04:21 - Source: CNN
Assad's private e-mails exposed

Story highlights

The e-mails were leaked to CNN by a source in the region

They show Syria's first lady shopping while violence raged

On the day of the Homs massacre, she is inquring about designer shoes

They appear to show Iran's influence on the Syrian regime

CNN —  

A cache of e-mails leaked to CNN is giving extraordinary insight into the life of Syria’s first family during the regime’s move to crush a now-yearlong civilian uprising.

The e-mails were obtained by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” from a source in the region after the e-mail accounts were hacked. They appear to shed light on a family often occupied with YouTube videos and shopping while the brutal crackdown continued, and they also apparently reveal some of Iran’s influence over Syria’s president.

Just before Bashar al-Assad delivered a speech January 10, an aide apparently e-mailed him, saying a political adviser to the Iranian ambassador was encouraging al-Assad to use “strong and violent” language.

In that speech, al-Assad then promised to strike the opposition with an “iron fist.”

There are also e-mails from a man named Hosein Mortada, who – according to his Facebook page – is the Damascus bureau chief for two Iranian news networks. Mortada twice offers advice to the president’s aide, who passes it on to al-Assad.

On Christmas Eve, Mortada apparently wrote to an al-Assad aide that al Qaeda should not be blamed for a recent attack.

“I even received calls from Iran and Hezbollah, being the director of several Iranian and Lebanese channels, and they advised me NOT to even mention al Qaeda being behind the incident … because this would be a serious tactical media error,” Mortada wrote, according to the e-mail.

December 24 was the day Syrian troops began their onslaught on the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs, according to activists. The next day, an apparent e-mail from Mortada said his “friends” in the city reported armed people in front of every door were threatening residents and forcing them to protest.

The next day, with Arab League monitors on the ground in Syria, Mortada apparently e-mailed the same aide that Syrian supporters needed to make sure opposition members did not turn out in large numbers in public.

“We need to take control of public squares during this period,” he wrote. “At the same time, groups affiliated with us will fill the squares … so we don’t leave them open for others, since the opposition is getting ready to move with the presence of the monitors. In this case, we will block their way and (prevent them) from reaching any square.”

CNN has tried to reach Mortada to ask about the authenticity of the e-mails but so far has received no response.

However, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported Mortada denied the correspondence, and accused Western media of making up the story.

“I am only a journalist and head of Press TV and al-Alam news channels offices in Damascus,” he was quoted as saying.

The monitors stayed in Syria for several weeks, visiting various cities and towns as they tried to assess whether the government was upholding its commitment to end the crackdown.

Shortly after the monitors’ arrival in late December, an apparently amused al-Assad sent one of his closest advisers a YouTube video that mocked a theory the regime had hidden tanks during the monitors’ visit.

“Check out this video on YouTube,” al-Assad wrote on December 29, according to the e-mail. The reply in English: “Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!! This is amazing!”

Some of the most interesting insights in the al-Assad e-mails are personal.

In November, as the Syrian military ramped up its attack on Homs, first lady Asma al-Assad seemed more concerned with the latest “Harry Potter” DVD, apparently asking a friend to bring the movie when she comes for a visit.

The first lady in the past year also seems to have spent much of her time online shopping for expensive jewelry, art, and furniture, and e-mailing boutiques in London and Paris.