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Bashar al-Assad's cousin jailed for 20 years for road rage murder

Assad had previously promised to 'punish the perpetrator, whoever he is' for murder of senior general in Latakia driving dispute
Suleiman al-Assad (Twitter)

The cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been reportedly sentenced to 20 years in jail over a road rage incident in which he killed a senior general.

The killing of Colonel Hassan Sheikh by Suleiman al-Assad provoked outrage from many in the pro-Assad heartlands with some calling for his execution.

"A court in Latakia on Thursday sentenced Suleiman al-Assad to 20 years in prison for the murder of Colonel Hassan al-Sheikh," a security source said.

The murder took place in August on the road between Latakia city and Qardaha, the ancestral village of the Assad family.

Suleiman al-Assad reportedly killed Sheikh after he "overtook him at a crossroads".

Latakia province is an Assad stronghold and heartland of the Alawite minority to which the president, Sheikh and Suleiman al-Assad all belong. 

Sheikh's relatives said at the time that the president had pledged "to punish the perpetrator, whoever he is".

Suleiman al-Assad's father, Hilal al-Assad, a first cousin of the president, headed the defence forces in Latakia city before he was killed in March 2014 fighting in nearby Kasab.

Joshua Landis, a Syrian analyst, said that Suleiman al-Assad's behaviour had enraged many in the pro-Assad camp who saw him as getting preferential treatment.

"A lot of young guys sitting at road blocks, they feel like chopped meat to be sacrificed," he said, speaking to Vice News. "When you get an honoured colonel shot because of some road rage issue, it underscores how the burden of this terrible war is not being shared equally."

Syria's Alawites stand behind the Assad government fearing an existential threat from the Sunni militants in the opposition. However, the heavy death toll in the Syrian army - more than 80,000 troops and irregular fighters are thought to have been killed - means that there has been mounting frustration at the government's handling of the war.

"Other Alawites don't feel the Assads are sharing the burden," Landis said. "There are many Alawites tweeting, or on Facebook saying 'If we had only done something a few years ago, we wouldn't be in this crappy situation we are today."