Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Maher al-Assad

Maher al-Assad (Arabic: ماهر الأسد‎, born 8 December 1967) is the brother of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the commander of the Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division, which together with Syria's secret police form the core of the country's security forces. He is part of Bashar's inner circle and is thought by some to be the second most powerful man in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad.

Early life, education, and family
Maher al-Assad was born on 8 December 1967, the youngest child of Aniseh (née Makhlouf) and Hafez al-Assad. He was just two years old when his father became president of Syria. Like the other children in the Assad family, he was raised out of the public spotlight. Maher went to the Academy of Freedom School for his secondary education and then studied business at Damascus University. Following university he pursued a career in the military like his older brother Basil Assad who was being groomed to be his father's successor. When Basil died in a car crash in 1994, he was mentioned as a possible successor to Hafez, but in the end, Bashar succeeded his father even though he lacked the military experience and political ambition. It was speculated that Maher's reputation as a hot-tempered person influenced the decision in favour of Bashar.

Maher is married to Manal (née al-Jadaan) with whom he has two daughters. Maher, like his brother Bashar, is married outside of the Alawite sect to a Sunni woman. He operates a number of different business projects in Lebanon with his cousin Rami Makhlouf. There are reports of tensions between the two, which is considered why parts of the Makhlouf business were shifted in 2005 to Dubai. Some observers believe the transfers were made because the Makhloufs were worried that they were going to be made the scapegoats of an anti-corruption propaganda campaign.

Maher for a while controlled online media site Cham Press through his brother-in-law Mohamed Hamsho, a Sunni Dasmacene, who is said to be a longtime front for Maher's shady business deals. On 23 May 2011, the EU placed sanctions on Hamsho for providing funding to the regime which allowed violence against demonstrators during the 2011 Syrian uprising. According to Fortune Magazine, Maher benefited from the billion dollar money laundering operation at the Lebanese al-Madina bank which collapsed in 2003 at the start of the Iraq War. Al-Madina was used to launder kickback money of Iraqi officials and their partners in the illegal gaming of the UN's oil-for-food programme. Sources put the amount transferred and laundered through al-Madina at more than $1 billion, with a 25 percent commission going to Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies, among the recipients of this money was Bashar Assad's brother Maher.

Al-Madina bank records indicate that Maher's office manager, Khalid Qaddur, was transferred at no cost a Beirut apartment valued at $2.5 million, a transfer that investigators believe was intended to put it under Maher's control. The entire file on the Madina bank collapse is at the Lebanese Ministry of Justice, except for key parts that implicate Maher, which are still at the Lebanese Central Bank because people fear being killed over it. On 23 June 2011, the EU placed sanctions on Maher's office manager, Khalid Qaddur, for providing funding to the regime which allowed violence against demonstrators during the 2011 Syrian uprising. Similar sanctions were also placed on Ra'if al-Quwatli another business associate of Maher.

Military career
After Basil's death in 1994, Maher assumed command of a brigade in the Republican Guard and distinguished himself as a good commander. His time as brigade commander allowed him to gain valuable military experience and build personal ties with his officers. After the death of his father in 2000, he was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel. Maher subsequently became commander of the Republican Guard, a 10,000 strong unit whose loyalty is said to be guaranteed by the significant share of revenue that it receives from the oil fields in the Deir ez-Zor region, and the commander of the army's elite Fourth Armored Division which was once his uncle Rifaat Assad's Defense companies.

In June 2000, Maher was elected to the ruling Baath Party's central committee and subsequently was influential in persuading his brother Bashar during the first few months of his rule to put an end to the political openness of the short lived Damascus Spring. Three years later Maher met in Jordan with Israeli businessman Eitan Bentzur, a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and offered to reopen peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions. The offer was rejected by Arial Sharon the Prime Minister of Israel.

Maher has often appeared in public with Bashar and is said to be one of his closest advisers. He has competed with General Assef Shawqat, who is married to his sister Bushra al-Assad and is the former head of military intelligence, for influence in the Assad regime. In October 1999, he is rumoured to have shot Assef Shawqat in the stomach during an argument. Assef survived, and the two are said to have good relations now. Bashar, Maher, and Assef are said to form the inner circle of power in the Assad regime.

Both Shawkat and Maher al-Assad were mentioned in a leaked draft version of the Mehlis report as suspects in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. According to the draft version, "one witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyed decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri."

In 2008, Maher was in charge of putting down a prison revolt in Saidnaya. Around 25 people were killed during the violent crack down. Human rights groups have video footage that shows Maher taking photographs with his mobile phone of the dismembered bodies of political prisoners after the riot. Maher's sister-in-law, Majd al-Jadaan, who lives in exile confirmed that the individual in the video footage was him.

2011 - 2012 Syrian uprising
Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in mid-March, Maher's troops have played a key role in violently suppressing protests in the southern city of Daraa, the coastal city of Banias, the central province of Homs and the northern province of Idlib. The Los Angeles Times reported that video footage exists, which activists and observers claim shows Maher personally shooting at unarmed protesters, who are demanding the fall of the Assad regime in the Barzeh suburb of Damascus. Defecting soldiers under Maher's command report they were given orders by him to use deadly force against unarmed protesters. One defecting sniper reported that during the protests in Deraa: "We were ordered to aim for the head or heart from the beginning. We were not given specific numbers but told to kill as many as possible as long as there were protests."

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stated that Maher's actions during the Syrian uprising approached "savagery", and he pressured Bashar Assad to remove Maher from command of the military and to send him into exile. The United States on 27 April 2011 placed sanctions on Maher for being a facilitator of human rights violations in Syria. Two weeks later on 10 May 2011 the EU sanctioned Maher for being the principal overseer of violence against demonstrators during the 2011 Syrian uprising. The Arab league issued a list of 19 Syrian officials banned from travelling to Arab countries and whose assets are being frozen by those countries. Among those named are Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad, his cousin and telecom magnate Rami Makhluf, as well as military and intelligence figures.

On December 2, 2011, he was placed on a travel ban.

From : www.wikipedia.org