Saja al-Dulaimi tells Sweden's Expressen TV that the last time she was in touch with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was 2009
She said she left him to end their marriage
She wants to move to Europe so that her daughter can be educated
She was married to the most wanted man in the world, the leader of ISIS.
In her first interview since her release from a Lebanese prison last year, Saja al-Dulaimi recalled to CNN Swedish affiliate Expressen TV what it was like to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife and what she fears for the daughter she bore with him.
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Expressen said it spoke to Dulaimi, 28, in a secret location near the border of Lebanon and Syria.
CNN could not verify any of her claims, from those detailing her relationship with Baghdadi to her insistence she doesn’t support terrorism in any way. (In fact, she was part of a prisoner swap with al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, according to a Lebanese security official.)
Regardless, here is what Dulaimi herself had to say:
‘He was a family man’
Born in Iraq to an upper-middle-class conservative family, Dulaimi was married off to Baghdadi in 2008. He was not a bloodthirsty terrorist back then, she claims.
“I married a normal person, a university lecturer,” she said. “He was a family man.”
She wasn’t his only bride; she had to share him with another wife. “He went to work and came home to his family,” Dulaimi said.
“He was great. He was the children’s ideal father. The way he was with children … he was a teacher – you know how teachers are. He knew how to deal with children, better than how to deal with the mother.”
But the two did not talk much like others couples do. The reason? He had a “mysterious personality,” Dulaimi answered.
Mia Bloom – a Georgia State University professor and author of the 2011 book, “Bombshell: Women and Terror” – finds it “conceivable that (Baghdadi) was living a double life” his new wife knew little or nothing about.
“The (idea) that he didn’t tell her anything … was because she was not privy to the (other) side of him, the mujahid side of him,” Bloom told CNN.
Dulaimi did know, though, that Baghdadi had a second wife who didn’t like the idea of her entering the picture.
“It’s hard for two wives to live together,” Dulaimi said.
‘I wasn’t happy’
Their union, she said, ended seven years ago after just three months.
Dulaimi said she ran away from Baghdadi after she became pregnant. She wouldn’t say exactly why, but explained, “I wasn’t happy.”
She told Expressen TV that she did not love him. “The fact that I got out is proof of that,” she said.
He tried to get her back several times. “But I’d already made my mind up,” she said. They last spoke in 2009, Dulaimi said, when Baghdadi again tried to get her back.
She didn’t tell him that she bore him a daughter. But he found out a while later, she said.
“He said he’d take her when I remarry,” Dulaimi said.
‘The entire world’s disaster on her shoulders’
Dulaimi is worried for her daughter’s safety. “I’m scared of everyone; that’s what’s happened,” she said.
She is very concerned for the girl, who reportedly wants to get an education abroad. “She’s the one who now … suffers,” her mother said. “She has the entire world’s disaster upon her shoulders.”
Now the young mother dreams of a life with her daughter in Europe. She wants the girl to go to school. It will be a better and safer life, she believes.
“I want to live in a European country, not an Arab country,” she said. “I want my children to live and get an education.”
“Even if her mother was married to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a terrorist … what is the child guilty of there?”
Bloom, the terrorism expert, said that Dulaimi has reason to worry about her children’s safety – both from Baghdadi’s agents who might kidnap them or those who oppose ISIS who might take it out on his kin.
“I think,” Bloom said, “that these children are very much in danger.”
‘I’m branded a terrorist, but I’m far from that’
Dulaimi was arrested in late 2014 in Lebanon after she’d crossed over from Syria in what a knowledgeable source called a “planned operation.”
One year later, authorities released her and a group of Islamists in exchange for Lebanese troops captured by al Nusra Front, a Lebanese security official said on condition of anonymity.
Al Nusra – which the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprise Institute claimed earlier this year is “much more dangerous to the U.S. than” ISIS, its rival in Syria – has several connections to Dulaimi. A brother is a senior al Nusra figure and her new husband is suspected of being involved in the group, a separate Lebanese security source told CNN.
Yet Dulaimi said she’s sad to think she will always be thought of as Baghdadi’s ex-wife, thus someone who supports terror.
“I’m branded a terrorist, but I’m far from all that,” she said.
Europeans should accept her, regardless of her past relationship with Baghdadi, she said. “No bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden.
“I mean, where is my guilt if I was married to him in 2008? We’re divorced now. I was the one who left him, not the other way around.”
“I’m a woman who’s been through a lot and had to suffer in prison,” said Dulaimi, who was arrested in Lebanon in December 2014 as she was trying to enter the country from Syria. “Now I want to settle down.”
“If I’d wanted to live with him, I’d have lived like a princess,” she said. “I could have moved in with them and had loads of money. But I don’t want money.”
She wants something more. “I want to live in freedom, [to] live like everyone else.”
CNN’s Greg Botelho, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Nick Paton Walsh and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.