“Who is Hilal al-Assad?” By Mohammad D.

Hilal al-Assad

Who is Hilal al-Assad? 
By Mohammad D.
For Syria Comment, April 5 2014

By the time Hilal al-Assad reached Zahi Azraq Military Hospital in Latakia on Sunday March 23,2014, he was already dead. Latakians were already in a state of turmoil and anxiety. Grad missiles had been raining down on the city for a week. That night, at 8 pm, two missiles hit the city-center. The first struck al-Sheikhdaher, a bustling area in the old city and the second slammed into the old post office, less than a hundred yards from an entrance to the Sea Port.  Many were killed and injured in this attack. News that Hilal al-Assad had been signed into the Military Hospital spread like wildfire. Everyone knew within hours. The streets of the city emptied.

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One week anniversary

Hilal al-Assad was the commander of al-Difa’ al-Watani in the Coastal Region and a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad.  A  single bullet hit him in the chest. He was in al-Mushrefeh near Kassab north of the city of Latakia, according to parents of an Alawi soldier fighting with him.  This fighter was on his way with his other brother to help lift the siege of pro-Assad groups surrounded in Kassab.  The younger brother of this fighter, was surrounded with his unit in Kassab.  A range of anti-Assad militias, many composed of foreigners, launched a surprise attack called al-Anfal that was followed by a second offensive named Umahat al-Mu’minin.  The attacks were launched near the Turkish border into an area that was poorly defended, by all accounts.  The surprise attack was a total success. Rebel militias conquered Kassab, an Armenian town best known for its beauty, green hills and for being a summer resort. It is also linked to a custom crossing with Turkey and a small village on the Mediterranean called al-Samra.  Today, fighting is raging throughout the region and both sides are calling up reinforcements.  The pro-Assad forces have been able to retake one highpoint, tower 45, but with no major regains since.
Hilal al-Assad is the first Assad family member to be killed since Asef Shawkat was killed in a bomb attack on July/18/2012 while attending a high level meeting in Damascus. Syrian official TV announced Hilal’s death, and declared him a martyr, but no public death announcement, known as Na’wa, was printed.  This is unusual. Numerous Facebook pages were created to celebrate and memorialize him and video messages were posted on the al-Difa’ al-Watani web outlets. For them, Hillal al-Assad death in battle is seen as a great honor. But his death also reminded everyone in Latakia that death and danger was at their door, closer than anyone had thought.

Hilal’s full military funeral procession was held on Monday.  His body left the hospital to the music of a marching band and into an army white ambulance.  He was buried in the Alawite Mountains east of Latakia.  Hilal left behind a wife, two sons and three daughters.  Not that much is known about him. Most reports about him are not accurate. The reaction of his infamous, “trouble maker” son Sulayman, who is only seventeen years old, only deepened the fears of Latakians.

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Who is Hilal al-Assad.

Hilal al-Assad was born in al-Qardaha in 1967.  His father Anwar was the son of Hafez al-Assad’s older brother Ibrahim (some people say that Ibrahim is a half brother from Ali Sulayman’s first wife Sa’ada. He was married to Umm Anwar).  Ibrahim died many years ago and not much is known or written about him, but his wife, Hilal’s grandmother, Umm Anwar was a very strong woman.  She became a household name as a business woman who took advantage of the rising power of her family. As Hafez al-Assad’s power grew so did her’s along with that of her family.  Her son Anwar was not an educated man. Indeed he was reputed to be slow. What is more, he suffered from Albinism.  So, when Hafez al-Assad became a minister of defense in the 1960′s, Anwar became a janitor in a school in al-Qardaha. When Hafez al-Assad became a president in 1971, Anwar became an employee in the Registery (al-Nufus) in al-Qardaha. He remained a resident of Qardaha until his death.

His son Hilal went to elementary, secondary and high school in Qardaha.  He was young when his relatives started consolidating power in Damascus. His relatives in al-Qardaha started a lucrative business in smuggling. From his high school days, Hilal joined local smugglers who brought goods from Lebanon to Syria. Hilal was one of the Original Shabiha; the first wave of smugglers (See my earlier article: “The Original Shabiha“.  He was a few years younger than the most famous: Fawwaz al-Assad.

But, Hilal was different from Fawwaz, who was bombastic and enjoyed making a spectacle of himself. Hilal did not search out the limelight. He preferred to remain in the shadows, driving his big Mercedes between Lebanon and various Syrian cities.  Many say that his grandmother, Umm Anwar, controlled the smuggling ring that Hilal ran with.  In his early days, Hilal hung out in two places: one was an Armenian photography shop and the other was with a Christian barber friend. His car seemed always to be double-parked outside these two haunts. It caused perpetual traffic jams. He rarely hung out with other goons, unlike Fawwaz, who was a goon magnet.

Hilal amassed a fortune from smuggling. But, once Syrian markets were opened in the 1990s, smuggling dried up. Hilal, like Fawwaz and the other original shabiha, who benefited from the trade restrictions of the 1980′s, had to find a new occupation. Some say that Hilal joined the military academy for a bit before enrolling in Latakia’s Tishreen University, where he studied business. Ultimately, he acquired a degree, but I have been told by a friend of his:

He never attended a class and only showed up at the university to sit for exams.  The only challenging part of his formal education was to struggle not to make mistakes copying the answers that he had passed to him.”

Hilal was able to secure a good plum position in one of the most lucrative state industries. In 1998, he was appointed head of Branch 202 in the Mu’assasat al-Iskan al-Askari.  This meant that Hilal run the Latakia branch of a  construction company owned and financed by the defense ministry. It was responsible for housing projects, building dams, and sometimes built roads. al-Iskan al-Askari was established during the rule of Hafez al-Assad and was first headed by Khalil al-Bahlul, who turned it into a construction giant in the Syrian building sector.

Hilal did not have a good reputation at work.  He is accused of holding back the salaries of the employees for months, making a profit on putting it in the newly formed private banks in the area and abroad.  When workers complained about their late wages, they had to face Military Intelligence, which Hilal would summon to deal with them.  At this era, Hilal would still stay out of the limelight for most of the time.  He would spend most of his night playing cards with the same group: a famous Alawite heart doctor and two rich Sunnis: a man from al-Jud family and another from al-Zein family.  Hilal also loved horses.  He collected them and kept them in the stables of the Sports Complex. Some say that these stables were used as Hilal’s private prison.  These allegations are yet to be confirmed, as well many tashbeeh stories about him.

When the Syrian uprising began, the government formed al-Difa’ al-Watani (National Defence Forces) in 2012.  Its head was stationed in Damascus: General Ghassan Mansur.  Hilal al-Assad was put in charge of al-Difa’ al-Watani in Latakia and its countryside.  The first major military action this militia saw was during the famous attack of August 4th 2013, when Sunni groups attacked 11 Alawite villages.  The attack ended, but the military scrimmages continued, especially now with this Anfal attack in the Kassab region. When Hilal died, al-Difa’ al-Watani had grown from being composed of only a few local “popular committees” (Lijan Sha’biyah) into a small-sized army, complet with a few tanks and many pieces of heavy artillery.

Hilal’s Personal Family:

Unknown to many: Hilal married a Sunni.  His wife, Fatima Massoud, is said to be from the Idlib region.  Others say that her father is from Tripoli, Lebanon.  With Fatima, Hilal has two boys, 17 and 9 and three daughters, the oldest is married to a Sunni from Aleppo.  Hilal’s oldest daughter has a baby girl with her husband.

Sulayman is the notorious 17 years old son of Hilal.  He is a trouble maker and stories about him fill the internet.  Some of these stories are true, while others are exaggerations by known anti-Assad agitators, who expound on the bad behavior of members of al-Assad clan.  He is almost always seen with his armed bodyguards, even on the beach, where his favorite pastime was to make hairpin turns with his all-terrain vehicle so that sand would spray those trying to relax at the shore.  Reports of him shooting at people are many, but cannot be confirmed. Sulayman poses frequently with tanks belonging to the al-Difa’ al-Watani. He posts these on his Facebook page.  His reactions after the death of his father added to the troubles of the city.  It increased the level of fear amongst all.  Reports said that Sulayman went on a rampage twice, the first was the day when his father died.  The second was few days later, when he went with some armed men to al-Slaybeh, a traditional Sunni neighborhood in the old city, and destroyed some of the furniture of al-Tabusheh famous cafe as well as that of a few other stores in the neighborhood.  He ran away when the Mukhabarat showed up.  This attack only deepened the sectarian divisions in the city.

Hilal al-Assad also had two brothers: Harun, the head of the Municipality in al-Qardaha, and Ha’el, an officer in the Republican Guards.

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  1. I would like to point an important mistake : I meant to write General Ghassan Nassour as the head of al-Difa’ al-Watani and not General Ghassan Mansour as it appears in the article…thanks

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