Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has detained three senior Saudi princes including Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, and Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, the king’s nephew, for allegedly planning a coup, sources with knowledge of the matter said. In effect, MbS detained CIA backed Senior Saudi Princes.
The move indicates MbS fears that President Trump might lose his bid for a second term in the White House. Trump has been a staunch supporter of MbS. Should that happen, MbS would be vulnerable to an internal coup.
King Salman appointed his immature son as the Crown Prince.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, King Salman’s son and de facto ruler of the country has moved to consolidate power since ousting Mohammad bin Nayef as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup.
MBS DETAINED CIA BACKED SENIOR SAUDI PRINCES
Later that year, he arrested several royals and other prominent Saudis. He held them for months at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a shakedown campaign that caused shockwaves at home and abroad. MbS even tortured many of the royals and businessmen he arrested.
A recent book accused MbS of holding his mother under detention because she disapproved of her son’s capabilities to lead.
Five sources told Reuters that Prince Ahmed and Mohammad bin Nayef were detained in the latest operation. Three of the sources, including a regional source, said MbS ordered Mohammad bin Nayef and his half-brother, Nawaf, picked up at a private desert camp on Friday. Two sources said Ahmed was taken from his home.
Crown Prince Mohammad “accused them of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat,” the regional source said.
“With these arrests, MbS consolidated his full grip on power. It’s over with this purge,” the source added, indicating that no rivals remain to challenge his succession to the throne.
Another source said MbS accused the princes of “treason”. A third source said they had been discussing a coup with the support of powerful tribes but had not reached advanced stages.
The Saudi government media office did not respond to a request for comment on the detentions.
It was unclear where the princes are being held. There was no way to contact them for comment on the coup allegations.
“They (princes) have to be treated with dignity,” the third source said, referring to their stature within the family.
IS KING SALMAN MENTALLY SOUND?
The regional source and another source said King Salman had approved the move. Some sources describe King Salman as mentally incapacitated.
The 84-year-old monarch met British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Thursday in Riyadh. King Salman and the crown prince attended a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Crown Prince Mohammad, 34, has fueled resentment among some prominent branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power. Some critics have questioned his ability to lead after ordering the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi; as well as his response to Iran attacking Saudi oil infrastructure last year.
They said royals seeking to change the line of succession view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice who would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and the CIA.
Saudi authorities have not commented on issues of succession or criticism of the crown prince’s leadership. Prince Mohammad is popular among Saudi youth.
Some critics of the crown prince, including a dissident prince in exile, posted pictures of Prince Ahmed, pledging allegiance to him.
KING SUPPORTS SON
Saudi insiders and Western diplomats say the family is unlikely to oppose the crown prince while the king is alive. They claim that the aging monarch would not turn against his favorite son.
The detentions serve as a reminder to the family “not to cross MbS in any way”, said Steffen Hertog at the London School of Economics.
It is unlikely to be a major, advanced plot to change the Saudi leadership, given that none of the individuals arrested have any significant access to state resources anymore.
Prince Ahmed has kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 after 2-1/2 months abroad. Saudi watchers have said there is no evidence he is willing to take the throne. During that trip abroad, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty.
OPPOSITION TO MBS
Ahmed was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017. The King appoints only senior princes to the Allegiance Council.
MbS restricted the movements of Mohammad bin Nayef, who as a senior interior ministry official had deep ties to the U.S. security and intelligence apparatus.
Nawaf, in his early 30s, has a much lower profile.
The latest detentions come at a time of heightened tension with arch-rival Iran and as the crown prince implements social and economic reforms, including an initial public offering by oil giant Aramco on the domestic bourse last December. Riyadh also holds the presidency of the Group of 20 major economies.
The crown prince has been lauded for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom.
But he has come under international criticism over the Yemen war; as well as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the detention of women’s rights activists seen as part of a crackdown on dissent.
Reuters contributed to this article.