At least 20 princes have reportedly been detained in a stunning purge of princes, including King Salman’s brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and his nephew, on suspicions of plotting a coup against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, often referred to as MBS.
A report by the Middle East Eye (MEE) said Saturday that: “Up to 20 princes have been arrested for allegedly being part of a coup to overthrow the crown prince.” The MEE report claimed that four names had already been ascertained, including: “Prince Ahmed; his son Prince Nayef bin Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, Head of Land Forces Intelligence and Security Authority; the former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef; and his half brother Nawaf.” King Salman’s nephew is “the highest-ranking member of the Saudi Armed Forces known to be arrested so far,” the MEE report also said.
The arrests on Friday of the king’s younger and much-loved brother, Prince Ahmed, as well as the king’s nephew and former counterterrorism czar, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, came after a number of observations had been made that were provocative to leadership, one insider in Saudi Arabia with knowledge of the arrests reported.
Both princes had served previously in the post of interior minister, overseeing security and surveillance inside the kingdom.
The move came as a surprise, given that Nayef, 60, was widely known to be under close surveillance since he was shunted out of the line of succession by the king’s son in mid-2017, a person close to the royal court said.
The arrest of Prince Ahmed, 78, was also unexpected as he is the king’s full younger brother and also a senior member of the ruling Al Saud family.
Prince Ahmed, however, has long held unfavorable views of the 34-year-old crown prince and was one of just a few senior princes to abstain from pledging allegiance to him when the young royal sidelined more senior princes to become first in line to the throne.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the arrests, quoting unidentified sources allied with the royal court as saying the princes were plotting a palace coup that would halt the rise of the crown prince. The Journal has reported that the sweep had since broadened to include dozens of Interior Ministry officials, senior army officers and others suspected of supporting a coup attempt.
The two people who talked to The Associated Press declined to characterize the actions by the two princes as a coup attempt and agreed to discuss the highly sensitive security matter only if granted anonymity.
One added that the arrests had been made to send a message to those in the royal family feeling disenfranchised to stop grumbling and toe the line, saying that if Prince Ahmed could be arrested, any prince could and would be. Prince Ahmed was seen as a person whom royals vexed with the crown prince’s grip on power could look to, the person said. There has been no official comment from Saudi authorities on the arrests.
The crown prince has succeeded in a few short years at sweeping aside any competition from royals older and more experienced than him. He has also overhauled the most powerful security bodies to report to him.