Saudi Arabia in royal purge over ‘coup plot’

Saudi Arabia in royal purge over ‘coup plot’

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman's son and de facto ruler of the country, which is the world's top oil exporter and a key US ally, has moved to consolidate power since ousting Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup.

The royal court told members of the allegiance council, a group of royals that votes on matters of succession, that Prince Ahmed and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had been plotting a coup, according to the person familiar with the matter.

The three men reported to have been arrested are the king's younger brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and a royal cousin, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef.

The detentions, which cast aside the last vestiges of potential opposition to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, come at a sensitive time as the petro-state grapples with plunging oil prices and limits access to Islam's holiest sites over fears of the new coronavirus. "Certain individuals are responsible... the king and the crown prince", he said, according to a widely-circulated online video of the incident.

In June 2017, Prince Mohammed had edged out Prince Nayef, the former crown prince and interior minister, to become heir to the Arab world s most powerful throne.

"The arrest of several senior disgruntled princes such as Ahmed and MBN [Mohammed bin Nayef] reflects a growing discontent with the "Son King" over his despicable hegemony and erratic social, economic, foreign and religious policies", tweeted Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi academic based in London and a fierce critic of the crown prince.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was also arrested.

It was unclear where the princes are being held. Saudi watchers have said there is no evidence he is willing to take the throne.

The detentions were the latest demonstration of the crown prince's willingness to take extraordinary measures to quash any perceived rival.

Crown Prince bin Salman has been consolidating his position of power, with a crackdown on prominent clerics and activists as well as princes and business elites.

Mohammed bin Nayef's movements have been restricted and monitored since then, sources have previously said.

The royal family also has faced global criticism over the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

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