How Bashar Assad rose from a comfortable childhood to become one of the deadliest world leaders in modern history

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Bashar al Assad SANA/Handout via REUTERS Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks to French journalists in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on January 9, 2017.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been widely accused of war crimes for the mass torture and killings carried out by his military throughout more than six years of civil war.

Assad has managed to cling to power thanks to a brutal scorched earth campaign on Syrian rebel groups and civilians, with the help of Russian warplanes and Iranian proxy militias.

The embattled president's rise to power was initially met with optimism in the west, where it was believed the younger Assad would not rule with as heavy a hand as his father. But when protests inspired by the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, Assad responded with force.

Here is a look at Assad's rise and continued stronghold on Syria, which has been gripped by one of the most catastrophic conflicts in decades.

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Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Assad is the third child of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his wife Anisa.

Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Assad is the third child of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his wife Anisa.

Source: CNN

As the second son of a president who came to power after a coup, Assad was never expected to take over the presidency from his father.

As the second son of a president who came to power after a coup, Assad was never expected to take over the presidency from his father.

Source: CNN

Assad received a medical degree from the University of Damascus and moved to study ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London.

Assad received a medical degree from the University of Damascus and moved to study ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

After his older brother Bassel was killed in a car accident in 1994, Bashar was immediately called back to Syria to be trained as the heir to his father's presidency.

After his older brother Bassel was killed in a car accident in 1994, Bashar was immediately called back to Syria to be trained as the heir to his father's presidency.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Between 1994-2000, Assad received training at the Syrian military academy and headed an anticorruption campaign organized by his father.

Between 1994-2000, Assad received training at the Syrian military academy and headed an anticorruption campaign organized by his father.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

When Hafez Assad died in 2000, Bashar took his place. Even though the country had an official election, Assad was presented as the only candidate and came away with more than 97 percent of the vote.

When Hafez Assad died in 2000, Bashar took his place. Even though the country had an official election, Assad was presented as the only candidate and came away with more than 97 percent of the vote.

Source: Associated Press

The year he became President, Assad married his wife, the London-born Asma Akhras. Between 2000-2011, the couple had three children.

The year he became President, Assad married his wife, the London-born Asma Akhras. Between 2000-2011, the couple had three children.

Source: CNN and AFP

Assad quickly gained a reputation, however, for cracking down on freedom of expression and detaining and torturing his political opponents.

Assad quickly gained a reputation, however, for cracking down on freedom of expression and detaining and torturing his political opponents.

Source: Human Rights Watch

As the Arab Spring protests rocked the Middle East in 2011, Syrians came out en masse to protest the detention and torture of three teenagers who had scribbled revolutionary graffiti on the wall of their school.

As the Arab Spring protests rocked the Middle East in 2011, Syrians came out en masse to protest the detention and torture of three teenagers who had scribbled revolutionary graffiti on the wall of their school.

Source: BBC

Assad responded with force. By the end of 2011, the country had descended into civil war between Assad loyalists and rebel fighters, many of whom had no prior military experience.

Assad responded with force. By the end of 2011, the country had descended into civil war between Assad loyalists and rebel fighters, many of whom had no prior military experience.

Source: BBC

The war has killed more than 400,000 people, destroyed most of the country's cities and infrastructure, and spawned the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The war has killed more than 400,000 people, destroyed most of the country's cities and infrastructure, and spawned the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Source: BBC

Amid the raging civil war, the Assad regime organized a presidential election in 2014 and won by nearly 90 percent of the vote. The election results were widely denounced as a farce.

Amid the raging civil war, the Assad regime organized a presidential election in 2014 and won by nearly 90 percent of the vote. The election results were widely denounced as a farce.

Source: The Guardian

Assad was accused of killing more than 1,000 people using sarin gas in the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, in 2013. The Obama administration brokered a deal with Russia to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons stockpile, but the regime has been blamed for another sarin attack carried out earlier this month that killed more than 70 people.

Assad was accused of killing more than 1,000 people using sarin gas in the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, in 2013. The Obama administration brokered a deal with Russia to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons stockpile, but the regime has been blamed for another sarin attack carried out earlier this month that killed more than 70 people.

Source: Business Insider

As Assad's government continued to bomb areas with large civilian populations, numerous world leaders and representatives of the UN have accused the Syrian President of war crimes against his own people.

As Assad's government continued to bomb areas with large civilian populations, numerous world leaders and representatives of the UN have accused the Syrian President of war crimes against his own people.

Source: CNN

Russia entered the war on behalf of Assad in September 2015, targeting rebel groups with airstrikes. Many of those groups were backed by Washington, creating a de facto proxy war between Russia, Iran, and Syria, on one side, and the US and its allies on the other.

Russia entered the war on behalf of Assad in September 2015, targeting rebel groups with airstrikes. Many of those groups were backed by Washington, creating a de facto proxy war between Russia, Iran, and Syria, on one side, and the US and its allies on the other.

Source: Al Jazeera

The prolonged fighting has spawned the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Half of Syria's pre-war population is now internally displaced or seeking shelter in the US, Europe, or elsewhere in the Middle East — primarily Jordan and Turkey.

The prolonged fighting has spawned the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Half of Syria's pre-war population is now internally displaced or seeking shelter in the US, Europe, or elsewhere in the Middle East — primarily Jordan and Turkey.

Source: Unicef

Asma Assad, who was once profiled in Vogue, has quickly lost favor in the international community. A video petition asking her to stop the war has been launched on YouTube.

Asma Assad, who was once profiled in Vogue, has quickly lost favor in the international community. A video petition asking her to stop the war has been launched on YouTube.

Source: The Atlantic and YouTube

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said recently that Assad's reign in Syria is "coming to an end." But with Russia and Iran staunchly backing the embattled president, it's unclear how the west will leverage his ouster.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said recently that Assad's reign in Syria is "coming to an end." But with Russia and Iran staunchly backing the embattled president, it's unclear how the west will leverage his ouster.

Source: Business Insider

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