The son of Bashar al Assad’s cousin, Sulaiman al Assad, has been released after four years of his 20-year sentence. He was imprisoned for killing a decorated colonel in Assad's air force.

The autocratic rule of Bashar al Assad is infamous for its impunity. The common perception in Syria has almost always been that if you belonged to Assad's Alawite sect, you'd be better off than the rest of the Syrians. 

It seems, however, that the draconian powers Assad has lent to his army and security agencies at times do not spare Alawites, not even the high profile ones. In 2015, Assad's nephew, Sulaiman al Assad, shot dead a "revered" Air Force Colonel in Latakia province. It was a senseless killing triggered by a bout of road rage near a traffic signal. 

The killing caused outrage in the Alawite sect, the main support base for the regime leader, as they took to the streets in Latakia, an Assadist stronghold, demanding severe punishment against Sulaiman for gunning down a decorated Alawite officer, Colonel Hassan al Sheikh.  

Syrian regime officials arrested Sulaiman and by January 2016, he was served with a 20-year prison sentence. But after just four years, he has been set free, according to local accounts.

Five years ago, the murder took place on the road between Latakia city and Qardaha, the ancestral village of the Assad family. After overtaking the colonel at a cross junction, Sulaiman opened fire, killing Colonel Hassan on the spot.

The killing provoked such outrage that people in several of Assad strongholds called for his execution. 

Relatives of the murdered colonel said that Bashar al Assad had pledged to punish the perpetrator, however privileged he might be. 

Sulaiman's recent release from prison after having served only one-fourth of his 20-year sentence came as a surprise to many Syrian Alawites. 

The death of Sulaiman's father Hilal 

Hilal al Assad, a cousin to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, was killed by anti-Assad rebels along with seven of his fighters in the border town of Kasab in Latakia province. His vehicle was heavily shelled, and Hilal was fatally hit in his chest. 

Once the regime media announced his father’s death, Sulaiman reportedly went on a killing spree in Latakia.

According to local accounts, Sulaiman jumped onto his four-wheel-drive loaded with heavy machine guns. Accompanied by a number of Shabbiha vehicles, he drove into several districts in the province of Latakia including Saliba, Mashrouh al-Saliba, al-Taabiyat, Tariq al-Harsh, Bustan as-Seedawi, Alskantor, and Qunenis, and shot dead several people along the way. 

Sulaiman was seen shooting randomly and throwing grenades at residential houses and balconies. The macabre bloodletting claimed 'several' civilian lives. 

His father Hilal's human rights record was also full of atrocities - he is famous for leaving a "thug" legacy to his son. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Hilal reportedly amassed a huge fortune through the state-owned Military Housing Establishment’s office in Latakia. Founded in the 1970s, the government-run organisation was tasked with organising housing and infrastructure for the Syrian army, which was growing at a rapid pace. 

Hilal exploited the revenues generated by the establishment, while the army-run enterprises usurped the civilian business space, eating up "ever-larger chunks of the real estate market—much to the benefit of its directors, their relatives, and army allies, all of whom grew fat on bribes and kickbacks." 

When the Syrian uprising broke out against the Assad regime, it was Assad's cousin Hilal who raised several militias consisting of thieves and criminals from Latakia's underground.  

As Sulaiman grew up under the shadow of his father, he also adopted his thuggish way of life. According to a pro-Assad newspaper, al-akhbar, Sulaiman has been "an unending nightmare" for the people of Latakia, as he has been known for terrorising everyone — be it a Alawite or non-Alawite Syrian. 

His father has been part of brutal massacres the Syrian regime has committed against its civilians. 

From the massacre of Daraya in Damascus in which at least 500 civilians were slaughtered, to the raping and burning of many in al-Baidha in Banias, the bloodletting was carried out by the militias led by Assad loyalists such as Miraj Uraal, Yman Jabr, Hasan Tawfiq al Assad. Hilal al Assad was one of many with a lot of blood on his hands.  

Source: TRT World