Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman allegedly ordered detention of three senior members of the royal family, including the king’s brother, over unclear reasons, US media outlets reported late Friday.
The move was described as an attempt by the crown prince to tighten his grip on power, as the arrested members may threaten his power. Two of the arrested were among the kingdom’s most influential figures.
However, the detentions have not been acknowledged by the Saudi government so far, and it remains unclear what are the reasons behind them.
The alleged detained members were Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, brother of Saudi King Salman; Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the king’s nephew; and Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, the king’s other nephew.
The detentions were first revealed by the Wall Street Journal, which reported two arrests early Friday by the Royal Court’s guards who arrived at the homes of the royals wearing masks and dressed in black, and searched the properties.
Saudis sources familiar with the arrests said Friday that it was unclear where the new detainees were held, and if they might face criminal charges, or if they might soon be released, but Bloomberg reported that the arrest came due to coup attempt, however, Daily News Egypt could not confirm the report.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 78, he is the youngest of the sons of the kingdom founder King Abdulaziz Al Saud, and was for a time the great hope of family members and others to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed from taking over the throne.
Prince Ahmed returned last Wednesday from a trip abroad for falconry — a popular pastime among Gulf royals — and he was arrested the next day, according to a person close to the family, New York Times reported.
Prince Ahmed is a figure of special gravitas in the family because he is King Salman’s only surviving full brother. Both are sons of the kingdom’s founder, and succession had previously passed from brother to brother, until King Salman elevated his own son to crown prince in 2017.
Prince Ahmed has not appeared significantly since he returned to Riyadh in October 2018 after two and a half months abroad. During this trip, he appeared to criticise the Saudi leadership in response to protesters in London chanting the fall of the Al-Saud family.
The protesters were chanting against the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and Prince Ahmed tried to distance the rest of the royal family from responsibility.
Critics of Crown Prince Mohammed adopted Prince Ahmed as a hero after he appeared to criticise the kingdom’s current policies during an encounter with protesters in London in 2018.
Previously, international media outlets reported that Prince Ahmed was among only three people in the Allegiance Council, which includes senior members of the ruling family, who opposed Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to be crowned and added that Prince Muhammad bin Nayef’s movements have been restricted and monitored since that time.
This detention process comes at a time when the Crown Prince was implementing ambitious social and economic reforms, including an initial public offering of the Saudi oil giant Aramco on the local stock exchange last December.
Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, 60, was the crown prince of King Salman from April 2015 until June 2017, and was replaced by Mohammed bin Salman.
He is one of the most powerful personalities of the Saudi family, as he was an assistant to the Minister of Interior his father Prince Nayef for 13 years and then his uncle Ahmed for 6 months, then he officially took over the Ministry of the Interior and remained until 2015 in King Salman’s time.
During his time as interior minister, Bin Nayef had developed close ties with American intelligence agencies. He was ousted from both of those roles by the current crown prince in 2017 and has been put under house arrest since then, according to New York Times.
In 2017, Saudi authorities arrested dozens of royal family symbols, ministers, and businesspeople, and all of them were detained at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh on orders from the Saudi crown prince, over charges of corruption.
Mohamed bin Salman has been seen as the true ruler of the kingdom since his allegiance in 2017. At that time, the Saudi King delegated most of his responsibilities to his son, but he still presides over the weekly cabinet meetings and receives foreign guests.
The young prince at the time received praise from the international community for his pledge to implement a series of economic and social reforms in Saudi Arabia. Also, he received praise at home for limiting social restrictions in the kingdom and opening up the economy. However, his image was negatively impacted after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemen war.