BAGHDAD—An Iraqi official denied Wednesday that a woman detained in Lebanon is a wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, adding that she is the sister of a terror suspect being held in Iraq.
The statement by Iraq’s Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan adds to the confusion surrounding the identity of the woman and child who were detained about 10 days ago in northern Lebanon travelling with a fake ID.
Lebanese officials said the woman, Saja al-Dulaimi, is believed to be the wife of the reclusive IS leader. Al-Dulaimi was held by Syrian authorities and freed in a prisoner exchange with the Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, earlier this year.
If the woman is indeed al-Baghdadi’s wife, she could potentially serve as a bargaining chip with Syria-based militants holding some 20 Lebanese security forces captured in a cross-border raid in August. Beirut has been under intense pressure from the families of the captured men to negotiate their release.
The interrogation of the woman was being supervised by Lebanon’s military prosecutor.
On Wednesday, a senior Lebanese military official insisted that the woman said she was al-Baghdadi’s wife during her interrogation. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements to the media.
The official declined to provide more details about the investigation. He said authorities have also detained, separately, the wife of senior Nusra Front leader Anas Sharkas, who is also known as Abu Ali al-Shishani.
The official refused to give further details about the Syrian woman, beyond saying her first name is Alaa.
It was unclear what would have brought the woman and child to Lebanon, where IS controls no territory and enjoys only limited support in some predominantly Sunni Muslim areas.
On Wednesday, Maan told The Associated Press that al-Dulaimi, an Iraqi national who traveled to Syria before arriving in Lebanon, is not al-Baghdadi’s wife. He identified her as the sister of Omar Abdul Hamid al-Dulaimi, who is being held in Iraq as a terror suspect.
He added that al-Baghdadi has two wives but neither is named Saja al-Dulaimi.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in remarks published Wednesday that U.S.-led airstrikes targeting Islamic State group militants in his country are neither serious nor efficient, and have failed to produce any tangible results.
Assad spoke in a rare interview with Paris Match magazine, the first comments he has given to a media outlet in months. His comments critical of the U.S. airstrikes appear intended to give the impression that his forces are the most effective in fighting Islamic extremists.
“You can’t end terrorism with aerial strikes. Troops on the ground that know the land and can react are essential,” he said. “That is why there haven’t been any tangible results in the two months of strikes led by the coalition,” Assad added, according to excerpts published Wednesday.
Both Assad’s forces and the U.S. have been bombing Islamic State group targets in northern Syria, although U.S. officials say they don’t coordinate strikes.
Assad said the U.S. strikes “would of course have helped had they been serious and efficient.”
The U.S. military’s Central Command said coalition warplanes have launched 14 airstrikes over the past three days in Syria and 11 in Iraq, targeting IS fighting positions, bunkers, vehicles and other targets.
In Lebanon, a military expert was killed and two others wounded Wednesday when a bomb they were about to dismantle near the border with Syria exploded, the army said.
The explosion comes a day after an ambush by suspected Islamic militants in the same area killed six soldiers and wounded one.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s ambush or for planting the bomb that was discovered Wednesday.
Lebanese troops have been battling Syria-based Islamic militants, including the extremist Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, in areas near the border.
From The Associated Press