The Lebanese army detained a wife and daughter of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as they crossed from Syria nine days ago, security officials said on Tuesday, in a move seen as likely to put pressure on the Islamist chief.
The woman was identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi, by a Lebanese security official and a senior political source.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported she had been detained in coordination with “foreign intelligence”.
A Lebanese security source said the arrest was “a powerful card to apply pressure” in negotiations to secure the release of 27 members of the Lebanese security forces captured by Islamic militants — a view shared by other Lebanese officials who confirmed the arrest.
A senior Lebanese security official said Baghdadi’s wife had been traveling with one of their daughters, contradicting earlier reports that it was his son. DNA tests were conducted to verify it was Baghdadi’s child, the official said.
They were detained in northern Lebanon. Investigators were questioning her at the Lebanese defense ministry.
U.S. officials said they were looking into the reports from Lebanon. One official said that if one of Baghdadi’s wives or children were detained, the U.S. believes it could positively identify them, though the official would not say how.
There was no immediate reaction from Islamic State websites, although some supporters rejected the report.
Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, said the arrest indicated that the American-led coalition seemed to have solid intelligence in Syria and Iraq.
“I talked to a few people who told me this was a coordinated arrest between American intelligence services and the Lebanese army,” he told Reuters.
“If I were Abu Bakr Baghdadi, I would be very anxious that they are getting very close,” he said. “This is a development … that is very alarming for ISIS, in particular the top leadership.”
The U.S. embassy in Lebanon said: “This was an operation by the government of Lebanon.” It had no further comment.
Dulaimi was one of 150 women released from a Syrian government jail in March as part of a prisoner swap that led to the release of 13 nuns taken captive by al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria, according to media reports at the time.
A source with contacts with Iraqi intelligence said the captured woman was an Iraqi wife of Baghdadi’s, but could not confirm the name. There was cooperation between Iraqi and Lebanese authorities leading up to her capture, the source said.
Baghdadi has three wives, two Iraqis and one Syrian, according to tribal sources in Iraq.