Ex-Syrian Defense Minister Defects: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

General ali Habib mahmud defects

General Habib walking along side Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (YouTube)

Ali Habib Mahmud, the former Syrian Defense minister, is making headlines today as news spreads about his defection from his home state. He has fled to Turkey after being smuggled out of Syria on Tuesday night.

Here are five fast facts you need to know about Ali Habib Mahmud.

1. The U.S. May Have Helped Him Defect

In a Reuters exclusive, it was revealed that former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib has defected from Syria and fled to Turkey. This makes him the highest ranking figure to leave Syria for reasons against the Assad regime.

“Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official,” said Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, who is considered one of the most prominent members of the Syrian opposition movement.

The Reuters report adds that Habib fled along with “two or three other” fellow military officers. They were extracted from Syria in a convoy of vehicles.

His defection, according to an opposition Free Syrian Army officer, “appears” to have been coordinated by the United States.

“He will be a top source of information. Habib has had a long military career. He has been effectively under house arrest since he defied Assad and opposed killing protesters,” said Labwani.

2. Habib Is the Former Syrian Minister of Defense

Habib held the position of Syrian Minister of Defense from 2009 to August 2011. He was promoted by Syrian President Bashar Assad on June 3, 2009, replacing Hasan Turkmani, according to the BBC. Turkmani was then appointed as Vice President to Assad. Habib was promoted from the position of Chief of the General Staff of the army.

3. Habib Was Fired for Refusing to Order the Killing of Protesters

Habib was replaced by Dawoud Rajha as Minister of Defense on August 8, 2011. Official state media reported that Habib’s vacancy of his position was due to health reasons, according to alarabiya.net. But in reality, it has been reported that Habib was actually hired for refusing to conduct a violent crackdown on a massive protest in the Syrian city of Hama towards the beginning of the civil war, according to hhassan.com. He was then placed on house arrest and forced to appear on state television pledging his loyalty to the Assad government under duress, according to Reuters. You can view that television appearance above.

Rajiha was assassinated by Syrian opposition forces in July 2012 in violence related to the on-going Syrian civil war.

The day after Habib was fired, rumors began spreading that he was found dead in his home. The Syrian media denied the claim. Habib also appeared on TV after those claims.

4. Habib Has an Extensive Military History

General Habib joined the military in 1959 and attended a military academy. His extensive military resume include leading forces against Israeli troops in Lebanon in 1982, participation in the Gulf War in an effort to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein in 1990, and according to Wikipedia, he also participated in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Habib was promoted to major general in 1998. He was appointed as deputy chief of staff in 2002, and then onto chief of general staff of the Syrian army and the armed forces in 2004, according to BBC.

5. Syrian Media Has Denied Habib’s Defection

Although Western media have begun to widely report of Habib’s defection, Syrian media have feverent denied the claim.

“There is no truth to what the media has reported on the travel of former defense minister Ali Habib Mahmoud outside of Syria and he is still in his home,” Syrian state television quoted an official source as saying, as reported by haaretz.com.