Coup plot suspected: Saudi Arabia arrests King’s brother, two princes

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RIYADH: Three senior members of the Saudi royal family, including King Salman’s brother, have been arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the kingdom’s leadership.

According to the Wall Street Journal, guards from the royal court detained Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, at their homes before charging them with treason. Bloomberg also reported the detentions, quoting a source as saying that they were accused of “treason”.

Saudi officials are yet to respond to the reports, which appear to be part of a wider attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s favourite son and de facto Saudi ruler, to consolidate power. A source told the Wall Street Journal that the arrests took place on Friday morning.

According to a regional source, MBS accused the arrested princes of maintaining contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat.” “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. The regional source said King Salman had approved the latest detentions. “The king signed off on the arrests,” the source said, adding that the king is in a mental and physically sound state.

The Crown Prince also arrested nearly a dozen senior royals in 2017, supposedly in a crackdown on corruption, after ousting Mohammed bin Nayef, who at that time was heir to the throne. Though reports of a coup attempt were not confirmed, a handful of Saudi royals are reportedly trying to change the line of succession, with some regarding Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as one option. However, according to Saudi insiders and western diplomats it was unlikely the Crown Prince would be deposed while King Salman, 84, is still alive. Prince Ahmed has largely kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 after two years abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence calling for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling Al Saud family’s senior members, who opposed Mohammed bin Salman becoming crown prince in 2017.

The latest detentions come at a time of heightened tension with Iran and as Crown Prince Mohammed pushes for ambitious social and economic reforms. Prince Mohammed has been lauded at home for easing social restrictions in the Muslim kingdom and opening up the economy. But he has come under international criticism over the devastating war in Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and the detention of women’s rights activists as part of a broader crackdown on dissent. Prince Mohammed has also fuelled resentment among some branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power. In 2017, he ordered the arrests of dozens of Saudi royal figures, ministers and businessmen.

Among those was bin Nayef, a once powerful figure who had been the crown prince until King Salman took away the title and put bin Salman first in line for the throne. For the last few years, bin Nayef’s movements have been monitored and restricted. Sources told the Wall Street Journal there are royals who are now questioning bin Salman’s ability to lead. They said those royals seeking to change the line of succession view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice.

They claim he would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers. Saudi insiders and Western diplomats say the family is unlikely to oppose the crown prince while the 84-year-old king remains alive, recognising that the king is unlikely to turn against his favourite son

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