A Saudi prince died in a helicopter crash near the Yemeni border Sunday afternoon, one day after the kingdom’s young crown prince ordered a shocking purge of princes and some of the country’s most influential leaders.
Prince Mansour Bin Muqrin was killed in the crash “while performing an inspection in remote parts of the governorate,” a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington told NBC News.
The Saudi-owned, Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiya reported seven other people also died in the crash. Prince Mansour was the son of Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, a former intelligence director and a one-time crown prince of the kingdom.
Hours after the fatal crash, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations closed Yemen’s land, sea and air ports. Saudi officials said they had intercepted a missile near Riyadh’s airport on Saturday that was fired from war-torn Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. The coalition blamed the launch on Iran and warned it could be “considered as an act of war.”
The day before the helicopter crash, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the arrest of 11 of his royal cousins, as well as nearly 40 of the country’s most powerful military officers, influential businessmen and government ministers – some of them potential rivals. No connection has been drawn between the events.
On Saturday, Prince Mohammed, 32, arrested billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, with major holdings in Western firms, as well as two of the late King Abdullah’s sons.
The crown prince said the unprecedented mass roundup is part of a larger crackdown on corruption targeting senior royals and their business associates, who have long been seen as operating above the law.
“The homeland will not exist unless corruption is uprooted and the corrupt are held accountable,” a royal decree said.
Alwaleed is accused of embezzlement, hiring bogus staffers and giving contracts to his own companies – including a $10 billion deal for walkie-talkies and bulletproof military gear.
The arrest of senior princes and 38 others upends a longstanding tradition among the ruling Saud family to keep their disagreements private in an effort to show strength and unity in the face of Saudi Arabia’s many tribes and factions.
The apprehended men were being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, which recently was the site of a major investment conference that the crown prince attended with global business titans.
A Saudi official said other five-star hotels across the capital were also being used to hold some of those arrested. The men in custody have all been blocked from leaving the country, according to reports.
The surprise arrests were welcomed by pro-government media outlets as the clearest sign yet that Prince Mohammed is keeping his promise to reform the country as it moves to overhaul its economy away from dependence on oil and liberalize some aspects of the ultraconservative society.
In September, King Salman lifted a ban on women driving.
The crown prince has also slashed state spending in some areas and plans a big sale of state assets, including floating part of state oil giant Saudi Aramco on international markets.
The purge was hailed by the kingdom’s top council of clerics.
With News Wire Services
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