Nearly 37 years after being exiled to Europe, Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of the former President, Hafez al-Assad, and the uncle of the incumbent President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad, returned to Syria from Spain. Rifaat al-Assad had been exiled from Syria with 200 of his supporters by his brother Hafez in 1984, after leading a failed coup attempt in order to seize power.
According to pro regime newspapers, the Syrian regime president allowed Rifaat al-Assad back into Syria to prevent his imprisonment, after a Paris appeals court upheld a four-year prison sentence issued against him last year for illegally using Syrian government funds to build a real estate empire in France, reportedly valued at €90 million.
On June 17, 2020, a Paris court sentenced Rifaat al-Assad to four years in prison and seizing many of his properties in France. Another lawsuit was filed against Rifaat regarding purchasing nearly 500 apartments in Spain.
Rifaat had led “Saraya al-Defaa” (Defence Battalion) which later turned into the “4th Division” and led by the brother of the Syrian regime’s president Maher al-Assad.
Rifaat al-Assad is also known as the “Butcher of Hama” for his reported role in a massacre in Hama city in 1982, which left thousands of civilians dead. In addition, he has also been linked to the 1980 killings of hundreds of prisoners in Homs Palmyra, as this event is known as “Palmyra prison Massacre”.
Meanwhile, social media activists have reacted to the repots on allowing Rifaat al-Assad to return to Syria, as many activists, who have become so “disappointed”, condemned the return of Rifaat to Syria, while a few activists welcomed the decision, comparing it to the “generous” reconciliation deals granted by Bashar al-Assad to the oppositionists.