BEIRUT: Lebanon formally arrested Tuesday the ex-wife of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over terrorism-related charges, as the Muslim Scholars Committee announced that the government was ready to accept a swap deal to win the freedom of 25 servicemen captured by jihadis.
After mixed reports announcing their release, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk confirmed that the Iraqi ex-wife of Baghdadi, Saja al-Dulaimi, was under formal arrest, while Ola al-Oqaily, the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas, was in the custody of General Security.
“Dulaimi is under arrest now, after an arrest warrant was issued against her, while Oqaily was transferred to General Security,” Machnouk said in a statement.
Dulaimi and her Palestinian husband Kamal Khalaf were formally arrested Tuesday, once the Military Court issued warrants against the two, who were already incarcerated. The arrests came after the court filed charges against the two for belonging to a terrorist group, holding contacts with terrorist organizations and planning to carry out terrorist acts, judicial sources said.
Khalaf was interrogated with Dulaimi, the sources said.
Oqaily was released after preliminary investigations concluded that she had not committed any crime on Lebanese territory, the sources said, but Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr ordered that she be handed over to General Security to investigate the legality of her stay in Lebanon.
Earlier in the day, the Muslim Scholars Committee announced after meeting Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi that Oqaily has been cleared for release and would be free “within hours” of being transferred to the General Security.
Sheikh Salem Rafei, the committee’s head, had called for the release of both women as a sign of goodwill, to bolster the group’s attempt to broker a deal with ISIS and Nusra Front militants to release the 25 hostages.
After making rounds with officials in preparation to return to mediation, the committee said the government was ready to accept a swap deal to free the servicemen. “We can assure the families [of the captives] that the state is ready to release many of the youth, but not all of them,” Rafei said after meeting Machnouk.
By “youth,” the Salafist sheikh was referring to the Islamist detainees being held in Roumieh prison over links to fundamentalist groups. ISIS and the Nusra Front, holding the hostages in northeast Lebanon, are demanding the release of the detainees as a condition to free the men.
Rafei urged ISIS and the Nusra Front to give the committee a promise to no longer kill any of the hostages. “Let negotiations resume and continue even if they take a long time,” he said.
Other than Machnouk and Rifi, the committee delegation also met with former premier Najib Mikati, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of the Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
Rafei reiterated that his committee would only accept to pursue mediation efforts once formally tasked by the government, to avoid complications associated with communication with groups deemed terrorist organizations by the government.
Following his meetings with officials, Rafei visited the families of the hostages in Riad al-Solh Square, and said the issue was now in the hands of Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Jumblatt had also paid a visit to the protest site of the families of the hostages , and expressed support for a swap deal to secure the release of their loved ones.
“Just like Speaker Nabih Berri, I support a swap deal without conditions,” Jumblatt told reporters gathered there, adding that he backed formally tasking the Muslim Scholars Committee with carrying out mediation efforts.
The Future bloc said in a statement it expressed solidarity with the hostages’ families and fully supported the government’s negotiations. It also called for a media blackout over the negotiations dossier until the captives were released, stressing the need to keep the details of negotiations away from the news to avoid misinformation and exaggeration that would ultimately work to derail talks. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army pounded militant hideouts on the outskirts of Arsal overnight in some of the heaviest shelling in the area yet, security sources said, suggesting that the increased tempo of the offensive might signal the beginning of a large-scale operation to tighten control on the town and its environs and uproot militant fighters.
Heavy and long-range guns were used in the overnight shelling, which continued unabated until the early morning hours Tuesday, sources told The Daily Star.
The Army also raided the southern suburb of Ruwaiss and arrested 14 Syrians who were lacking legal documents, a military source told The Daily Star.