French chandeliers. Crystal high heels. iTunes downloads of country star Blake Shelton, Chris Brown and the cheeky LMFAO dance hit “Sexy and I Know It.” And some advice from Iran.
This is the life of President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, as seen through thousands of private emails released by the Guardian newspaper that purport to show the Syrian power couple living in luxury, far from suffering as thousands of people die in a bloody rebellion.
The British newspaper obtained more than 3,000 emails "said to have been intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June and early February."
The newspaper sought to verify the emails by checking facts and contacting people whose emails show up in the vast cache. Syrian officials refused to talk to them, it said. The Guardian said its checks suggested the messages were genuine, though it couldn't verify every message in the cache.
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of an uprising against Assad that is estimated to have killed more than 8,000 people. The Assad regime has been condemned by the United Nations for rampant human rights abuses. Syria has insisted it is defending itself from armed terrorists.
The emails are alternately flippant and defiant about the conflict.
Assad apparently made light of his own promised reforms as "the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media …" in an email to Asma. He appears to have sent a close adviser a YouTube video that mocks Arab League monitors sent to Syria for struggling to spot tanks, reenacting the siege of Homs with toys.
While Syrians in embattled cities suffered shortages of food and water, Asma Assad appears to have spent more than $15,000 on chandeliers, candlesticks and other French goods, the Guardian reported.
The violence seems to intrude only rarely in their emails. Asma Assad apparently sent a friend a link to an exclusive offer on crystal high heels that cost nearly $6,000, prompting her friend to reply, "I don't think they're not going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately."
Besides shedding light on the day-to-day existence and outlook of the Assads, the emails appear to include several other revelations, the Guardian reported:
- Assad apparently got advice from Iran or its proxies several times, including recommendations to use "powerful and violent" language in a speech and leak information about its military might.
- The leader has a network of trusted aides who report to him through his private email account, avoiding the Syrian security apparatus, the emails seem to show.
- The Assads were advised to leave Syria by Mayassa al Thani, a daughter of the Qatar emir, who suggested the country might offer them exile, according to the emails.
- Assad avoided U.S. sanctions by using another party with a U.S. address to buy music and apps from iTunes, including songs by Right Said Fred and New Order and a biography of Steve Jobs.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency, President Bashar Assad casts his ballot next to his wife, Asma, at a Damascus polling station during a referendum on the new constitution on Feb. 26. Credit: Associated Press / Syrian Arab News Agency