BEIRUT: The Nusra Front said Friday evening it had killed Lebanese policeman Ali Bazzal, sparking shock among the families of the 26 detained servicemen and raising fears of reprisals in the northeastern Bekaa Valley, Bazzal’s home province. In a statement issued on its Twitter account, the Nusra Front vowed to kill more servicemen if Lebanese authorities fail to release women and kids it had arrested on suspicion of maintaining links with jihadi groups.
Saja al-Dulaimi, the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and their daughter and two boys, are being detained by Lebanese authorities. Also in custody are Ola Mithqal al-Oqaily, the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas, and her two children, a 4-year-old and a 6-month-old.
“Executing one of the prisoners of war in our custody – Ali Bazzal – is the [minimal] response to filthy Lebanese Army actions, which are emulating Hezbollah’s and Alawites’ practices of detaining women and children ” the statement read. “If our sisters, who were unjustly and wrongfully arrested, are not released we will execute another soldier in our custody in the very near future.”
The Nusra Front statement included an abstract image of Bazzal being shot at in the head.
The Lebanese Army carried out a widespread deployment in the Bekaa Valley Friday, in anticipation of potential security incidents less than an hour after the announcement. As soon as the news of the killing emerged, the Bazzal family blocked several roads in northeast Lebanon.
The arrest of the two women seemed to be a bid by the government to obtain leverage in the ongoing negotiations over the release of 26 soldiers and policemen held hostage by ISIS and the Nusra Front militants.
Sharkas had threatened Friday to kidnap Lebanese women and children and end negotiations over the captive servicemen unless his wife and children, detained by authorities last week, were released soon.
Hours before the killing, Prime Minister Tammam Salam chaired a high-level security meeting at the Grand Serail Friday to discuss the hostage crisis, the new ISIS threats and the security situation in the country. The meeting was attended by the defense, interior, finance, health and justice ministers, as well as Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and chiefs of police and security agencies.In a video posted on YouTube, Sharkas, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Ali al-Shishani, addressed Sunnis in the northern city of Tripoli and in Lebanon, urging them to retaliate for the detention of his family.
“My wife, Ola Mithqal al-Oqaily, Umm Ali, was taken two days ago from Tripoli, the city that is called the city of Islam and Muslims,” Shishani said, sitting in front of an ISIS flag with two masked gunmen at his sides.
Oqaily is being held in a prison cell at the Lebanese Defense Ministry next to Baghdadi’s ex-wife, Dulaimi, who is now in her third week of detention, under strict control measures by female soldiers.
While Shishani expressed disappointment over the inaction of Tripoli residents, he said he held Sheikh Salem Rafei, a prominent Tripoli-based sheikh, responsible for the detention of his wife. “I hold Salem Rafei, the head of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, fully responsible for the return of my wife. ... All Sunnis in Lebanon are responsible for our wives who are being taken to prisons. On what charge? I do not know.”
“I call on you, Sunnis, to rise up in unity. Our wives and men are in prisons. They took my wife and children and had no right to do so,” he said.
He denied what he said were claims that Oqaily was ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife, saying that she was his wife and the mother of his two children. “She was merely a refugee in a school just like any other woman ... Why did they take her because of her husband? Damn you! ... We will not rest until all our women are out of prison. Damn you and your Army,” he added.
He issued a stern warning to the Lebanese Army and Lebanese citizens, saying he would kidnap women and children of Lebanese Army personnel and those from the Shiite sect unless his wife was released. “If my wife is not released soon, do not dare to dream about the release of the soldiers without negotiations ... even if you hold all Muslims captive.”
“Women and children of the pigs and the slaves of Khomeini and all who follow them: All your wives, children and men are legitimate targets now,” he said, raising his voice as he wagged his finger. “I will start taking action very soon to take women and children captive.”
Shishani warned that he would end talks over the hostages unless a Qatar-appointed Syrian mediator resolved the case of his wife once and for all.
Meanwhile, the government faced the threat of collapse over handling the hostage crisis, ministerial sources said. “Unless there is serious and unified work to resolve the issue of the kidnapped soldiers, the government of national interest is today facing the threat of collapse or at least a complete paralysis,” a ministerial source told The Daily Star.
ISIS and Nusra the Front are still holding 25 captives after seven were released and four executed.
A member of a ministerial crisis cell tasked with following up on the hostage crisis told The Daily Star: “We have made mistakes from the beginning when we gave the families of the kidnapped soldiers big hopes to secure the release of their sons.”
In addition to different viewpoints among ministers over handling the hostage crisis, the absence of coordination among security agencies also caused confusion in dealing with the issue and in cracking down on terror networks.
Salam has acknowledged the split inside the government over dealing with the hostage crisis, saying there was one group, representing MP Walid Jumblatt’s ministers, that supported unconditional negotiations with the kidnappers, and a Hezbollah-led group that did not oppose negotiations and the release of some prisoners but within legal constraints that would not allow the release of detainees accused of involvement in car bombings that killed Lebanese citizens in areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
Political sources said the hostage crisis could threaten the government’s unity if the militants killed one of the captive soldiers. Some hold the view that the security situation in the country could spiral out of control if one of the captive soldiers was killed.