Prominent Syrian defector thanks “French intelligence” for help

Manaf Tlass
A senior Syrian military commander, whose public defection to the rebel side last summer made news headlines around the world, has thanked the French intelligence services for helping him defect.  Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a member of the Central Committee of the Baath Party and commander of the 10th Brigade of Syria’s elite Republican Guard, secretly left the country in early July. On July 6, he resurfaced in Paris and said he had defected to the rebel-led Free Syrian Army (FSA). His defection was hailed by both the FSA and Western powers as “an enormous blow” to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His central position in Syria’s governing apparatus aside, Tlass was a major symbolic figurehead for the regime. His father, Mustafa Tlass, was Syria’s Minister of Defense for over three decades during the reign of Hafez al-Assad, the current President’s father. Consequently, the Tlass family has long been fully integrated in the Syrian political and military elite that has run the country for nearly half a century.  Although there were reports that the extended Tlass family was considered too close to the rebels by the Assad regime, Tlass’ defection in July came as a shock to most Syrians. The General reportedly disappeared from his post sometime in early July, shortly after sending his wife and son to Beirut, Lebanon. Rumor has it that he secretly traveled to Turkey and from there to Paris, France, either directly or after joining his family in Lebanon. The details of his defection, however, remain obscure. Speaking on Monday to French television channel BFM, Tlass, who is now based in Paris, said he was helped in “getting out of Syria” by what he called “the French services” —presumably the French intelligence services. When the French journalist asked him to clarify how exactly he was able to leave Syria, Tlass responded that he would rather not be drawn into a discussion on the details of his escape, because it could place his contacts inside Syria in danger. Instead, the prominent Syrian defector said he was grateful to the “French services for helping me get out of Syria, and I thank them for that”. He also told BFM TV that, prior to escaping to Paris, he had been a ‘defector-in-place’ for over a year, having “defected from the regime […] on the third month of the revolution”. Considering that the popular uprising against the al-Assad regime began in March of 2011, it would mean that General Tlass secretly switched to the opposition —and possibly became a French intelligence asset— sometime in June of 2011, over a year prior to his escape from Syria. He told his French interviewer that he had been holding secret meetings “with the revolutionaries […] since the start of the revolution” and decided to “defect while staying in my office”. The French government has refused to comment on General Tlass’ claims.

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