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SYRIA: Is mystery gunman President Bashar Assad's brother, Maher?

May 7, 2011 |  8:12 am

You're the influential brother of your nation's powerful dictator, now being challenged by ragtag groups of peaceful protesters calling for the downfall of your regime and capturing the imagination of the world, which has begun to condemn you and impose sanctions on you and your family.

Maybe you decide to reevaluate your government's actions and consider some fresh, dramatic reforms.

Maher_al-AssadMaybe you start sizing up mansions in the north of Tehran, the capital of your regime's sole steadfast ally, Iran. 

Or maybe you pick up a gun and start shooting at the protesters just to release some anger.

According to activists and observers who've examined an extraordinary video (above) posted to the Internet, that's exactly what Maher Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad, did on Friday, gleefully shooting at unarmed protesters as they chanted for the downfall of his regime in the Barzeh suburb of Damascus.

Syria-maher-assadSyrian authorities in Damascus have barred foreign journalists from Syria. 

The video footage could not be verified.

It's also not clear whether he's firing live ammunition or tear gas canisters straight into a crowd of what appear to be peaceful protesters calling out, "The people want the overthrow of the regime."

But the man shooting at the protesters in the video does bear a a certain resemblance to Bashar's brother.

The gruff military commander oversees the Syrian army's 4th Armored Division, which has been the premier tool used by the regime in its attempt to crush a nonviolent, pro-democracy movement. 

And he does appear to be some kind of VIP.

The man in the leather jacket is surrounded not only by police officers in riot gear, and possibly intelligence officers, but bands of plainclothes pro-government strongmen, called shabiha by the protesters, who are trying to shield his face, presumably from the scrutiny of cellphone cameras.

Apparently, they didn't consider that someone from behind could be filming the scene. 

SYRIA: Activists report security forces kill three women in Baniyas

SYRIA: Protesters issue online appeal for President Assad to hold elections

Clinton condemns Syrian crackdown on protesters

-- Los Angeles Times

Video: Crowd control Syrian-style in the streets of Barzeh, a suburb of Damascus. Credit: YouTube

Top photo: An undated photograph of Maher Assad. Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency

Bottom photo: A still image taken from an amateur video showing a man in a leather jacket who opened fire on protesters. Credit: YouTube

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