Former Syrian political security chief Rustom Ghazaleh, one of the country’s most notorious figures for the past two decades, has died.
As with the deaths of other prominent figures in Bashar al-Assad’s regime, natural causes are seldom the case. In 2005, Ghazi Kanaan, who preceded Ghazaleh, was also murdered, but the Syrian government claimed that he committed suicide. Similarly, two years ago, military intelligence chief Jameh Jameh, one of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassinators, was also killed.
Syria is the only country in the world where officials disappear and the regime then declares that suicide or mysterious circumstances were the reasons behind the deaths. In the case of Ghazaleh, some of the most circulated stories - including the semi-official ones - claim that he was killed after being beaten to death. Different governmental sources spread contradictory versions; the most ridiculous version is that he was heavily beaten because of a dispute with Rafiq Shehadeh, another security official, because the former insisted on participating in the fight against “terrorists” in his hometown Daraa.
I do not know if there are people who are stupid enough to believe such stories: fighting over national heroism. What is even more ironic is that the “killer” Shehadeh was rewarded a few days ago with a promotion to the post of the colleague he murdered.
Ghazaleh has most likely been killed by torture in prison, the regime did not seek to hide the story of the murder, though it had published contradictory rumors about how and why he was killed. The regime used to admit and announce the mysterious deaths of its officials in order to instill fear among top-tier hierarchy. The two murdered persons, Ghazaleh and Kanaan, had killed former Syrian Prime Minister Mahmoud Zuabi in 2000.
Syria is the only country in the world where officials disappear and the regime then declares that suicide or mysterious circumstances were the reasons behind the deathsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
And there are many reasons as for why Ghazaleh was killed. His death might be in relation with Rana Koleilat, head of Lebanon’s al-Madina Bank who fled to Brazil after the collapse of the lender, and her published confessions in Lebanese weekly al-Shiraa. She talked about Ghazaleh and his wife blackmailing her and claimed that they had looted tens of millions of dollars.
She revealed horrible stories about how he used to threaten her and the bank’s staff, during his stay in Lebanon. However, the Syrian regime has never punished his men for their personal actions, but instead, it used to encourage them and reward them for their ferocity and their ability to control their assigned regions regardless of the methods.
In order to understand the mystery of Ghazaleh’s murder, we should not forget that he was questoined by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon trying suspects for Hariri’s assassination, as he was also on the list of suspects. His death, like most of the murdered Syrian officials who were involved in Hariri’s killing, was in mysterious circumstances. The third possibility is that Ghazaleh had decided to defect and that was a sufficient reason to kill him.
Few leaders of the Syrian regime are still alive - as most of them were either killed or went missing. Assad, with the help of his Iranian allies, is now preparing for a new era of rehabilitation to lead a new political phase under the pretext that it is the only one that can fight and defeat terrorist organizations. Ghazaleh’s murder reminds people of how cruel and tyrannical the regime is; however it can never convince them that the regime has changed.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 25, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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