Saudi authorities have detained three royal family members including two senior princes, according to the Wall Street Journal, signaling the crown prince is further tightening his grip on power.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the last living brother of King Salman, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef were taken from their homes early on Friday by royal guards after being accused of treason. The pair were allegedly plotting to oust King Salman and the son he has designated to succeed him, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The New York Times also reported the detentions, adding that Prince Nayef’s younger brother Prince Nawaf bin Nayef had also been detained.
Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The detentions mark the latest crackdown by the de facto ruler crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has consolidated his reign with the imprisonment of prominent clerics and activists as well as princes and business elites.
The detentions were the latest demonstration of the crown prince’s willingness to take extraordinary measures to quash any perceived rival.
Crown Prince Mohammed first demonstrated his iron grip on the kingdom in 2017 by locking up hundreds of royal relatives and wealthy Saudi businessmen in a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
The next year, he gained international notoriety by allegedly presiding over the killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – an assassination that American intelligence agencies believe the prince ordered.
And he has refused to back down from a five-year-long military intervention in Yemen that has mired the Saudis in a bloody stalemate and produced a humanitarian disaster.
The detentions come at a time when fears about the impact of the coronavirus have slashed the price of oil, the main source of the kingdom’s revenue, and the crown prince’s celebrated plans to diversify the Saudi economy have fallen behind his promises.
The detentions were not announced by the Saudi government, and it remains unclear what prompted them. They were disclosed on Friday by a member of the royal family and a person close to the clan. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of the danger of speaking out publicly about the crown prince.
A former senior United States official also confirmed the detentions.
The most senior royal detained was Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz – the younger brother of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – who, for a time, had been the great hope of family members and other critics who wished to block Crown Prince Mohammed, 34, from taking the throne.
The former crown prince who was arrested, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, is also a former interior minister and long-time American favourite. He had developed close ties with US intelligence agencies during years of work together while he was interior minister.
He was ousted from both of those roles by the current crown prince in 2017 and he has effectively been under house arrest since then. His younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, was also detained.
One possible motive for the detentions may have to do with the ageing of Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman, 84. The crown prince could be seeking to lock down potential challengers to his own succession before his father dies or abdicates the throne.
None of the princes he detained, however, had given any indication that they intended to challenge Crown Prince Mohammed. (Source: The Straits Times)