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