THOUSANDS of emails purported to be from the private accounts of Bashar Assad and his wife show the Syrian president took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule and bypassed US sanctions to shop on iTunes.
The Guardian newspaper reported today that it got the trove of emails from a member of the Syrian opposition. The documents are said to have been intercepted by members of the Supreme Council of the Revolution between June and early February.
The emails paint a picture of a ruling family that seems far removed from an uprising that has pushed the Arab nation to the brink of civil war, killing more than 7500 people over the past year, according to international observers.
According to The Guardian, the Syrian first lady, Asma Assad, spent tens of thousands of dollars buying luxury goods online, including gold jewellery laden with gems, as well as chandeliers and furniture.
The purported emails also offer insight into the president's inner circle. According to The Guardian, the emails show that Mr Assad has received advice from Iran. Ahead of a speech in December, Mr Assad's media consultant said his advice to the president was based on "consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador".
The memo advised Mr Assad to use "powerful and violent" language and encouraged the regime to "leak more information related to our military capability" to convince the public that it could withstand a military challenge.
According to the purported emails from Mr Assad, the president also was briefed in detail about the presence of Western journalists in the rebel-held Baba Amr district of Homs, and he was urged to "tighten the security grip" there in November, the report said.
Several foreign journalists were among the hundreds of people killed in Homs over the past year.
The Guardian published a lengthy explanation of why it believes the emails are genuine, saying the cache includes private information, such as family photographs and videos, a scan of the president's identity card and other details that, it said, "would be difficult for even the best-resourced hoaxer or intelligence agency to gather or fabricate".
The sam(at)alshahba.com and ak(at)alshahba.com accounts that activists say were used by Bashar Assad and his wife "communicate regularly and in affectionate terms with the wider family and advisers, some of whose email addresses are easily verified", the newspaper said.
Still, The Guardian acknowledged that the verification process does not rule out the possibility that there are fake emails in the cache.
The shopping habits of the president and first lady are the subject of many of the missives.
On July 19, according to the purported emails quoted by The Guardian, Asma Assad placed an order with her cousin for four necklaces from Paris: "1 turquoise with yellow gold diamonds and a small pave on side" as well as a "full black onyx" and "amethyst with white gold diamonds".
When she learned there would be a delay in the order, she wrote that she did not mind, the report said.
"I am absolutely clueless when it comes to fine jewellery!" she wrote, before signing off: "Kisses to you both, and don't worry, we are well!"
The trove of quoted messages suggests a loving relationship between the president and first lady.
In one email, Asma Assad informs her husband she will be done at 5pm. The president responds by making light of the changes he has promised in Syria, saying: "This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media......."
Another email has Mr Assad sending his wife a clip from America's Got Talent showing "the best illusion of all time". The trick shows a man appearing to saw another man in half and then putting him back together again.
According to The Guardian, Mr Assad bypassed US sanctions by registering his iTunes account in another name with a New York address.
The report said he sent his wife an iTunes file of the US country star Blake Shelton singing God Gave Me You.