Assef Shawkat, the son-in-law of President Hafez al-Assad, in 1996

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Assef Shawkat was born on January 15, 1950 to a middle class Alawite family in Tartous. He studied law then history at Damascus University before joining the Syrian Army in the 1970s. He rose in rank steadily, becoming an officer in the Defense Companies that were commanded by Hafez al-Assad’s younger brother, Rifaat, in 1982. During his college years he met and fell in love with Bushra al-Assad, the President’s daughter, who was studying at the Faculty of Pharmacy at Damascus University. The relationship was frowned upon by Bushra’s brother Basel, an officer in the Republican Guard, and her father, who claimed that Shawkat was married, divorced, had children, and was ten years her senior. Briefly in 1993, Basel had Shawkat jailed but after his death in 1994, Shawkat and Bushra got married. In 2005, he was made director of Military Intelligence at a time when world media was abuzz with speculation that he had ordered the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. In July 2009, he was made Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the Syrian Army. In September 2011, he was appointed Deputy Defense Minister and kept this job until he was killed in a bomb attack, along with other senior officers, on July 18, 2012.