Ribal al-Assad gives Robert Fisk a rare insight into the dynasty that has shaped modern Syria
Ribal al-Assad doesn't look like the son of a war criminal; fluent English, fluent French, fluent Arabic (of course), fluffy black hair and brown eyes, a youngish 35, Boston graduate, self-assured, a member of the Damascus elite, sitting in a Marble Arch hotel, turning down my offer of coffee, talking about freedom and democracy and human rights in Syria, denying – gently but forcefully – that his father, Rifaat, is a war criminal.
Funny that. Back in February 1982, on the banks of the Orontes river, I stood next to one of Rifaat's tanks as it shelled a mosque in the blood-boltered battle between the Assad regime and the Sunni insurgents of Hama. The tank crew and many of the soldiers around them were wearing the pink uniforms of Rifaat's Special Brigades.
The Sunni uprising – as ferocious as the Algerian war or Iraq, regime party families slaughtered in their homes – was real enough. So was the brutality of Rifaat's lads. Up to 20,000 souls were reported killed in the streets and underground tunnels of Hama.