Posted by Joshua on Friday, June 6th, 2008
2008-06-06 12:28 (New York)
Berlin (dpa) – A coup plot against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was quietly crushed without the world noticing, the German newspaper Die Welt was set to report Saturday, quoting German and “foreign''
It said Syria's military intelligence chief, Assef Shaukat, had plotted to seize power while Assad was hosting an Arab League meeting in Damascus in February. Shaukat, who is an in-law to the president, and 100 intelligence officers had been arrested.
Die Welt said Assad had been tipped off by Imad Mughniyah, a senior member of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization in Lebanon.
Mughniyah was killed a few days later in a bomb blast on February 12 in Damascus.
The sources said it was possible that associates of Shaukat had assassinated him in revenge. Releasing the story Friday in advance of going to print, Die Welt said some of the plotters were allegedly linked to violent Islamist groups.
Die Welt said the Syrian embassy in Berlin had rejected the coup story as utterly untrue. Without naming a source, the newspaper said German diplomats were aware of the coup story but had not been able to confirm it as fact. dpa jbp sc
-0- Jun/06/2008 16:28 GMT
It is hard to know what to make of these rumors that have been circulating for months. Copied below are two March reports by "Stratfor," a Texas based private "intelligence" firm, run by Dr. George Friedman. Both are related to the Die Welt claims. The one common thread is that Asef Shawkat is no longer the head of Military Intelligence in Syria.
I have been reluctant to copy these stories in the past because they seem like such speculation, based on unconfirmed reports. For two years we have been hearing stories that the Asad family is at daggers drawn and ready to kill one another. Never were they true in the past. Invariably they were spread by disreputable sources. Die Welt is not disreputable. We have not seen any sign of Asef Shawkat in months. Also, several people I trust tell me that Asef is no longer the head of Military Intelligence – at least that part of the story seems true.
Here are the earlier pieces from Stratfor:
Syria: Lead Mughniyah Investigator Replaced
March 25, 2008 | 1524 GMT
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has named his cousin Rami Makhluf to replace Gen. Asef Shawkat as the chief investigator in the assassination of Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyah, over the protests of Hezbollah, a Stratfor source in Syria reported March 25. Hezbollah reportedly has accused Shawkat of having a key role in Mughniyah’s assassination and has demanded to interrogate him as a primary suspect. Syrian investigations have already revealed involvement in the assassination by a Syrian army officer who collected detailed intelligence about Mughniyah’s movements in Syria and in the Bekaa Valley, the source said.
New Sratfor Article: Mar 11 2008
Syria:Trouble in Damascus (lots of rumors by the way)
Syria’s ruling al Assad family is experiencing an internal struggle, as the Feb. 12 assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah in Damascus revealed. Syrian allies Iran and Hezbollah seem to have growing suspicions that certain elements of the Syrian regime might have been involved in Mughniyah’s death, and Syrian President Bashar al Assad appears to be building a case against his brother-in-law, the director-general of Syrian intelligence.
The Feb. 12 assassination of Hezbollah top commander Imad Mughniyah in Damascus has exposed what appears to be a massive power struggle afflicting Syria’s ruling al Assad family. Since the assassination, Stratfor has received reports from a variety of sources that indicate the death of Hezbollah’s most seasoned operative might not have been a surprise to certain elements of the Syrian regime. These suspicions appear to be shared by Syria’s allies Hezbollah and Iran.
As Stratfor has discussed previously, even if the Israeli Mossad orchestrated the operation to take out Mughniyah, it likely had an inside source — perhaps in Syria’s security apparatus — that facilitated the operation.
And Hezbollah does not appear to be taking any chances. A reliable source revealed to Stratfor that, in the past week, Hezbollah forces apprehended a group of Syrian concierges working in Beirut’s southern suburbs. The concierges were blindfolded, interrogated and released the following morning after they and their families were threatened and told to keep quiet about the incident. Hezbollah was supposedly seeking to find out if the concierges knew any details about Mughniyah’s travel to Damascus the night of Feb. 10 — two days before his assassination. According to the source, Hezbollah is highly suspicious that elements of Syrian intelligence either assisted in or acquiesced to Mughniyah’s liquidation.
The extent of Syrian intelligence’s involvement in the Mughniyah assassination could even reach up to the highest echelons of the al Assad family, with Syrian Director-General of Intelligence Asef Shawkat at the center of the conspiracy. The stability of the Syrian regime rests upon a delicate balance of close-knit clan relations within the al Assad family, the Alawite religious minority and the underlying rule of the Baath party. Any blows to this power structure could spell doom for the government, making it all the more critical for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to adroitly navigate the Byzantine maze of Syrian family politics.
Shawkat became a part of the al Assad clan through a marriage to Bashar’s sister, Bushra al Assad. Though Bushra and Shawkat faced heavy resistance from the al Assad family when the two eloped, they have since amassed a great deal of power and influence in the al Assad regime, making them a force to be reckoned with in any major family dispute. In addition to being a prime suspect in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Shawkat could have had something to do with the Mughniyah assassination, several signs indicate. Shawkat apparently felt threatened by Mughniyah’s influence within the Syrian security apparatus and came to blows with his long-time foe Maher al Assad, the president’s brother and head of the Republican Guard, over the issue.
There is an unverified rumor circulating that, prior to his assassination, Mughniyah had informed the Syrian president of meetings held between Shawkat and a CIA officer in a European city, where the two supposedly discussed a strategy for Shawkat to seize control of the regime. Al Assad then apparently confronted Bushra about Mughniyah’s allegations, which then prompted Shawkat to organize an operation to take out the Hezbollah commander. Another source claims that Bushra has now moved with her children to Paris and is seeking to relocate to the United Arab Emirates for a long sojourn — a possible indication that the major female power broker of the al Assad clan has lost her bid to spare her husband’s political and intelligence career within the ranks of the Syrian ruling elite.
Though the details of these rumors cannot be verified, there appears to be a case building against Shawkat behind the palace walls in Damascus. Stratfor has already learned of rumors of an impending military reshuffle that could very well remove Shawkat and wash the regime’s hands of the al-Hariri assassination. But Shawkat is unlikely to go quietly into the night, and any attempt to remove him from the Syrian political scene could further complicate the regime’s already intensely bitter power struggle. Similar rifts emerged in the wake of the al-Hariri assassination when former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and former Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan schemed to topple the regime. The Syrian president managed to wade his way through that crisis rather adeptly, but this current power struggle reaches deep into the al Assad clan. And with Israel signaling that it is readying itself for another showdown with Hezbollah, the clock is ticking for al Assad to get his house in order.