Damascus Bombing: The Assassinated Generals

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(L-R) Former Syrian Defense Minister General Hassan Ali Turkmani, Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha and Asef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are seen in this combination photo. (Photo: Reuters - Morteza Nikoubazl - Sana)

Published Thursday, July 19, 2012

The bombing of the National Security headquarters in Damascus killed three major figures of the Syrian security establishment. Here’s a brief look at their careers.

Asef Shawkat

Deputy Minister of Defense Asef Shawkat is one of the main pillars of the Syrian regime and part of the tight circle around Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Shawkat was born in 1950 in the village of al-Madhala in the governorate of Tartous. He studied history in Damascus University and wrote his dissertation on the Great Syrian Revolution of 1925.

Early in his career, he volunteered in the military, joining the Military Academy and graduating as an infantry officer. He participated in the October 1973 war against Israel.

Shawkat is one of the main pillars of Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power, following the passing of his father Hafez al-Assad in June 2000. During the latter’s funeral, Shawkat stood behind the young heir who was receiving condolences from visiting delegations.

At the time, he was promoted in the inner circle of the regime as the most powerful security figure in Syria. In 2005, he was appointed as Director of Syrian Military Intelligencey.

Shortly after, his name was mentioned, alongside that of Maher al-Assad, in a preliminary report of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. He was accused of being involved in the bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in Beirut.

Shawkat was a figure known to be despised by the Syrian opposition, due to his close personal relationship with the Assad family. He was married to Bushra, the president’s sister.

It is worth mentioning that about two months ago, sources close to the Syrian opposition claimed that he was killed in an operation by the FSA. This was revealed by a spokesperson of the Sahaba Brigades who said that the operation was conducted by its special operations unit following high-level planning and preparations.

They claimed that the cell’s members were poisoned and three of them, at least, were killed, including Asef Shawkat. But Damascus denied the issue.

Shawkat’s name re-appeared recently on sanctions lists produced by several Arab and Western governments. They claimed his name was included due to his “role in suppressing protests” that erupted in Syria almost a year and a half ago.

Hassan Turkmani

General Hassan Turkmani had spent most of his years in several posts in the military establishment. He became an assistant to the president and the head of the crisis cell managing confrontation of the protests.

Between 2004 and 9 June 2009, Turkmani held the posts of Deputy General Commander of the Army and Armed Forces and the Minister of Defense.

He was born in Aleppo, the capital of northern Syria, in 1935 to parents of Turkish origins. He studied in the city until he enrolled in the Military Academy, graduating as an expert in field artillery.

He moved up through military ranks, becoming a major general in 1978, then General in 1988. He held various military positions in the armed forces and was appointed as commander of the field artillery regiment then the artillery commander of an infantry squad in 1968. In the 1973 war, he commanded a mechanized infantry squad.

But the main military role he played, was during the time of the Arab Deterrent Forces deployed in Lebanon between 1977 and 1978. He then joined the army and armed forces command structure where he remained until 1982.

In 1978, he was appointed as Director of Officers Affairs, then as Director of Administration and Political Orientation in 1980. Two years later, he was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff.

In 2002, Turkmani was appointed as Chief of Staff, then, on 11 May 2004, he became the Deputy Commander in Chief of the Army.

Turkmani resigned his position in 2009 and was appointed as assistant to the president, in addition to heading the crisis management cell responsible for confronting the popular protests.

This was due to the trust accorded to him by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Trust which led Assad to send him as an envoy to Turkey, last year, where he met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to try and convince him to return Syrian refugees to their country. But the visit did not result in a return to friendly relations between the two countries.

Last month, news came out of an attempted assassination against Turkmani, but he promptly appeared on the Syrian news television to deny the rumors.

Daoud Rajiha

Daoud Rajiha was promoted through several military posts and ranks until he was appointed as Defense Minister on 8 August 2011 in the Adel Safar government and then in the same position in the Riad Hijab government formed on 23 June 2012.

He became the first Christian officer to serve as Defense Minister since the arrival of the Baath Party to power in Syria.

Rajha was born in 1947 to a family living in Erbeen near Damascus. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1968, specializing in field artillery. He then took several courses in military training, most notably a course in military command and military staff.

He held several important military posts, from battalion commander to brigade commander. He then became director and commander of several administrations and commissions of the armed forces, finally becoming Deputy Chief of Staff in 2004.

He was promoted through military ranks until he became Major General in 1998, then General in 2005.

At the start of the Syrian uprising, Rajiha made several statements. “Syria is facing an unprecedented foreign conspiracy and a real war against its existence and structure, aiming to obstruct its mumanaa role and support to the resistance,” he announced.

Rajiha also accused several western and Arab countries of “supporting the armed opposition and providing them with military equipment, in order to strike at Syria’s infrastructure and create a state of chaos.”

He was also included in the sanctions list, published by the US and several Arab and European countries, alongside 12 security figures and ministers in the Syrian regime.

Many in the opposition believe he is one of the main culprits in “the crackdown on demonstrators and killing civilians.”

Before his assassination in the National Security headquarters midday yesterday, it was said that “he visited Russia several times recently to sign on new arms deals and revise old agreements with the Kremlin.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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