Lebanese authorities detained a wife and daughter of the leader of the self-described Islamic State as they crossed into Lebanon from Syria, according to unnamed Lebanese officials quoted by Reuters. Reports say this happened about 10 days ago and that the pair were traveling with forged documents.
As-Safir, a Lebanese daily newspaper, was the first to report the claim on Tuesday. It reported that security forces seized them near a border crossing with Syria and that the arrests were made in “coordination with foreign intelligence agencies.”
A Lebanese security official and a political source told Reuters that the woman is Saja al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader. Ms. Dulaimi was reportedly held by Syrian authorities and freed in a prisoner exchange with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) earlier this year.
Another unnamed security official told Reuters that DNA tests were conducted to verify that the child was Baghdadi's daughter.
Not all the reporting agrees, however. The Associated Press reports, citing unnamed Lebanese officials of its own, that the woman is Syrian and that the child is suspected of being Mr. Baghdadi’s son. The BBC's unnamed sources also report the child is a boy.
While the facts remain unclear, the detentions could give Lebanon significant leverage in hostage-swap negotiations, the AP reports:
The announcement of the arrest comes amid attempts to reach a prisoner-exchange deal between Lebanese authorities and the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syria branch, who have been holding more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage since August. They have demanded the release of Islamist prisoners being held by Lebanese authorities …
The wife's arrest could be used as a bargaining chip for Lebanese authorities in their attempts to win the freedom of the troops.
The militants have already murdered three of the captured Lebanese troops, the BBC reports. On Monday night, Jabhat al-Nusra threatened to kill another.
Jim Muir, the BBC’s Beirut correspondent, warns that there is no guarantee an exchange will happen.
“Al-Nusra has been much more involved than IS in backchannel negotiations for a possible exchange,” he said. “And there is always the possibility that the continued detention of the pair could provoke IS to seek revenge in one way or another, perhaps by seizing more hostages.”
Reuters reports that investigators are questioning the woman at the headquarters of the Lebanese defense ministry. Meanwhile, there has been no reaction from IS websites.
Lebanese security forces have cracked down on IS sympathizers in recent months, arresting dozens of militants suspected of staging attacks to expand the group’s influence in Lebanon. They’ve been particularly vigilant on the border with Syria.
Baghdadi is a Sunni cleric from the city of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. The United States has a $10 million bounty on Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarai.