Breaking News Emails
Perhaps it was a shared love of long, long walks in the sand, or of chanting “Death to America.”
Whatever the attraction, the romance between ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Sujidah al-Dulaimi -- the Iraqi woman identified as his wife –- originally blossomed online several years ago, Middle Eastern security sources tell NBC News.
Now, like many other online love affairs, their ardor is challenged by distance. Al-Baghdadi remains hunkered down in Reqqa, Syria, the target of U.S. air attacks, while the woman he's reportedly "crazy" about is in Lebanese custody, being "debriefed" at the Lebanese Defense Ministry.
The CIA declined to comment on the reports.
The status of al-Baghdadi and al-Dulaimi’s relationship is unclear, with various reports indicating they are husband and wife, divorced or just lovers. (In some Islamic societies, a husband can divorce his wife by simply repeating the phrase "I divorce you" three times.)
According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Safir and other Lebanese media accounts, al-Dulaimi was detained with a female child at a border crossing between Syria and Lebanon 10 days ago. The two are considered a “valuable catch” by Lebanese authorities, who are conducting DNA testing to confirm the child is al-Dulaimi’s daughter, it said.
Al-Dulaimi, who appears much younger than the 40ish leader of ISIS, may have considered al-Baghdadi quite a “catch” as well, when she went online looking for a jihadi to marry several years ago. Her previous husband, also an Islamic radical, had been killed by the Iraqi army, according to the security sources. Al-Baghdadi is, after all, the self-declared ruler of a caliphate stretching from northern Iraq to central Syria and the commander of an army believed to number between 20,000 and 30,000 men.
The security sources didn’t specify what online forum al-Dulaimi used to attract the attention of al-Baghdadi, but women looking for husbands among the soldiers of ISIS is not merely a Middle East phenomenon. The FBI has intercepted four women -- including three teenagers from Colorado -- as they tried to make their way to Syria in hopes of marrying ISIS fighters.
This is not the first time al-Dulaimi and al-Baghdadi have been separated. According to reports out of the Middle East, she was arrested by Bashir Assad’s regime in late 2013 or early 2014.
In March, she was included in a prisoner swap between Assad’s government and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, apparently released in return for more a dozen Orthodox nuns. In a video of the exchange posted on a jihadi website, she and a young child are seen being treated with great deference by members of Al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate and rival of ISIS. At the time, she was referred to by Syrian commentators as "al-Baghdadi's correct wife."
In the video, she appears to be accorded better treatment than the other 150 prisoners being swapped. An Al-Nusra commander is heard on the tape telling the fighters escorting her, “no one touch her.” She was later released by Al-Nusra under circumstances that remain -- like so much of her story -- mysterious.
It's uncertain how or why she made her way to Lebanon, but Lebanese authorities are happy she did. They see al-Dulaimi as a possible trade piece again, her value seen as being the object of a terrorist's affection.