This is the biography of a man who used to be the right-hand man of one of the pillars of the Syrian regime, the Syrian (currently retired) General Jamil Hassan for more than 30 years. The writer is trying to discover his fate after Hassan was removed from the post of Airforce Intelligence Director. In a wedding of the Diabs’ in Barheliya in Wadi Barada in 2006, poet Ussama al-Samra recited a poem revealing his longing for Jamil Hassan.
“O Qusai Maihoub nights are long,
My heart is on fire,
With your sweet voice tell Hassan
How much we miss him“
This ode to General Hassan was transmitted to him through his deputy Qusay Maihoub, who attended the party on his behalf. Poets of the region start their poems with praising the late president Hafez al-Assad, then his son Bashar, then they praise the groom, the officials and high class guests. Among the last category, the poet praised Muhammad Tammam Diab for whose sake Maihoub came to the wedding, saying:
“O Tammam, you live up to your name,
And I, as a poet, am faithful to my word,
Although your father is not here with us,
You will fill his place until his return“
Tammam’s father, Mahmoud Diab, who left the party early, was released from prison in the mid-nineties, after commuting the sentence from life to 15 years. The teacher had been sent to prison after a dispute over a piece of land led to the killing of 4 people, including his nephew and 3 children from another family.
As soon as he came out of prison, Tammam’s father found out that his son had become the Airforce’s favorite man in the valley. He was overjoyed to see that he was given a land in Sahl al-Zabadani, close to the “Qasr Can’an”. The sixty-year-old moved to the new villa which his son built at the entrance of Barheliya, overlooking the Jabal Habeel hill and Barada river, at the beginning of Cohen Road which connects Barheliya to Huraira village. The design of the villa and its colored bricks, that do not belong to the environment of the region, make it look like a fortress from another era. Locals say that the Israeli spy Illy Cohen’s body was moved there around 1967, after being buried in a cave near Demas village.
Within this atmosphere of family feud and the flourishing of smuggling between Lebanon and Syria across the region, Tammam grew up believing his father was wronged. Despite he hardly finished middle school, yet during his obligatory military service in the Air Force in the mid eighties, he earned the trust of his “mentor” Jamil Hassan, and this was how he gained wealth and influence.
With a War Criminal
Although he was not a security officer, Tammam prefers to work in the dark, and keep his activities in secrecy. Those who know him say that he “rarely leaves his office in the Maliki district in Damascus” and that he is a workaholic, like his mentor.
Hassan was promoted to general, then director of the Airforce Intelligence in 2009 or 2010, succeeding Gen. Abdul-Fattah Qudseyya. Gen. Qudseyya had punished Hassan for unknown reasons by transferring him to Deir al-Zor for 2 years in 2007 and 2008. When Qudseyya became head of an Air Force Intelligence branch in 2009 or 2010, Tammam was sent to prison for 3 months for charges that could not be verified. His arrest may have been intended to spite Hassan. In 2009, a rumour went out saying that Tammam played a role in thwarting an attempted assassination of Hassan, yet this claim could not be verified.
Hassan, “the violent and fierce towards issues that concern his homeland”, left his position last July at the age of 66, 43 of which he spent in the security field. Hassan, who has been struggling with cancer for 3 years, is listed on Western sanctions list. Germany and France issued arrest warrants against him for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Hassan is considered one of Hafez al-Assad’s faithful men. He participated in the Hama massacre in 1982, when he was a lieutenant. He thought bombing Hama at the time was a wise decision, and a strike to terrorism, by which the extremists received a severe blow.
Although he declared his allegiance to Bashar, Hassan criticized the way the president dealt with the demonstrations of 2011. “I support using the same tactic we used in Hama in 1982,” he said, “but in a different way. The reaction should have been crushing. Had we dealt with the current crisis in the same way, we would have been able to stop the bloodshed, and we wouldn’t have reached the current state of war.”
Hassan directly criticizes the “Assad Institutes for Teaching the Noble Quran” by saying, “I watched how extremism was taught by the guides who were brought up at the hands of “al-Qaida” leaders, and the Wahhabi school of thought, in what was called “teaching the Quran”, and how the guide and his assistant would choose 4 or 5 among the 20 students to prepare them to embrace the extremist beliefs.”
In Azmi Bishara’s book “Syria: The Painful Road towards Freedom” published by the Qatari “Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies” in 2013, the former Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab narrated that Gen. Hassan, and not the commander of Syrian airforce, commanded the bombing of Deir al-Zor by means of military aircrafts. He added that he heard from Brigadier-General Shaleesh, former presidential security chief that Brigadier-General Mohyi al-Deen Muslimaneya, director of presidential ceremony, tried to mediate for his brother in law after being arrested by the Airforce Intelligence. When al-Assad commanded his release, Hassan refused. When Shaleesh called him to mediate, Jamil Hassan said, “I will release him for your sake, not for Bashar’s”.
In March 2017, the UN International Independent Investigation Committee about Syria said that the Syrian airforce intentionally bombed the water source in Ain al-Fija in Reef Dimashq, in a war crime that caused 5.5 million people in Damascus and its outskirts to be deprived of water.
Engineer Muhammad Subhy al-Hawa says that Tammam was involved in the destruction of the villages of Bassima, Ain al-Khadra, and Ain al-Fija in 2016-2017 while acting as Gen. Hassan’s eye in the negotiations with the opposition at the time. The media affirms that Gen. Hassan ordered the destruction of Ain al-Fija in December 2016 to force the opposition militants to surrender. Al-Hawa says that Tammam told him that he witnessed the presidential guard’s assassination of the retired general Ahmad al-Ghadban (1944-2017), when he acted as the representative of Wadi Barada in the negotiations with al-Assad and other officials concerning the issue of Ain al-Fija. Al-Ghadban, who was the former commander of brigade 14 special forces, at Ras al-Amoud military-security checkpoint, in Deir Qanoun village, in Wadi Barada, which was under the control of the regime’s forces, on January 14, 2017. The Wadi Barada media agency said the assassination took place in the presence of the governor of Reef Dimashq, ministers, officers, and leaders of Hezbollah’s militias, in addition to Tammam.
The Key to a War Criminal
Engineer al-Hawa said he had heard about Hassan’s man in 2006 when Tammam stopped paying the installments of a car he had bought from Sakhr Altoun, who was the exclusive agent for the Korean company Hyundai. When the car broke down, he took it to the car agency, it was confined, so he complained to the police accusing Altoun of stealing it. The police decided to detain both Tammam and Altoun to investigate the case. The problem was solved when Tammam took the car and Altoun preserved his reputation, according to al-Hawa.
Families of detainees of the Airforce said Tammam used financial and sexual blackmail against them to release their detainees or bring them their news. “The Airforce detained my ex-wife twice in 2015 under the pretext of a false ID, then for a misdemeanor related to a housing association. explains al-Hawa. “I hosted Tammam in France and he asked for 2 million dollars to release her. Jamil Hassan reassured me that he would intervene. Now she waiting for trial in Adra prison. If I had the money, I wouldn’t have let a person be humiliated”.
Al-Hawa confirms that Tammam is driven by “interests”, as he offered in France in 2015 to sell information about the Syrian regime to a Saudi businessman he got introduced to through the Syrian-French businessman Muhammad al-Assadi. But the Saudi rejected the offer, according to al-Hawa.
People of Barheliya say that Tammam never uses his influence “for free” in the “detainees business”. They narrated to Daraj how he ignored their demands, saying that he asked for a lot of money. One lady said that he wouldn’t help her son who was in prison for disobeying military orders. She was forced to sell property she owned for 50000 USD to pay an officer to release him. Another lady said he asked for “sexual favors” in return for mediating with the Airforce Intelligence to let her visit her detained brother.
Gen. Hassan had uncovered a corruption case in 2009, related to paying bribes to visit prisoners in the Airforce Intelligence. He opened an investigation and some prison guards were suspended. He asked his leaders to punish a number of officers, including himself. “I was not an accomplice in that crime,” said Hassan in a rare interview with Russian news agency Sputnik in November 2016. “All those who were implicated in this case were punished and fired. After that incident, everyday the prison is checked thoroughly, as I learned a lot from this incident.”
Forgery, Deceit and Embezzlement
In one of the episodes of the TV series “Al-Maraya”, Yasser al-Athma plays the role of a government employee who works at the water utility company. He uses a swimming pool subscription card to get admitted everywhere and have procedures facilitated for him, fooling people to believe that he was a security officer. “The type of ID is not important”, says the employee to himself, “what is important is the person carrying it and how he speaks. When I wear formal clothes and a tie, and talk to people haughtily, I will catch their attention. When I show them the ID card, no one looks at it. This is not impersonation. I never say I’m an officer or an official. They just believe I’m VIP.”
This was the way Tammam acted throughout his work with Hassan; as he was never seen but elegant, with dyed hair, trimmed mustache, shaved beard. Always driving fancy cars such as: “Chevrolet Caprice” or “Jaguar”. And it seems that he mastered the role in front of the Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, Abdullah Al Gharbi.
Tammam disappeared for many weeks and some thought that his role has come to an end it was believed that he was imprisoned or that he traveled to London. And one of Barheliya’s locals said that some Russian soldiers insulted Tammam in Tartus when he tried to get his work done unofficially. Mostly, he temporarily traveled in connection with the Air Force Intelligence Directorate’s opening of an inquiry to investigate bringing 5,000 tons of sugar―at a time of Al Gharbi between 2016 and 2018―from the governmental “Syrian Institution for Trade” without paying its price of about 374 million Syrian pounds (And for the record the official exchange rate for the US dollar, between early 2016 and early 2018, ranged between 322 and 435 Syrian pounds. While in May 2016, it reached 565 Syrian pounds, which was the highest rate in the same period). Furthermore, as the delegate of the ‘Air Force Intelligence Directorate’, the Minister provided several facilities to Tammam.
Moreover, at the end of October 2016, the price of sugar reached about $490 per ton, on the world market. And by calculating the quantity at the beginning of the Al Gharbi’s era (who was appointed Minister of Internal Trade in July 2016), the value of the deal was worth $2,450,000. In December 2015, the price of one kilo of sugar in regions besieged by the regime and its allies―such as Madaya town―reached 30,000 Syrian pounds (Which was equivalent to $101 at least; as official price of the USD on December 1, 2015= 298 Syrian pounds).
In November, the Lebanese website “Al-Modon” reported that the “Air Force Intelligence Directorate” investigated Tammam and a number of its militia leaders against a backdrop of the sugar case. According to a document published by “A-Modon”, the ministry provided him with facilities as “The Air Force Intelligence Directorate’s delegate”; the thing that was condemned by the “The Air Force Intelligence Directorate,” according to the document of September 11, 2019. The Directorate denied its relationship with him, explaining that there was no formal relationship between them, “because he is an unreliable person.”
The Air Force Intelligence Directorate explained that Tammam had previously submitted a request to the former Minister of Internal Trade, asking approval to sell―in a personal capacity―tons of sugar, expressing his willingness to pay the value. The Directorate continued saying that the term “Air Force Intelligence Directorate” wasn’t included in his request but in the “footnote of the former minister”―Abdullah Al Gharbi, without stating his name―which was directed to the director of the “Syrian Trade Institution” to approve the sale for the Directorate. However, the “Air Force Intelligence Directorate” blamed Al Gharbi, saying that “the former minister could have avoided making such a mistake by preparing regular and formal sales contracts that protect public money, because it doesn’t make any sense to bring and sell this amount of sugar to people just because they’re close to the officials.” And the Directorate advised the government to file a complaint to the government’s Central Authority for the Supervision and Inspection.
Furthermore, a source added to “Al-Modon” that “the Directorate” informed the leaders it investigated, that it would take measures against those who bought the foodstuff from the ministry’s institutions after the fighting stops in Idlib region.
Earlier, the media accused Al-Gharbi of selling furnace licenses and subsidized flour to merchants. In addition to accusing his wife’s brother, the Brigadier Ibrahim Jarouj― the director of “Supply in the Administration of Appointments” branch of the government forces―of stealing the army’s rations, receiving bribes and kickbacks, and restricting supply contracts to the Ministry of Internal Trade.
Tammam has returned to work a short while ago. Those who know him say that he is getting more and more isolated. He is not seen in public places or events or even in “Belquis” restaurant that he bought in Mashrouaa Dumar neighborhood. He’s still working in the fields of banking, tourism, and banana, sugar and iron trade. In addition to infrastructure undertakings which include providing cables, tar (asphalt)..etc. Thus, he is the first beneficiary of every asphalt reform procedure across Syria, where he covers and protects those who work at his command
Nevertheless, his work was marred by grave breaches. And a report issued by the Central Authority for the Supervision and Inspection―in March 2011―requested to deprive him of contracting with public authorities for 5 years, because of his involvement in wasting money on fictitious works. In addition to getting approvals to repeat the money disbursement of the same tasks more than once using forged documents. Hence, the Central Authority included in its report on cases of corruption in the governmental General Organization for Telecommunications, a suggestion to bring him to justice for crimes of State fraud and embezzlement of public funds amounting to 5,343,727 Syrian pounds (Which is equivalent to $113,696; as official price of the USD at the time = 47 Syrian pounds).
“Why didn’t the ‘Syrian Institution for Trade’ demand the price of sugar until 2019?” Mr. Al-Hawa wonders. “Tammam sold the quantity on the black market and did not pay for it. Call this anything but a country. It’s not inconceivable that Tammam and Jamil Hassan invested that money in the banana trade that they monopolized.”
Militias, Monuments, and Reconciliation
Since the beginning of the 2011 protests, Tammam has worked in new fields, which began with illegal minings, trafficking in monuments and counterfeiting it. Then recruiting local fighters to the auxiliary militias of “Air Force Intelligence Directorate” down to calling “for national reconciliation”. And because of his authority and influence in the “Air Force Intelligence”, he used to pass the security and military barriers without an inspection, which is how he has probably managed to smuggle the monuments and antiques―that he found―in his private cars.
In August 2013, it was announced through State media outlets that the State’s Directorate‑General of Antiquities and Museums transferred a fourth-century AD mosaic painting of 42 square meters (found by Barheliya’s locals who also informed the official authorities about the painting) to the governmental “National Museum” in Damascus. However, a local source said that Tammam was unable to benefit from this painting at the time. So, he preferred to hand it over to the government, and appear as “good citizen”, and to show what he has―in an indirect way―to those wishing to possess these monuments.
“It was summer, 2013, I was shoveling with a bulldozer behind my house and we discovered a large mosaic,” Abu Tammam Diab spoke to Syria TV, in late April 2017, about the same painting. “When we knew that it was of great archaeological value, we gifted it to President Bashar Al Assad.”
After getting the armed opposition out of Wadi Barada in late January 2017, Tammam took some of the monuments he collected during Wadi Barada’s siege, handed it over to the government and kept the rest. At the time, the “auxiliary forces to Air Force Intelligence” began excavating in the villages of Barheliya, Kafar Alawameed, and Souk Wadi Barada. The locals said that some Russian soldiers, accompanied by the Military Intelligence, visited Barheliya, Kafar Alawameed, and Souk Wadi Barada, on May 15, 2017. They met, along with Tammam, “Dahabjeya” and “Kanizah”, which are two local names for those who work in the illegal excavation of antiquities and precious metals. Some sources close to Tammam said that he rigged a painting to look like an antique and buried it. Then later showed it to the buyers and merchants, demanding loads of money for it. He also offered brokers some other stuff, that he found in the region, dating back to the Greek, Byzantine and Roman eras.
Barheliya was a part of Aram-Damascus (12 BC – 732 BC). During the Roman era, it linked Souk Wadi Barada in Damascus to Baalbek and the Mediterranean coast.
Between 2012 and 2017, going from and to Wadi Barada was extremely difficult. And bribes were paid to the officers, at the government forces barriers that were besieging the area throughout that period, for the entry of foodstuffs and medical supplies. The auxiliary and government forces managed to get the armed opposition out of Wadi Barada to Idlib, in late January 2017. The army destroyed Ein Al Fejeh, Ain Khadra and Bassemeh villages and it’s not yet allowed for its residents to return back to it. The region has experienced difficult living and security conditions and suffered from it, in almost a complete absence of the central government and public services. And in the presence of armed opposition groups that―despite the blockade―managed to expel ISIS from the region in February 2016, many of them were captured and arrested while others fled to Lebanon.
And according to the opposing “Media Corporation in Wadi Barada”, the regime sent Kenana Huwayji―the State TV anchor―to the besieged Wadi Barada, on September 18, 2016 to negotiate “national reconciliation”. Ms. Huwayji met Tammam―along with opposition fighters―and his father as representatives of the region for the “national reconciliation” project.
In his interview with Syria TV, the father said that Tammam―his son―and himself devoted themselves and freed their time to conduct a “national reconciliation” between the regime and the civilians, and they met the villagers and the “non-criminal gunmen”. “The State officials, security, and armed forces were monitoring our movements. Tamam worked day and night, and sometimes didn’t sleep..until the national reconciliation was conducted,” Abu Tammam concluded.
According to confessions released by the opposition in February 2014, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate brought three car bombs to Wadi Barada, in 2013. One of which managed to kill and injure more than 250 people in Souk Wadi Barada. Though the regime’s military was besieging it and despite the absence of its reporter in the region, the Syrian Arab News Agency “SANA” accused “terrorists” of conducting the operation which caused “their” death, without mentioning the details or the source of its information. However, the investigations shared by Al-Nusra Front―which is known now by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham―on Youtube in February 2014, with two people from the region, indicate that the Lieutenant-Colonel, Ali Sheikh Ali, from the Intelligence (who was born in the same village) was involved in the operation. According to local sources, Al-Nusra Front rejected an offer made by Jamil Hassan which was worth 100 million Syrian pounds (equivalent to $193,000) in exchange for the release of one of the suspects in the explosion. Hence, it executed two and released two others for “lack of sufficient evidence.”
Today, the locals think that Tammam’s situation had been negatively affected by Jamil Hassan’s retirement, but his enormous “fortune” won’t be affected. However, the General who’s suffering from cancer nowadays―and who believes the West is “doing their best to destroy Syria as a favor to the global Zionism and other colonial aims”―decided to “defend Syria until his last breath…even if it dragged him to the International Criminal Court.”
“The Air Force Intelligence Directorate denied any relations with Tammam?!” Al Hawa wondered. “He’s a follower of Jamil Hassan; who was born with him and used to wake up by his side. He eats and drinks with him, follows him wherever he goes, and he will die with him!