Ex-wife of ISIS leader freed in prisoner swop

2015-12-01 20:12
In downtown Beirut, families cheer after hearing the news of the release. (Bilal Hussein, AP)

In downtown Beirut, families cheer after hearing the news of the release. (Bilal Hussein, AP)

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Beirut - The al-Qaeda branch in Syria has freed 13 Lebanese policemen and three army soldiers abducted in August 2014, in a swop deal with the government in Beirut, who released 13 prisoners linked to the militant group.

"The Lebanese government handed over 13 prisoners, including five women, who have links with al-Nusra Front [the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria] ... in return for the release of the 16 men," a Lebanese security source close to the negotiations told dpa.

Among the women released by Lebanon was Saja al-Dulaimi - a former wife of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"I was married to this man who then was not called al-Baghdadi six years ago ... I have no links with any group," al-Dulaimi told Lebanese privately owned MTV channel, known for being anti-Syrian regime.

Al-Dulaimi refused to enter the al-Nusra-held areas, choosing to return to the Lebanese territories where she was guaranteed residency, MTV reported.

"I only want to secure a safe place for my children," al-Dulaimi told MTV.

According to MTV, al-Dulaimi has four children, among them is a 6-year-old believed to be al-Baghdadi's daughter.

Also freed in the exchange by Lebanon was Ola al-Okaili, the wife of Abu Ali al-Chichani, a former commander of al-Nusra Front, MTV said.

"Lebanon is a free country and whoever wants to stay is most welcome," the head of Lebanon's Directorate of General Security, General Abbas Ibrahim, a key negotiator in the swop deal, told local media.

"Our joy will not be complete until the servicemen abducted by the Islamic State are also freed," he added.

The 16 men were taken captive last year during fighting between militants from al-Nusra Front and Islamic State in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal, located on the border with Syria. They were released near the outskirts of Arsal.

A Qatari negotiator was involved in securing the swap deal. The Lebanese security source said that nine soldiers believed to be held by ISIS were not included in the exchange.

While about 15 trucks loaded with food supplies entered the outskirts of Arsal, where al-Nusra has bases, as part of the deal, four Red Cross ambulances with the 16 men crossed into Wadi Hmeiyed, an area controlled by the Lebanese army.

"I am overjoyed I cannot wait to reach [home] and hug my only child," George Khoury told Lebanese broadcasters, as he arrived in the village of Labweh in the eastern part of Lebanon following his release.

Villagers could be seen along the streets of Labweh, throwing rice and rose petals as the convoy of the freed soldiers arrived.

Meanwhile, in central Beirut, the families of the soldiers and policemen, who had set up tents and staged a sit-in since they were taken captive, celebrated the news by dancing and singing in the streets.

"What should I say? I cannot believe what I saw ... My son is free again," Khoury's mother told dpa.

"We cannot wait until they arrive in Beirut and see them safe and sound," the father of released Ahmad Abbas told dpa. 

They distributed sweets and embraced each other while carrying the pictures of their released sons.

An official ceremony will be held later at the government palace in central Beirut where the 16 men will appear in their uniforms, a government source told dpa.

Negotiations to free the Lebanese soldiers suffered a setback on Sunday when al-Nusra escalated its demands.

Before the exchange took place, the body of Lebanese soldier Mohammed Hammiyeh had been handed over marking the first phase of the deal.

Hammiyeh, a Shi'ite Muslim, was among four soldiers executed in captivity.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  isis  |  lebanon

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