Syrian authorities have arrested Suleiman al-Assad, a cousin of the president accused of killing a military officer in a road rage incident, official news agency SANA said Monday.
“Suleiman Hilal al-Assad has been arrested and transferred to the appropriate authorities,” SANA reported, without adding details.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, citing local sources, said he was detained on the road between Latakia and Qardaha, President Bashar al-Assad’s ancestral village.
Suleiman al-Assad, a first cousin once removed of the president, is accused of shooting dead air force Colonel Hassan al-Sheikh in an apparent road rage incident on Thursday evening.
The incident took place in the coastal province of Latakia that is a regime stronghold and heartland of the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs.
Both Sheikh and his alleged killer are Alawites, and the incident caused tensions in Latakia’s provincial capital, where more than 1,000 people Saturday protested the murder demanding justice.
Earlier Monday, Syrian daily Al-Watan quoted Sheikh’s relatives as saying the president had pledged the crime would not go unpunished.
Sheikh’s wife Mayssa Ghanem told the paper, which is close to the government, that she had “received a promise from President Assad to punish the perpetrator, whoever he is.”
The pledge was passed to her by “official delegations that came to Latakia to express their sympathies,” she said.
“I have confidence in the word of the president, who is personally taking charge. We will get our rights.”
Suleiman al-Assad killed Sheikh after the colonel reportedly overtook him at a crossroads in Latakia.
The alleged killer’s father, Hilal al-Assad, a first cousin of the president, headed the defence forces in the Mediterranean city before his death in March 2014 clashes with rebels in nearby Kasab.
Sheikh’s brother Nasser, who was with the colonel at the time of his death, told Al-Watan he witnessed the victim being “killed in cold blood because he did not give way in a traffic jam.”
He hoped “the blood of my brother will save us from these criminal actions that kill people on the streets,” in an apparent reference to the growing pro-regime militias in war-strewn Syria that are heavily-armed and often act with impunity.
Latakia governor Ibrahim Khodr al-Salem, who paid condolences to the family on behalf of the presidency, assured them that “your rights will not be set aside so long as President Assad is here,” Al-Watan reported.