LONDON, Oct. 25 (JTA) — The brother of ailing Syrian President Hafez Assad has reportedly offered British mercenaries tens of thousands of dollars to join his side in a struggle for Syrian succession.
According to the London Sunday Times, the mercenaries were approached in London and asked to help protect Rifa’at Assad’s property in the port city of Latakia, which has been repeatedly assaulted during the past month by forces loyal to the president.
The heavily guarded compound was most recently attacked last week, ostensibly to destroy an “illegal port” that Rifa’at had constructed.
The attacks on Rifa’at’s loyalists and property are regarded as attempts to weaken him and his son, Sumer, who lives in London.
They are perceived to be seeking to undermine the possible transition of power from Hafez to his son, Bashar.
Sources close to Rifa’at told JTA they believe the attacks on Rifa’at’s interests have been prompted by a serious deterioration in the health of the Syrian president, for whom the question of succession is now assumed to have become an urgent priority.
Rifa’at was dismissed as vice president of Syria last year and was also expelled from the ruling Ba’ath Party.
The main target in Rifa’at’s quest to raise a force abroad was reportedly Dean Shelley, a veteran mercenary.
According to Shelley, he was telephoned Oct. 10 by a caller who identified himself as “Richard” and said he was acting on behalf of an Arab client who wanted Shelley to recruit about 20 mercenaries.
When the two met in London, Shelley discovered that “Richard,” a former British soldier, was working for a supporter of Rifa’at in London.
He told Shelley he should have his men in place for “a small paramilitary operation in a foreign country” on Oct. 26.
When they again met in London two days later, “Richard” revealed that the foreign country was Syria and that the mercenaries were needed to launch a counteroffensive against the Syrian presidential forces who had attacked Rifa’at’s Latakia residence.
Last week, however, “Richard” was summoned to another urgent meeting with his boss and told that the mission was cancelled.
Shelley is now reported to be claiming some $5,000 in fees and expenses.