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Alex Rowell

Managing the crackdown: “The solution doesn’t come with romance”

Emails reveal regime ties with smugglers and kidnappers of religious figures of Homs

(Illustration by NOW)

Perhaps because the email account used by Bashar al-Assad from which these leaks originated appears to have been for personal, rather than professional, use, very few of the emails pertain directly to the military and other security-related affairs with which the president was (and still is) presumably heavily involved. There isn’t a single email, for example, from the president’s brother, Maher, who heads the Republican Guard as well as the notorious 4th Armored Division of the armed forces, which reportedly perpetrated the bulk of the violence in the initial stages of the regime’s crackdown.

 

As a result, the emails offer only limited insight into the regime’s martial calculations at the time. Nonetheless, previous leaks have touched in places on the occasional contributions offered on this front by, for example, Assad’s father-in-law, Fawaz Akhras. In the hitherto-unpublished correspondence below, NOW shines further light on the thinking within the presidential palace as the war unfolded.

 

 

Assad: “The solution doesn’t come with romance”

 

On 15 September 2011, Bashar al-Assad wrote to Dr. Suzanne Kuzbari, a Syrian geneticist living in Paris with whom he exchanged frequent (and sometimes flirtatious) messages, the following sentence (translated from Arabic): “All of that is a natural price for any crisis, and the solution doesn’t come with romance.” [Arabic original: “كل ذلك ثمن طبيعي لأية أزمة ، و الحل لا يأتي بالرومانس”]

 

The remark is contained in the subsequent reply from Kuzbari, and was itself a reply to an earlier message that was deleted (presumably by Assad himself) in the version extant in the leaks. From Kuzbari’s reply, translated below, it is clear the president was referring to the violence in Syria:

 

I don’t have the slightest doubt.. at a party the discussion became heated between me and a Syrian living in America who said ‘blood’ has spilled and the number is 2,000, so a Frenchman from the bourgeoisie said: ‘The nation is very important and its interests are more so.. What do 2,000 dead mean […] in the life and history of peoples… do you want a revolution without blood!!!’ And my husband said, ‘Those who send their children to the street, what do they expect???’

 

This is what I repeat always to everyone… and how many did the Americans kill in their history.. and the revolution of a million in Algeria and in Libya they talk about 50 thousand killed and in Iraq and in Lebanon … and the crises continue for long periods and years … not one or two days

 

But the propaganda relies on this.. and in Syria they were accustomed to security and stability [so] it’s difficult to understand what is happening.. the psychological and media war that they wage is frightening and has an influence on the street! The word “killing” is used in every sentence! Hideous videos and headlines that are painful and outrageous to every human…

 

 

Khaled al-Ahmad: “He kidnapped two religious figures”

 

The Guardian has already reported some of the activities of Khaled al-Ahmad, whom it describes as “a former senior regional official […] tasked with supervising” the city of Homs and “believed to have links” with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. The paper’s previous leaks showed Khaled advocating an iron-fist approach to the uprisings, urging Assad to “tighten the security grip” and “restore state power and authority in Idlib and Hama countryside using all possible means.”

 

Below, NOW reveals further activities undertaken by Khaled, which appear to implicate the regime in—among other things—the kidnapping of religious figures in Homs, via a figure named Jawdat; cooperation with border smugglers; the formation of what appears to have been a pro-regime militia referred to as “the Youths of the Zawiya [either “street corner” or Mount Zawiya in Idlib Governorate]”; and the contemplation of “force and intimidation” against student protestors, which Khaled likens to Lebanese students in Beirut who demonstrated against the Syrian Army’s presence in 2005. With the exception of the second 3 November email, all are translated from Arabic.

 

3 November, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

[…] The one who bears responsibility for the events of yesterday, for the most part, is Jawdat, for the following reasons

 

He kidnapped two religious figures after our meeting on Tuesday, one of them is among the most important clerics in one of the neighborhoods that was at the root of the problem yesterday

 

He communicated with Sheikh Sahl [presumably Sheikh Sahl Junayd] and threatened him and warned him against cooperation with the committee

 

Then he waged a campaign against Sheikh Sahl accusing him from Internet groups whose links to Jawdat are known and made [the spilling of] his blood permissible, causing him to switch off his phones and apologize for leaving his house fearing for his life

 

[…]

 

He threatened the one who mediated the reconciliation and gave orders to his checkpoints to arrest him and withdraw the papers that facilitate his passage through them

 

I fear that this man loses his establishment its achievements by [his] recklessness that is linked to his personality and I did not send this evaluation of mine except after it pained me what I saw in terms of wasting away of the achievement that was lost by the egoism of some individuals, and their haughtiness, for you is the order firstly and lastly

 

All love and respect,

 

Khaled

 

*

 

3 November, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

I am in a meeting with the smugglers to arrange the boarder [sic] issues..

 

*

 

4 November, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Despite the latest escalation on the ground which points to the fear of the terrorists of arriving at an amicable solution and despite the high number of casualties there are positive points to concentrate on, there is a clear breakthrough on the front of the religious men for they have committed to Friday sermons that are mostly moderate and denunciatory of killing, and this is unprecedented throughout the crisis. Jawdat’s gathering of them helped […] to lessen the tension slightly, and the most important thing about all of that is many of Homs’ neighborhoods communicated with us and are ready for a political solution that returns security to the city and civil conciliation reaches the point of going to Alawite neighborhoods and offering condolences for the casualties that have fallen and placing their sons at their disposal to forbid the gunmen from infiltrating the neighborhoods. There is no doubt that any political and conciliatory work is incomplete work as long as we delay the execution of the isolation plan for the ease of igniting fitna [religious strife] at any moment, there is a crisis created by those who benefit from the crisis and especially those who obtain privileges from some of the dignitaries and it is clear that they are prepared to hinder any solution to protect their interests and I have some suggestions to put their negativities aside without los them. With respect to the smugglers I can say that there are solutions that we can depend on to procure their evils with the minimum of losses.

 

[…]

 

I will try to return to Homs tomorrow at noon

 

All respect

 

*

 

7 November, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

A private meeting occurred between me and Jawdat in which I made him understand that someone will not diminish his right when he provides an accomplishment on the ground however no accomplishment is effective without a political operation accompanying it and that it is incumbent upon him that he leaves space for he who manages the political operation so that he maneuvers and coordinates with him. The meeting was excellent, he came out from it motivated and optimistic. I will try to form shared working groups among the neighborhoods within the plan I agreed upon with the head of the committee.

 

[…]

 

*

 

19 November, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

[…]

 

If we go back in history to the last few years during our presence in Lebanon we would see that the students of the Free Patriotic Movement and the other organizations that we faced, security-wise, in the universities they are the same ones as who planned and organized what we witnessed in the squares of Beirut in 2005. There are two options that we can [take up], one of them is to pursue the most dangerous confrontation that we face and that is the confrontation of the students, the first option is force and intimidation to stop the students from going out against us and that brings no benefit except as a temporary tranquilizer. The second option is the force of reason and argument and persuasion to make those students themselves go out and fight with us and it is an option I have never undertaken without it succeeding. In Qalamoun University there were around 60 students arrested with us, 7 of them were involved [in criminal activity] and this is written down in the minutes!! However [all] sixty were punished and among them was a poor youth who was dragged from the chair of the dentistry college where the students were learning about his teeth and they were given a physical punishment that was responsible for transforming them into seeking involvement [in criminal activity] and all of that at the hands of the union not at the hands of the [security] agencies, the cruelest and most heinous [things] have been faced in the last few months!! […]

 

*

 

20 December, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

An idea occurred to me for us to attach to our youths in the Zawiya [“street corner” or Mount Zawiya in Idlib Governorate] the description of ‘the National Resistance’ via a reference to them on some occasion or other. [It would be] greatly significant and would encourage others among the silent and will give them a boost to wake up and oppose the killers .

 

[…]

 

*

 

9 January, 2011

From: Khaled al-Ahmad

To: Bashar al-Assad

Text:

 

Things are proceeding well with respect to the Zawiya [“street corner” or Mount Zawiya in Idlib Governorate] group, especially in that the youths obtained a good, meaningful boost after they accomplished the latest liberation operation and we shall provide them with additional facilitations so that they may take their work further. The irritating thing is that the latest border visits and the documentation of the cases of negligence/indiscipline provoked the annoyance of Abd al-Fattah [perhaps Maj. Gen. Abd al-Fattah Qudsiyah, then-head of military intelligence], so instead of expending further effort in plugging the breaches and making up for the loss (?) many continue to prefer to cover their mistakes by diminishing the efforts of others […]

 

 

“They take money from the people”

 

On 26 December 2011, Assad’s media advisor Luna Chebel (a former Al-Jazeera anchor married to the Lebanese director of news at Al-Mayadeen TV, Sami Kleib) forwarded to Assad an email sent by Jihad Makdissi, then-spokesman of the Foreign Ministry. In the email, Makdissi pastes a message he received from an unnamed woman, with the comment (in English): “I got this in my inbox ..I thought u might want to forward it”. The message, translated from Arabic, is as follows:

 

“This matter has to be communicated to the president as fast as possible, I urge you, the threats in Aleppo have reached the people walking in the street. The students of Idlib and Hama and Homs and Daraa have started renting outside the campus so that nobody apprehends them. The dean of the electrical engineering university is letting the students hit us with knives and chains, also the security left us, meaning members of the security [forces] have started going in to places and they take money from the people or they threaten to close them down. [As for] members of the traffic police, it’s become so that even if we haven’t committed violations they say we have, and they take 1,000 [Syrian pounds] at minimum. The governor isn’t doing anything, the head of police isn’t doing anything. The people in Aleppo are planning a demonstration and closing shops and the stopping of work in all of Aleppo until security is restored. And you know if Aleppo falls, the regime will fall into an economic collapse, which would mean our president has to go, for God’s sake, I urge you, I urge you, communicate this to the president because the people are very angry and also they raised the revolution flag on the Aleppo Citadel, God Almighty, O Lord, you can see my message and communicate the matter, O Lord, because the governor is running behind contradictions and you have something bigger, O Lord, you can see my message, O Lord, because I am honestly very scared”

 

 

“The governor and head of police are really causing negative effects”

 

On 16 July 2011, Assad received the following email from Soulieman Marouf, who is reportedly a Syrian-British businessman and “fixer” for the Assads living in London. It is unclear who the “400 people” referred to are, and/or what their political affiliation is.

 

JUST FOR YOUR INFORMATION.  YESTERDAY IN ANADAN, 400 PEOPLE WENT OUT IN THE EVENING, WITH KNIVES, ETC.  PEOPLE FROM ANADAN AND ALOT FROM OUTSIDE.  THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST SERIOUS EVENTS TO HAPPEN IN ALEPPO.

 

THE WHOLE TOWN IS ON EDGE.

 

HOWEVER YOUR MEETING WITH SHEIKH SALKINI [presumably the late Sheikh Ibrahim Salkini, then-mufti of Aleppo, whose death later that year was blamed by the opposition on the regime], DID GIVE VERY POSITIVE EFFECT.  HE CAME BACK TO ALEPPO EXTREMELY HAPPY AND IS TALKING VERY WELL.

 

THE GOVERNOR AND HEAD OF POLICE ARE REALLY CAUSING NEGATIVE EFFECTS AND NOTHING POSITIVE.

 

 

The Fox poll

 

In September 2011, a poll on Fox News’ website asking whether the United States should “get involved in Syria” evidently caused consternation in the House of Assad. On the 19th, Asma’s father, Fawaz Akhras, forwarded an email titled “MOST IMPORTANT / TOP URGENT. PLEASE CIRCULATE,” linking to the poll and urging recipients to “tell all your friends” to vote “NO,” noting that “unfortunately” votes for intervention were outpacing those against it.

 

It appears Bashar al-Assad himself may have voted in the poll several times, judging by the brief email he wrote to Dr. Suzanne Kuzbari, a geneticist friend living in Paris, forwarding Fawaz’s message on the same day, saying: “Again and again.” Kuzbari wrote back the same day in Arabic: “It’s as if the vote has been falsified.”

 

More than a month later, on 23 October, Assad again received the email urging votes on the same poll, this time from Asma.

 

Amin Nasr contributed reporting.

(Illustration by NOW)

He kidnapped two religious figures after our meeting on Tuesday, one of them is among the most important clerics in one of the neighborhoods”