Saturday, July 02, 2011

Syria’s “thug-in chief”

Meet the man behind the violence sweeping Syria.

Syria thug in chief 2011 6 26
Maher al-Assad attends the funeral of late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in Damascus on June 13, 2000. Maher is now leading his elite military units around the country to violently quell protests. (Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Described as the country’s “thug-in-chief,” Maher al-Assad has become the de facto power in Syria, leading his elite troops around the country to kill protesters threatening his family’s 41-year-old dictatorship even as his elder brother, the president, continues to pledge reforms.

“He’s the one doing the regime’s dirty work. He plays the Rifaat role from the 1980s: the nasty guy of the regime,” said Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

In 1982, Rifaat al-Assad, former President Hafez al-Assad’s younger brother, led a military assault on Hama to crush an uprising by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, killing between 20,000 and 30,000 people, one of the worst atrocities committed by an Arab regime against its own people.

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