Factbox: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle


Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left)...

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BEIRUT, May 4 (Reuters) – Power in Syria is concentrated in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, his brother and several aides who have acted as guardians of a 48-year old autocratic Baathist system under challenge by pro-democracy protesters.

Members of the pervasive security apparatus underpin the power structure and enforce decisions taken at the top.

Here are the big names who make up Assad’s inner circle:

MAHER AL-ASSAD

* Assad’s brother, who commands the Republican Guard and is the second most powerful man in the country. He also controls the Presidential Guard and the Fourth Armoured Division, units which form the state’s security backbone.

* Last week, the 4th Division stormed the southern city of Deraa, where the unrest first started, shelling the old quarter to quell protests calling for the downfall of Assad, more political freedoms and an end to corruption.

* W. Andrew Terrill, research professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War college and a specialist in Syrian military affairs, said of Maher:

“Some observers consider (him) to be excessively violent and emotionally volatile. It appears that President Assad views his brother as totally trustworthy.”

* Diplomats say Maher shot his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, in the stomach during an argument in 1999. Shawkat was reportedly flown to France for treatment and survived.

* He was named in a preliminary U.N. report investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri as one of the people who may have been behind the killing.

RAMI MAKHLOUF

* Assad’s influential cousin, and one of the first names protesters chanted against in demonstrations, for his reputation as being corrupt. He is owner of the country’s largest cellphone company, Syriatel, and several large firms in the construction and oil sectors.

* In 2008, the United States imposed sanctions on Makhlouf whom the U.S. Treasury department said “improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials”. His brother, Hafez, a senior official in the General Intelligence Directorate, is also under U.S. sanctions.

* The tycoon insists his businesses are legitimate and provide professional employment for thousands of Syrians.

ASSEF SHAWKAT

* Former head of military intelligence, now deputy chief-of-staff of the armed forces. Born in the port city of Tartous and married to Assad’s sister, Bushra.

* He has been sidelined in the last several years.

* Shawkat was also named in the preliminary U.N. report which implicated him in Hariri’s killing.

* The United States imposed sanctions on him in 2006, following the Hariri assassination. At the time, Shawkat was head of military intelligence and Syria had not yet ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

“Shawkat has been a key architect of Syria‘s domination of Lebanon, as well as a fundamental contributor to Syria‘s long-standing policy to foment terrorism against Israel,” the U.S. Treasury said, when sanctions were imposed.

ADULFATTAH QUDSIYEH

* The head of military intelligence, formerly head of air force intelligence.

* The agency’s prime perogative is to ensure the loyalty of the army and in countering foreign espionage.

JAMIL HASSAN

* Head of Air Force intelligence since 2009. He previously served as a security official in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor and was promoted to become a key figure in Syria‘s security apparatus.

* Air Force intelligence, which is also in charge of securing Syria‘s airports, is of particular significance since Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, mounted his 1970 coup from within the air force.

ALI MAMLOUK

* Head of General Security directorate, and one of the figures whom Washington most recently imposed sanctions on following the unrest gripping the country.

* A leaked WikiLeaks cable dated Feb. 2010 showed Mamlouk had been the surprise guest at a meeting with U.S. officials during which he discussed efforts to increase joint security cooperation with the United States.

Mamlouk’s attendance at the meeting was “extraordinary and did not occur even with friendly countries like Britain and France,” Syria‘s ambassador to the U.S. was quoted as saying in the cable, at a time when Washington was actively working to rehabilitate relations with Syria.

* Mamlouk said his department had been more successful at fighting terrorism in the region because “we are practical and not theoretical”, according to the cable.

ZUHAIR HAMAD

* Deputy head of General Security directorate, considered a rising star within Syria‘s security organs. Human rights activists say he played a major role in a campaign of arrest of opposition and independent figures that intensified in the months leading up to the unrest.

MOHAMMED NASSIF KHEIRBEK

* Deputy vice president for security affairs and one of the most senior advisers who has the ear of Assad. He is reported to have medical problems and wears a pacemaker.

* Pointman for Syria‘s relationship with Iran, its closest ally in the region, according to a leaked WikiLeaks cable.

HISHAM IKHTIAR

* Head of national security bureau of Baath party, Ikhtiar was initially charged with quelling protests in the southern city of Deraa, cradle of the uprising against Assad family rule.

* In 2007, he was included on a list of Syrians forbidden to enter U.S. soil. Washington imposed financial sanctions in 2006.

(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, writing by Yara Bayoumy)

SYRIA-ASSAD/CIRCLE (FACTBOX)

  1. May 30, 2011 at 2:49 am

    Many thanks for sharing.

  1. May 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

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