The Military Court this week issued a verdict in the case against Saja al-Dulaimi, the former wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ending a controversial trial.
Dulaimi and her new husband, Palestinian Kamal Khalaf, were each sentenced to one year in prison, while a third person on trial with them, Palestinian Louay al-Masri, was given three years.
The three were convicted of belonging to an armed terrorist group and using forged official documents, including Palestinian identity cards.
Accounting for time served since their arrest in 2015, both Dulaimi and Khalaf were released while Masri was returned to prison where he has a few months left to complete his sentence.
Before the final verdict was given, Dulaimi stood before the court’s head, Brig. Gen. Hussein Abdullah, and gave a candid history of how she ended up in a Lebanese courtroom as the ex-wife of one of the most recognized terrorist leaders in the world.
“Let me summarize the whole thing for you. In 2007 my [late] husband was killed on the front in Iraq and so I remarried [a man calling himself] Hisham Mohammad in 2008,” she told the court.
Mohammad, she said, was a university professor who taught Islamic civics and he was an imam.
“I didn’t know that this man was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. My marriage to him lasted for three months and then I asked him for a divorce given his tight financial situation,” Dulaimi said, adding that Baghdadi was married to another woman at the time with whom he had children.
Upon leaving Baghdadi – born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri – Dulaimi said she discovered she was pregnant with his daughter, Hajar.
She told the court that some time after giving birth, Baghdadi threatened to take Hajar away from her. In mid-2013, she said she decided to leave for Syria where her father was living. “[My father] told me with a broken voice that some people would [help] bring me home [to Syria].”
Dulaimi said that she was surprised when Syrian army members took her to prison once she arrived in Syria.
She added that she was in prison for around six months before being she was released in March 2014.
She said she was among 50 women released from prison by the Syrian government in return for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – previously known as the Nusra Front – releasing 13 nuns captured in the Christian Syrian town of Maaloula.
“It’s my late brother who was got me involved in the Maaloula case,” she told Brig. Gen. Abdullah when asked why she had been arrested by the Syrian army.
“He was a member of the Free Syrian Army and I didn’t know that he had joined Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. They were monitoring my phone and I became wanted because I was in touch with him,” she said.
She stressed to the court that by 2009 she had stopped communicating with the man who would become the leader of ISIS. She claimed that he stopped sending regular payments of $100 for his daughter in 2011.
She said that Baghdadi had refused to send legal documents for Hajar, prompting Dulaimi’s father to register his granddaughter as his own daughter, she claimed. “This means that on legal documents, Hajar is my sister,” Dulaimi said.
Dulaimi and her new husband Khalaf were formally arrested by the Lebanese state in December 2014.
Their arrest came after the August 2014 clashes in the northeastern town of Arsal that saw ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham briefly overrun the town and take more than 30 Lebanese Army and police personnel into the mountains upon their retreat.
While the pair were released from custody in December 2015 as part of a swap deal that saw Jabhat Fatah al-Sham release 16 soldiers and policemen held hostage since the 2014 battles, they continued to attend court hearings.
Masri, who was also convicted of the additional offense of forging documents, remained in custody.
Dulaimi told Maj. Gen. Abdullah that she met Khalaf on Facebook and she said she believed that she was arrested simply for being Baghdadi’s ex-wife. Abdullah disagreed, saying she was arrested because she was using forged documents.
Before announcing the verdict, the court questioned Khalaf, who said that he knew Dulaimi under the name Malak al-Sayyed.
He said that he had no ties to militant groups and had tried to keep Dulaimi away from any association as well.
He recounted to the court how he’d had a dispute with Dulaimi’s mother because she was in contact with ISIS members in Raqqa who he said gave her money to rent a house in north Lebanon from ISIS member Ahmad Salim Mikati.
He said that because of this he took his wife and left the family.