Assad relative assassinated in Syria - monitor
15 March 2015, 08:48
Beirut - An influential relative of Syrian President
Bashar Assad, once infamous for smuggling, has been assassinated in a dispute
over control of a key government stronghold, a monitor said on Saturday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based
monitor, said Mohamed al-Assad was shot dead on Friday in Latakia province, the
heartland of the president's Alawite community.
"Mohamed Assad, the son of one of the Syrian
president's cousins, was killed by five bullets to the head in the village of
Qardaha," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
He said the assassin was as yet unknown, but that the
killing was thought to be the result of "a dispute over influence" in
Qardaha, which is the ancestral village of the ruling Assad family.
There was no immediate mention of the death in Syrian
Believed to be in his late forties, Mohamed gained infamy
in the 1980s as one of the founders of the government-linked mafia known as the
The group prospered by engaging in smuggling and dealing
in contraband, protected by its ties with the government.
The regime in turn used the shabiha to put down political
dissent, most notably since the uprising against the government that began in
Known as "Sheikh al-Jabal" or "Lord of the
Mountain", Mohamed amassed wealth between 1989 and 1994 from his role in
the shabiha, before going into business in the Qardaha area.
"He made hundreds of millions of Syrian pounds and
is considered one of the leading members of the Assad family in Qardaha, with
hired thugs in his pay," Abdel Rahman said.
The former smuggling kingpin was wounded in 2012 in a
dispute with another local resident, giving rise to speculation about whether
the conflict was feeding tensions in the pro-government bastion.
Assad's father Hafez was born in Qardaha, and Latakia
province remains a stronghold of support for his government.
It is also a heartland for the Alawite sect, an off-shoot
of Shiite Islam and the minority community to which Assad belongs.
More than 210 000 people have been killed in Syria since
the beginning of the conflict with anti-government protests in March 2011.