Saudi authorities have arrested three princes, including King Salman’s brother and nephew, for plotting a coup, American media reported on Friday, reporting further consolidation of power by the de facto ruler of the kingdom.
The detentions have set aside the last remnants of potential opposition to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and come as the kingdom limits access to the holiest sites in Islam in a very sensitive move to contain the spreading coronavirus fast.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a brother of King Salman, and the monarch’s nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, were charged with treason and taken away from their homes Friday morning by royal guards dressed in black, the Wall Street Journal citing anonymous sources.
The Saudi royal court has accused the two men, once potential candidates for the throne, of “plotting a coup to overthrow the king and crown prince” and would face life in prison or life, according to the newspaper.
The New York Times also reported the detentions, adding that Prince Nayef’s younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, had also been arrested.
The Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
These detentions mark the last crackdown on Prince Mohammed, who consolidated his grip on power with the imprisonment of prominent religious and activists as well as princes and business elites.
Prince Mohammed also faced a torrent of international condemnation for the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of the kingdom of Istanbul in October 2018.
Already considered the de facto leader controlling all the main levers of government, from defense to the economy, the prince is widely regarded as eliminating traces of internal dissent before an official transfer of power from his father, King Salman, aged 84 years old. .
“Prince Mohammed is emboldened – he has already avoided all threats to his rise and imprisoned or murdered critics of his regime without any repercussions,” said Becca Wasser, political analyst at the RAND Corporation, based in the United States, about of the last crackdown.
“It is a new step to consolidate its power and a message to anyone – including the royal family – not to cross it.”
Prince Ahmed, who is said to be 70, had returned to the kingdom from his base in London in the aftermath of the Khashoggi scandal, in what some saw as an effort to strengthen support for the monarchy.
Just before his return in October 2018, the prince courted controversy over remarks he made to protesters in London chanting against Saudi royalty over the kingdom’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
“What does the family have to do with this? Some people are responsible … for the king and the crown prince,” he said, according to a widely distributed online video of the incident.
This comment was considered by many to be a rare criticism of the kingdom’s leadership and its role in Yemen, but Prince Ahmed rejected this interpretation as “inaccurate”.
Prince Mohammed had preceded Prince Nayef, former crown prince and Minister of the Interior, in 2017 to become the heir to the most powerful throne in the Arab world.
At the time, Saudi TV stations showed Prince Mohammed kissing the hand of the elder prince and kneeling before him in a show of reverence.
Western media later said that the deposed prince had been placed under house arrest, a claim strongly denied by Saudi authorities.
The detentions come at a sensitive time as Saudi Arabia prohibits Muslim pilgrims from the most sacred sites in Islam from containing the new coronavirus.
The kingdom has suspended the year-long pilgrimage of the “umrah” due to fears of spreading the disease in Mecca and Medina, increasing uncertainty about the upcoming hajj – a key pillar of the ‘Islam.
The oil-rich kingdom is also struggling with falling crude prices, its main source of income.