Iraq's Interior Ministry has cast doubt on Lebanese reports that a wife and child of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been detained in Lebanon, saying that the arrested woman is not the militant group leader's spouse.
The (rather murky and sometimes confusing) reports that Baghdadi's wife and son had been captured crossing into Lebanon from Syria dominated headlines on December 2.
The source for the reports was Lebanon's "As-Safir" newspaper, which reported that the Lebanese Army said it had detained the woman, reportedly Baghdadi's second wife, and their eight-year-old son near the Syrian border sometime in the past week. Lebanese security officials said they were confirming the "high-value catch" by verifying the boy's identity with DNA testing.
Other reports quoted Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby as saying that the arrested woman was thought to be Baghdadi's ex-wife, and that news of her capture was accurate.
A Girl Or A Boy? Or Girls? Or Boys?
Adding to the confusion were conflicting reports about the sex and age of the child reportedly with the arrested woman. A senior Lebanese security official told the Reuters news agency that the child was a girl, which contradicted other reports, where security officials had said the child was male.
Meanwhile, other reports said the woman was traveling with three children, not one, while yet others said the woman was Baghdadi's daughter not his wife.
Skepticism Among Syria Watchers
Amid the flurry of excitement as the news of the arrests broke -- after all, if the detained woman did turn out to be one of Baghdadi's wives, she could be "useful on things like locations," as one Iraqi intelligence office told "The Guardian") -- Syria watchers and activists began to express doubts that the arrested woman really was Baghdadi's wife (or ex-wife).
Italian journalist Daniele Raineri was skeptical about the reports:
While Belgian Syria analyst Pieter Van Ostaeyen definitely believed it was false:
Is Saja Al-Dulaimi Syrian Or Iraqi?
Later on December 2, more details appeared to emerge, after an intelligence source told CNN that the arrested woman was named Saja al-Dulaimi. The source said Dulaimi was detained with her four-year-old (not eight-year-old) son over a week ago.
As the BBC reported, Lebanese security officials initially claimed the arrested woman was Syrian but then said she was Iraqi.
The BBC noted that a woman named Saja al-Dulaimi was freed by the Syrian authorities in March in exchange for a group of Greek Orthodox nuns that had been abducted by Jabhat al-Nusra. (But how could Baghdadi's wife or ex-wife have been in a position to be captured by the Syrian government?)
An IS Wife Or A Jabhat Al-Nusra Wife?
To stir the already very muddy waters even more, France 24 reported that Dulaimi was not Baghdadi's wife (or ex-wife) at all, but actually the wife of Anas Jarkas, a senior commander in Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The mystery was deepening, but on December 3 Iraq's Interior Ministry appeared to pour cold water on all of these theories, by saying that the arrested woman is not Baghdadi's wife.
'Baghdadi Never Married A Saja Al-Dulaimi'
The December 3 Iraqi Interior Ministry statement insisted that "there is no wife named Saja al-Dulaimi."
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan Ibrahim said that Saja al-Dulaimi does not match either of the names it has for Baghdadi's two (not three) wives and that the arrested woman is the sister of a Omar Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi who is a terror suspect being held in an Iraqi prison.
End Of The Story?
Will the Iraqi denial that Dulaimi is Baghdadi's (ex-)wife end the speculation? Perhaps not, given that the ongoing reports that Lebanese security officials are carrying out DNA testing on the child (or children) allegedly accompanying Dulaimi when she was detained.
Are the reports that a wife or ex-wife of the Islamic State leader was trying to enter Lebanon under a false name with an unspecified number of children credible?
As France 24 noted in its December 2 report, doubts over the news of the alleged arrest of Dulaimi "have been further fueled by questions over why a militant Sunni leader controlling territories in Iraq and Syria would send his wife and child to Lebanon, a predominantly Shi'ite country where the Shi'ite group Hizballah holds extensive power."
Lebanese satirist Karl Remarks offered his own thoughts on that matter:
-- Joanna Paraszczuk