Syria’s al-Qaeda branch releases 16 Lebanese troops, Baghdadi’s ex-wife

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Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate on Tuesday freed 16 Lebanese soldiers and police, and former wife of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) chief’s leader in exchange for the release of prisoners and delivery of aid, television footage showed.

The 16 men, held captive since August last year, arrived at an army checkpoint in the mountainous Jurud Arsal region of eastern Lebanon in four Red Cross vehicles, live footage broadcast by Lebanon’s MTV showed.

The first group of five captives were handed over and seen boarding a Red Cross vehicle.

The released is under a Qatari-mediated deal, in addition to 13 Islamist prisoners including Saja al-Dulaimi, the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a senior Lebanese security official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Al-Dulaimi was detained in Lebanon last year after she crossed into the country illegally with her current husband using forged identity cards.

Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations, said the Nusra Front captives were being released in exchange for 13 prisoners, including five women.

Al-Dulaimi, who appeared in Lebanese court for a hearing last month, was seen along with her four children at the meeting point Tuesday.

The release caps a long ordeal and drama over the fate of the Lebanese troops that has shaken the tiny Mediterranean country, which has seen innumerable spillovers from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The militants brought the troops in three pickup trucks to a meeting point on the edge of the town, to be handed over to Lebanese authorities who were waiting along with Red Cross vehicles.

The exchange was being delayed, however, and an unnamed Nusra Front member said the deal was being held up pending the entry of humanitarian aid to Arsal.

Masked Nusra Front fighters waving black al-Qaeda flags were deployed in the area, including several who stood on the roof of a building overlooking the area.

The Nusra Front and ISIS abducted 29 soldiers and policemen in Arsal last year when they briefly overran the town. Four have been killed in captivity while ISIS has refused to negotiate on the nine captives it holds.

Agencies

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