult to confirm whether the woman is indeed the wife of Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai. The US is offering a reward of $10 million (£6.4m) for information leading to his death or capture.
Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center, which closely follows jihadi groups, said the woman’s name was on the list of those released in exchange for the nuns in March, but said supposed links to Baghdadi remains difficult to confirm.
If confirmed, however, it would “represent a significant development, particularly considering the potential value of such an individual in prisoner exchanges”, he added.
The Lebanese daily As-Safir first reported the detentions, saying the woman and boy were taken into custody near a border crossing point with Syria. It said the arrest came in “co-ordination with foreign intelligence agencies”.
Meanwhile, IS supporters released a video claiming responsibility for a shooting that wounded a Danish citizen in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last month.
The video posted online by the Al-Battar Media Foundation shows a gunman pulling up beside a vehicle and firing five times at the man in the car, identified as Thomas Hoepner.
The video’s authenticity could not be confirmed but it was posted on a website commonly used by militants.
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