Assef Shawkat profile: The shadowy strongman at heart of the Assad regime
The world saw only a handful of pictures of Assef Shawkat. Few knew what he really did, or what power he wielded.
But the brother-in-law of Syria’s president, reported to have been killed in the suicide attack yesterday, was one of the pillars of Assad family rule.
Mr Shawkat, 62, was widely seen as a member of the president’s inner circle. After years as deputy head and then chief of military intelligence, he had become deputy defence minister, another post that allowed him to wield power out of the limelight.
United States diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks described him as both a clever, well-read officer and as part of Syria’s “killing problem”.
Washington imposed sanctions on Mr Shawkat in 2006 on suspicion that he orchestrated the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
“Shawkat has been a key architect of Syria’s domination of Lebanon, as well as a fundamental contributor to Syria’s long-standing policy to foment terrorism against Israel,” the US Treasury said at the time.
Activists fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad saw Mr Shawkat as the iron fist of the establishment, pushing for a ruthless approach to the rebellion. But Lebanese security sources said he had always acted only as part of a powerful, close-knit inner circle.
“Shawkat prefers force, but he is just one part of the decision-making group. This regime is like a network,” said a Lebanese security source.
When President Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, Mr Shawkat was believed to be one of a handful of people who helped to run the country before Bashar took power.
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