A woman who said she was the ex-wife of the leader of the Islamic State spoke to a Swedish newspaper about their marriage in an interview published on Thursday, but experts and officials expressed doubt that she was ever married to the self-styled caliph of the terror group.
The woman, Saja al-Dulaimi, 28, told the newspaper, Expressen, that she married Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2008 after her first husband, a bodyguard for Saddam Hussein, was killed fighting American troops during the United States occupation of Iraq. The newspaper spelled her name “Saga,” although most press reports refer to her as “Saja.”
By her account a relative arranged for her to marry a man she described as a university lecturer and “normal person” who went by the name Hisham Mohamed, but the union was short-lived. She left him three months after the wedding because he had not told his first wife that he was marrying a second, she said. She claimed to have had a daughter by Mr. Baghdadi but told the newspaper she had not spoken to him since 2009.
The interview appeared to have been the first Ms. Dulaimi had ever done, but her name has been in the news before in recent years, along with her claim to have once been wed to the world’s most wanted terrorist. The veracity of her story has always been unclear.
In 2014 Ms. Dulaimi was arrested by Lebanon with her daughter while trying to enter the country from Syria. At the time Lebanese authorities told reporters that she was Mr. Baghdadi’s ex-wife and the girl was his daughter, but Iraqi officials at the time disagreed. She had been arrested once before in Syria but was released as part of a prisoner swap between the government and the Nusra Front, a Qaeda affiliate.
Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on U.S. Relations With the Islamic World, said he had researched Ms. Dulaimi while writing his recent book, a history of the Islamic State. He said he was “highly suspicious” of her claims.
“The Iraqi state and Baghdadi’s former associates have all said he had two wives, not three,” Mr. McCants said. Those women are named Asmaa Fawzi Muhammad al-Kubaysi, who is his cousin, and Isra’ Rajab al-Qaysi. It is a short list and Ms. Dulaimi’s name is not on it.
Mr. McCants also pointed out that Ms. Dulaimi called the ISIS leader by the “wrong name” in her interview. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre. He was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, not Hisham Mohamed. While he has used aliases in the past, Mr. McCants said he was not aware of “Hisham Mohamed” ever being one of them.
There are other biographical details in Ms. Dulaimi’s account that appear not to fit with what is known about Mr. Baghdadi’s past. She described him as a quiet man who sometimes vanished for days at a time, but said she did not think he fought against American forces in Iraq as her first husband had.
“I didn’t notice that he was actively involved in the resistance movement at all,” she said.
That was most certainly not the case for Mr. Baghdadi in 2008. By the time Ms. Dulaimi claims to have been married to the ISIS leader he was already rising through the ranks of Al Qaeda in Iraq, serving as the head of its various Islamic law committees and growing close to its leaders, according to research by Mr. McCants.