In a scene that sounds as if it was taken out of a spy movie, Israeli naval commandos are said to have assassinated President Bashar Assad’s top security aide as he hosted a dinner party at his beachfront villa in the coastal city of Tartus in 2008.
General Muhammad Suleiman was killed after multiple bullets hit him in the head and neck as he sat around a crowded dinner table in the summer of 2008, the Intercept reported on Wednesday.
Citing recently leaked NSA documents, the report said that Israel’s elite naval commandos of Shayetet 13 stormed into Suleiman’s seaside vacation from the beach and shot the general before quickly escaping back to the sea.
According to the report, the intelligence files confirm for the first time that Suleiman was the target of an Israeli military operation, ending years of speculation that it was in fact an internal dispute that had resulted in the general’s assassination.
The document was provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who intermittently leaked thousands of classified documents from the American intelligence agency beginning in 2013.
In a top-secret entry in the NSA internal Wiki, Intellipedia, the assassination was attributed to “Israeli naval commandos.” The entry called “Manhunting Timeline” described the hit as the “first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate government official.”
The report noted that the entry was marked as “SI,” meaning that the US obtained the intelligence by monitoring communications signals.
“We’ve had access to Israeli military communications for some time,” the Intercept quoted a former US intelligence officer as saying.
In addition to serving as Assad’s chief military and intelligence adviser, Suleiman was in charge of the construction and security of the Syrian nuclear facility of Deir ez-Zor.
The facility was destroyed by Israel in an air raid 11 months earlier.
Syria suppressed the news of Suleiman’s assassination for four days following his death before pointing the finger at Israel.
A separate leaked classified cable revealed that Syrian investigators had turned up $80 million at Suleiman’s home and redirected the investigation from his assassination to how he obtained the money. The money cast doubt on Suleiman’s loyalty to Assad and sparked the rumors that he had been killed over an internal dispute.
Suleiman’s assassination would be the second Israeli hit inside Syria that year. In February 2008, Hezbollah’s international operations chief was killed in a joint Israeli-US operation in the Syrian capital. Imad Mughniyah was killed by a car bomb.
Both the NSA and the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond to several requests for comment by the Intercept.