Exclusive: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s widow says ISIS leader changed after US arrest

Slain ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi transformed into an extremist after he was arrested by US authorities in 2004, his widow, Asma Mohammed, said in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

“He was not the same man I lived with before,” she said of his behavior in the years following his release from US detention.

Asma Mohammed, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's wife. (Al Arabiya)
Asma Mohammed, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife.

Mohammed had married al-Baghdadi in 1999, while he was pursuing a master’s degree at an Islamic university.

“He was a normal person who did not have extremist thoughts. He was open,” she described.

Al-Baghdadi was incarcerated for one year, and upon his release, his now-widow began noticing changes in his behavior.

In 2014, ISIS, led by al-Baghdadi, took control of much of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

During their rule, they carried out numerous terrorist attacks in the territories under their control as well as around the world.

US-backed forces defeated ISIS in Iraq in 2017, and two years later in Syria. In 2019, Washington announced that US troops had killed al-Baghdadi in an operation in northwestern Syria. However, remnants of the group continue to attack civilians and security forces in both countries.

ISIS men ‘obsessed’ with women

Al-Baghdadi and his fighters were “obsessed” with women and turned the “caliphate” under their control into a “state for women,” his widow said in the interview.

Mohammed said that ISIS perpetuated various forms of abuse against women, including sexual slavery and forced marriages.

Al-Baghdadi held more than 10 Yazidi women as “slaves,” and was even married to a 13-year-old girl at one point, his widow said.

“Al-Baghdadi and his organization were led by their desires beyond the limits of humanity,” Mohammed said, adding that her husband “indulged” in his desires after the declaration of the caliphate.

She said her husband also married his 12-year-old daughter to a 23-year-old man during his rule.

Mohammed also confirmed that she had met American aid worker Kayla Mueller once after she was captured by ISIS and was being held as al-Baghdadi’s slave.

In 2017, the group announced that the US citizen was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, a claim that US authorities have disputed.

The widow denied having any information about the circumstances of Mueller’s interactions with the ISIS leader but expressed her skepticism regarding the group’s narrative about Mueller’s’ death.

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