Maher al-Assad is the younger brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As leader of the Republican Guard he is reported to be the official who is leading a military crackdown in northern Syria on Friday.
The Syrian government promised 'decisive action' after it said 120 security force members on Monday were 'massacred' in a northern region near the border with Turkey. Tanks and troops on Friday moved into the town which media reports say is largely deserted as fearful residents fled.
Both the president and Maher al-Assad are the sons of the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad whose iron rule in Syria is remembered by a brutal crackdown against an uprising in Hama in 1982.
Maher Assad studied at Damascus University and then went into the military, where news reports say he developed a reputation of being a commander prone to using brutal force against opponents. He is also a member of Syria's Baath Party.
In 2005, Maher Assad was mentioned in a preliminary United Nations report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The documents said Assad and a brother-in-law of President Assad (Assef Shawkat) attended a 2004 meeting at which Hariri's assassination was planned.
However, the names of both men were later removed from the public version of the document and their role remains under debate in intelligence circles.
In May, Maher Assad was among 13 Syrian officials targeted in European Union sanctions. The EU imposed the punitive measures for what it called Syria's "violent repression" of peaceful protesters.