London,Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat- A blanket of secrecy shrouds the assassination of Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman, the security adviser of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
An informed Syrian source has told Asharq Al-Awsat that Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman, the Syrian president’s “right-hand man” and security adviser, was assassinated amid mysterious circumstances at dawn Friday/Saturday [2 August] by a sniper that opened fire at him from the sea opposite the shore of the city of Tartus northwest of Syria.
The source said the Suleiman was the officer in charge of sensitive security files in the Syrian president’s office and was also in charge of financing and arming the Syrian army. Syrian sources have said that in addition to his other tasks, Suleiman was the liaison officer between Syria and Hezbollah. However, in a statement to the Agence France Presse, a Hezbollah official denied that the party knew Suleiman or knew about his killing. The assassination of Suleiman – who was one of the Syrian officials that Detlev Mehlis, the former head of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, wished to investigate – comes about six months after the assassination in the center of Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, the official in charge of Hezbollah security operations.
The Syrian source that spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said that Brigadier General Suleiman was a friend and a Syrian army colleague of Basil al-Assad, the late brother of the Syrian president. The source added that after the death of Basil al-Assad, Suleiman became close to Bashar al-Assad and ultimately his right-hand man and in charge of many sensitive files. He went onto say that the sensitive files that end up in the president’s office first pass through Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman.
The Syrian source went on to say that it is unlikely that Brigadier General Suleiman’s assassination is due to political ambitions and rivalry between Suleiman and other wings of the Syrian regime. He said that Suleiman’s role was more important than that of any other political official in the regime. He added that he was Al-Assad’s closest associate and that his powers were higher than those of the Syrian defense minister and the chief of staff. The Syrian source went on to say, “Under such circumstances, it is hard to be specific. But no doubt the regime is in a difficult and complex situation complicated by the suppression, the recent incidents in Sidnaya [Prison], the policy of isolation and exclusion, and the sectarian tensions in Syria. Of course, such a tense situation is bad for Syria and the regime is to blame for it. But did the assassination take place for these reasons or for other reasons? Brigadier General is the closest person to Bashar al-Assad and his right-hand man in the armed forces. No doubt, he knows everything. He holds all the security files as well as the financing and arming files”.
On the relationship between Suleiman and Al-Assad, the Syrian source said: “Brigadier General Suleiman is a graduate of the School of Engineering. He has been with Bashar since he assumed power and began his political career. Formerly, he was Basil al-Assad’s companion and friend and they graduated from the same class in the army. The relationship between them is strong. He is not related to the Al-Assad family by marriage but is married to a woman from Dayr al-Zawr. He was active and in his mid-forties and a member of the Alawite sect. He was trusted by Basil and later trusted by Bashar”. The Syrian source denied that Suleiman made enemies inside the regime due to political ambitions he may have had. He said: “By virtue of his position, he was much more powerful than his military rank. He had no political ambitions to form any political bloc because his position was more important than that. He was more important than the defense minister”. He went on to say: “But there must be some reasons behind the assassination that are related to specific files. It is hard to judge now and resorting to the conspiracy theory loses the facts. It is better to wait for three or four days until things clear up in this or that direction. It is worth noting that the assassination was carried out in a very professional way, a sniper from the sea”.
The Syrian source went on to say that he does not know whether Suleiman was in charge of Hezbollah affairs. He said: “He was in charge of files related to the armed forces and the Baath Party. The main files on the Baath Party, the security apparatus, and the army came to his office and he would refer them to Bashar al-Assad”. He added that there are differences in interests among the various groups and there are centers of power inside the regime that have different interests. However, he said, “It is hard at present to affirm or deny that people from within the regime are involved in the assassination. A liquidation operation does not take place except following a central decision; this was a big operation; this person was important in the regime and within the army”.
Meanwhile, Syrian sources have said that Brigadier General Suleiman was buried yesterday in the township of Al-Draykish. It was not clear whether Syrian state officials attended the funeral or whether an autopsy and forensic medical tests were carried out on the body to determine the cause of death. In a telephone contact from London, the sources that cannot reveal their identity said that Brigadier General Suleiman was killed by four bullets in a beach resort on the shores of the city of Tartus, his hometown. It is worth noting that the both the Syrian official and non-official media outlets did not mention this incident until yesterday despite the burial of Brigadier General Suleiman.
The sources said that it is likely that the officials are waiting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s return from Tehran. In this regard, a Syrian source has told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The authorities know that such news cannot be concealed for long and that it has already spread throughout Syria. I expect something to be issued within two or three days. Hey are probably holding preliminary investigations to determine the course of the statements”. Several Israeli newspapers published reports on the assassination yesterday.
The Yedi’ot Aharonot published the report on page eight under the headline of “Who assassinated President Al-Assad’s senior military advisers?” However, in the body of the report, the information it published was taken from Al-Bawwabah [The Portal], an Internet site in Arabic. But an Israeli site called Debkafile.net that usually carries unconfirmed information reported on this subject in detail. It published sensational speculations on the subject, including: Brigadier Suleiman has been working on four major files and his assassination is probably related to these four files:
First, Suleiman was the contact man between Bashar al-Assad and North Korea. He made several visits to the capital Pyongyang and arranged for the transfer of the equipment needed for building the nuclear reactor in Dayr al-Zawr from North Korea to Syria.
Second, He also made arrangements for the security protection of the Korean engineers and experts in Syria. Second, he is the contact man between the Syrian president and the Iranian intelligence service and army and was thus able to coordinate among the three countries in building the nuclear reactor in Dayr al-Zawr.
Third, Sulayman was in charge of the file between Al-Assad and Hezbollah, especially the military wing that was under the command of Imad Mughniyeh before he was assassinated in Damascus.
Fourth, Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman is the most important military person in the narrow circle close to Al-Assad. He is the contact between the army command and the Syrian intelligence service and is aware of every single military or security secret in Syria.
This site adds that there are three possibilities why Suleiman was assassinated: The first possibility is connected to the Dayr al-Zawr nuclear reactor that Israel bombed last September since the bombing of the reactor was registered as a fail point against Brigadier General Muhammad Suleiman. According to this Israeli site, the second possibility is that outside elements entered Syria and carried out the operation. This possibility is reinforced by the fact that Suleiman was assassinated by the bullets of a sniper manning a distant observation point. The third possibility is that like many others like him, Suleiman was assassinated because he knew too many secrets.