Assad’s wife: I turned down chance to ‘run from Syria’

ALEPPO, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 9:  Asmaa al-Assad, wife of the Syrian President attends the first national childhood conference, February 9, 2004 in Aleppo in the north of Syria. In attending the gathering, the first lady is breaking with tradition for the wife of the president to take role in public life.  (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)
Who is the Syrian first lady?
02:50 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

First lady says offers to leave Syria were attempt to "shatter people's confidence" in her husband

Instagram account portrays glamorous and caring "Syrian Princess Diana"

CNN  — 

Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad is standing by her man, telling a Russian TV network that she refused offers to flee the war-torn country with her children.

The British-born wife of President Bashar al-Assad said she turned down guarantees of protection and financial security in exchange for leaving Syria.

“Yes I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria, or rather to run from Syria,” said Asma in the interview published on the Syrian Presidency’s site on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after,” she continued. “It was never about my well-being or my children. It was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president.”

The 41-year-old mother of three added: “I’ve been here since the beginning, and I never thought of being anywhere else at all.”

Who is the real Asma?

Scroll through the Syria presidency’s Instagram feed and you’ll find images of Asma cradling small children, sitting by the bedside of injured war victims and touring sites with local women.

Indeed, in the years before the country’s five-year civil war, Asma al-Assad was often compared to Britain’s glamorous and caring Princess Diana.

A 2011 Vogue profile of the Syrian first lady called her a “rose in the desert,” photographed in a luxurious fuchsia pashmina and teetering in her beloved Christian Louboutin heels.

What it didn’t mention was her country’s abysmal human rights record. After intense criticism in the media, Vogue later removed the story from its website.

Five years on, as Syrian forces backed by Russian air power continue their brutal bombardment of Aleppo, images of dead children trapped beneath the rubble appear at odds with the presidency’s highly curated Instagram account.

Read more: UN’s special envoy warns ‘Aleppo will not be there anymore’

Comments beside the Instagram photos of Asma range from the adoring – “Elegant as always, our first lady” – to the highly critical – “She pretends to care like a pro.”

This is aleppo1
This is Aleppo...
00:45 - Source: CNN

From finance adviser to first lady

The future first lady was born in London to Syrian cardiologist Fawaz Akhras and his wife, Sahar Otri, a diplomat at the Syrian Embassy.

Raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Acton in West London, Asma al-Akhras obtained degrees in computer science and French literature at Kings College.

After graduating she worked for three years in finance for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, according to author and journalist Andrew Tabler, who previously worked with her.

Tabler said her colleagues had no idea she was dating ophthalmologist Bashar al-Assad, one of the sons of then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, after reportedly meeting him while she vacationed with her family in Syria.

After the death of Bashar’s father in June 2000, he became president. That December, the couple married.

Almost 16 years later, the Syrian first lady remains a controversial figure living in the shadow of her husband’s regime – one who is also reportedly unwilling to leave his side.

CNN’s Schams Elwazer and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report