Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Abducted cousin of Bashar Al Assad's wife released in Lebanon

Murhaf Al Akhras went missing a week earlier while driving through the Bekaa Valley on his way to Syria

Murhaf Al Akhras is a cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's wife, Asma. Syrian Presidency Facebook Page
Murhaf Al Akhras is a cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's wife, Asma. Syrian Presidency Facebook Page

A relative of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s wife was released a week after being abducted while driving to Syria, according to the state-run National News Agency.

The agency reported on Thursday morning that Murhaf Al Akhras “was released during the night after intensive efforts by Lebanese officials”, particularly Abbas Ibrahim, the country’s director of General Security.

Mr Al Akhras – who is a cousin of Mr Al Assad’s wife, Asma – went missing between the towns of Aley and Chtaura last week as he was travelling through the Baqaa region along a road between Beirut and Damascus.

The area is known for its lawlessness and is frequently the site of kidnappings, but Mr Al Akhras was released without a ransom being paid.

“It’s quite bold to kidnap a member of Assad’s close circle because the Lebanese police, Hezbollah and the Syrian Mukhabarat [secret service] will be looking for him,” Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor at the University of Lyon in France and an expert on Syria, told The National.

“It would be too risky to keep him for ransom, or his kidnappers are completely unaware of the risks.”

Hezbollah, a Syrian ally with a powerful militia, has a strong presence in the area.

Mr Balanche said the kidnappers originally demanded $10 million (Dh36.7m) for Mr Al Akhras’s release, but Lebanese television channel LBCI reported that the family were not contacted by the kidnappers.

According to L’Orient-Le Jour, Mr Al Akhras, who is in his 40s, runs a sugar processing plant in Homs owned by his father, Tarif Al Akhras.

The businessman, 68, is one of Syria’s most important entrepreneurs and a former chairman of the Homs Chamber of Commerce.

He was sanctioned by the EU, Switzerland and Canada in the first year of the Syrian uprising in 2011 for supporting the regime’s violent response to protesters.

The EU accused Tarif Al Akhras of providing “industrial and residential premises for improvised detention camps, as well as logistical support for the regime (buses and tank loaders)”.

According to the EU, he is the founder of Akhras Group, which trades in commodities. His appeal to be removed from the EU sanctions list was rejected in 2016.

Updated: September 19, 2019 08:58 PM

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