A prisoner swap deal between the Lebanese government and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria Tuesday included the release of the former wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State group, as well as members of the extremist group, a group of Lebanese soldiers and police officers abducted by the Nusra Front last year.
As part of the Qatar-brokered deal, Lebanon delivered to the extremist group 13 people, including five women, in exchange for 16 lebanese soldiers and policemen. The Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera had exclusive coverage of the swap from the Syrian-Lebanese border town of Arsal.
Qatar has been one of the main opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad and an important ally for many of the rebel groups in Syria. It has brokered similar deals over the past few years as it maintains close ties with Nusra Front and other groups.
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One of the women released by Lebanon was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, Saja Dulaimi, who was arrested in November 2014 in northern Lebanon when she crossed from Syria into the country using fake documents. She faced charges of belonging to a "terrorist group.”
In the Al Jazeera’s footage from the scene, Dulaimi is seen with her four children, including the seven-year old daughter of Baghdadi, Hajar, as well as her newborn child, Youssef, who is the son of her current husband. She gave birth in prison last June.
"I am Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's ex-wife. We have been divorced for over six years now,” she told Al Jazeera. When asked about her plans now, Dulaimi said she was planning on residing in Turkey.
Tweet: “Watch the reaction of the Nusra Front fighters at the start of the prisoners swap deal.”
According to Al Jazeera, staff of the Lebanese Red Cross were present at the site of the exchange with the Lebanese army soldiers as the Nusra Front fighters celebrated the deal by waving the group's black flag from their trucks.
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Meanwhile relatives of the hostages were in a festive mood back in the capital Beirut as they awaited the arrival of the freed troops. Rafik Halabi, a relative of Maher Fayyad, one of the hostages freed by Nusra Front, told Al Jazeera: "Today is a great day, not just for the families but for all of Lebanon. The whole country should be celebrating."
One of the freed soldiers thanked the Nusra Front and the government for securing his release.
"We would like to thank al-Nusra Front for releasing us. We would like to thank everyone who took part in the negotiations that led to our release," the unnamed soldier said.
Baghdadi's Ex wife: 1- my brother is with Nusra 2- I'm divorcee of Baghdadi 3- will organize passports &go to turkey https://t.co/uWdQGn9ngL— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) December 1, 201
The Nusra Front and the Islamic State group abducted 29 soldiers and police officers in Arsal last year when they briefly took over the town. The Islamic State group refused to negotiate on the nine captives it holds.
Lebanon has been one of the most country’s affected by the conflict in Syria as at least 2 million Syrians have entered the small neighboring country of a population of 5 million.
Meanwhile, several suicide bombing have taken place in country over the past four years since the start of the Syrian war, claimed by both the Nusra front and the Islamic State group.
Also, the resistance Shiite group Hezbollah has been involved in the Syria conflict for several years as it fights along the Syrian army and against the extremist Sunni Nusra and Islamic State groups.
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