He Relocated to a Palace Furnished with Secret Tunnels for Escape
Last minute: Bashar Assad plans to attend the state funerals taking place in Damascus Friday, July 20, of the close henchmen killed in a bombing attack Wednesday.
Until Thursday, July 19, no one had actually seen Bashar Assad since his closest allies Defense Minister Daoud Abdullah Rajiha, Deputy Chief of Staff Assif Shawqat – Assad’s brother-in-law, and Gen. Hassan Turkmeni, a close Assad family friend and chief of staff of the campaign against the uprising were hit by an assassin’s bomb Wednesday, July 18. Neither was his voice heard.
Indeed, there was no sign of him in public since before that, from July 15, when the first rebel forces stormed into Damascus’s southern suburbs.
Until he showed his face on television Thursday at the swearing-in of Fahd al-Freij as new Syrian defense minister appointed hours after his predecessor was murdered, speculation was rife about the whereabouts of the 43-old dictator and his wife and three children.
Western (mostly British) and some opposition sources suggested Thursday he had departed the capital after the attack and moved to his palace in Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
Another source claimed he had gone to the Assad clan’s home village of Kardaha, high in the northwestern Alawite Mountains overlooking Latakia.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources say that much of the speculation was propelled by psychological warfare to present the Syrian ruler and his family as on the run.
Like many such rumors, they gained circulation from plausible innuendo.
For example, claims that he had moved out of Damascus and gone to Latakia smacked of preparations for Assad and the heads of his regime to board one of one of the Russian warships docked in Tartus just south of Latakia and go into exile in Moscow.
Reports of his escape to Kardaha were meant intimate that Assad has relinquished power in Damascus and removed himself and his loyal forces to a fortified compound in the Alawite Mountains in order to establish a small, separate Alawite state along Syria’s Mediterranean coastal strip.
He is still in Damascus at a palace with multiple escape routes
Not that Assad doesn’t keep contingency plans on those lines in a drawer, or that he won’t implement any of them in the future, but for now he is sticking it out in the capital, housed in The Palace of the People – a vast Soviet-style complex in Dummar suburb overlooking Damascus – and sheltering behind the guns of Republican Guard battalions.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources report that the Syrian ruler has always factored the possibility he might have to run for cover into the security plans drawn up for himself and his inner circle. After the rebels entered Damascus – and even before the assassinations – he moved himself and family from the Mt. Qassioun compound down to the Palace of the People below, at the same time as he relocated the General Staff to fortified quarters on Shuhada Street in the capital.
Each of the buildings at his new address has its own secret tunnel and each tunnel forks two ways – one path leading to the Damascus military airport at Al Mazza and a longer one linking up with the Damascus-Latakia highway. They are sunk deep underground, safe from air and missile attack and wide enough to accommodate cars.
Tunnels galore for the General Command too
The fortified war rooms on Shuhada Street, prepared in advance for a war contingency, have their own secret tunnel network. One underground route heads south and connects to the tank depot at the Katana army barracks and Al-Kiswa about 14 kilometers away from the capital, which houses special forces, armored units and Shabiha militia men.
Military sources keeping track of the situation at these two Syrian army facilities report there is no sign of disorder or breakdowns in their chains of command
The northern tunnel out of the Shuhada war room reaches the Damascus-Latakia Highway with several exits along the way.
By moving the army’s general command to a safe address with ample escape routes, the Syrian ruler and his top men demonstrated their care for loyal army chiefs to be able to save themselves in dire circumstances in order to be sure of their abiding loyalty.