• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Local doctor describes Bashar Assad before he became Syrian president

September 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is considered one of the most brutal dictators in the world. But what was he like before he took the reins of power? Eyewitness News spoke with a local doctor who went to school with Assad. He gave us an exclusive look inside the mind of the Syrian leader.

Dr. Fawaz Faisal is a neurologist based in Burbank. He grew up in Syria. He said his childhood was mostly happy. But he'll never forget when then-President Hafaz al-Assad cracked down on political opponents.

Faisal's family hid political refugees in their basement.

"I remember vividly that there were about 20 people living in that ground floor," said Faisal.

That memory helped inspire Faisal to become a doctor. He graduated from the University of Damascus Medical School. He played basketball there, where he met a classmate named Bashar al-Assad, who at the time didn't know he'd one day be president.

"He would come to the games. He came to the practice actually," said Faisal. "He was a nice guy. He was always surrounded by some people who were not so nice."

Faisal says Bashar's brother, Bassel, then the president in waiting, led a cheating scam on the basketball court.

"I went to talk to Bashar and I said, 'Listen Bashar, it's your brother who is doing this, can you talk to him about it? This is not fair.' He said basically that couldn't do anything about it," said Faisal.

Faisal quickly learned not to talk about politics at school.

"I remember students being pulled from the class by security officers and I know of two who disappeared forever," said Faisal.

When Bassel died suddenly in a car crash, Bashar's medical studies ended and his military service intensified.

Meanwhile, Faisal moved to America. Faisal's office walls are covered with degrees. He studied at the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University. He took some of that knowledge back to Syria on several medical missions.

"It was the most moving experience that I've had in my life," said Faisal.

On recent trips, Faisal traveled to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The U.N. says more than two million Syrians are now refugees, half of them are children.

Faisal says however the U.S. chooses to respond to the 1,400 Syrians recently killed in a chemical weapons attack, he hopes we don't forget about the more than 100,000 killed by conventional weapons. It's a number rising every day.

"It doesn't matter how you are getting killed, you're still getting killed," said Faisal. "We should not stop at the chemical weapons issue. We should move forward and try and solve this problem peacefully, hopefully, and put an end to the killing."


Load Comments