BEIRUT — Syrian rebels on Thursday killed a top Syrian intelligence official blacklisted by the United States and European Union in an ambush of his convoy as it passed through an area where Syrian army forces have been battling al Qaida-affiliated rebels for more than a year.
Maj. Gen. Jameh Jameh commanded military intelligence operations in restive Deir el Zour province, one of the most crucial army functions as the government of President Bashar Assad attempts to quell a nearly three-year-long civil war.
He’s best known internationally for having been Syria’s top-ranking official in Beirut when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a February 2005 car bombing that many blame on Syria.
Syrian state television announced that the longtime regime insider had been slain in combat while leading troops in a three-day battle against several major rebel groups. News of his death sparked public demonstrations of mourning in areas loyal to Assad’s regime and tremendous celebratory gunfire in some rebel-held areas.
Deir el Zour links Iraq’s majority Sunni Muslim province of Anbar with Syria’s Raqqa province, whose capital of the same name is the only rebel-held provincial capital in the country. The region has been increasingly dominated by al Qaida’s Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-Assad group that monitors violence in Syria, released some details of the apparent ambush Thursday in an Internet statement, claiming the general died after being shot by a sniper.
The Ayesha bint al Sadiq Brigade, a small rebel group with at least online links to al Qaida, made an unverified claim of responsibility for the attack.
Deir el Zour is home to Syria’s largest oil and natural gas fields, most of which are now either in rebel or local tribal hands. The capital itself remains for the most part under government control.
The Nusra Front, an al Qaida affiliate, and Liwa Tawheed, an Islamist rebel group, had been conducting a series of operations in the area, beginning with two suicide truck bombs against regime outposts near the town.
The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Jameh in 2006 after the Hariri assassination. A special international tribunal indicted four members of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah in the killing, but Syria was widely blamed for the attack. Investigators questioned Jameh in Harari’s death, but he wasn’t charged.
During his tenure in Beirut, Jameh was the subject of intense allegations of rampant corruption. Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976 to 2005.
“He was one of the most notorious and dangerous men in the Syrian regime, and when he worked in Beirut he was maybe the most corrupt,” said a southern Beirut resident who didn’t want his name attached to comments criticizing a member of the Syrian regime’s inner circle. “He was one of the most corrupt men I have ever met. And I was his friend.”
Jameh was one of 11 Syrians whom the European Union blacklisted in 2011 for what it called “the violent repression in Syria.” The sanctions froze any assets Jameh had in Europe and banned him from traveling there. They were renewed in May.
Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent.