After a month long absence from the public eye, rumors began circulating this week in Iranian media that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) had been killed in an attempted coup last month. His office has attempted to quell the Saudi Crown Prince Salman death rumors, tweeting a photo on May 18 of the Crown Prince meeting with other Arab leaders.
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Persian-language newspaper, Keyhan, claimed a secret service report sent to “an unnamed Arab state” for review by senior officials, indicated that the Crown Prince had been hit by two bullets in the coup attempt. The report speculated that MbS had died in the attack since he has not appeared in public since gunfire erupted at the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud palace in Riyadh on April 21.
Attempted Coup Led to Saudi Crown Prince Salman Death?
Although Saudi media was quiet on the attempted coup, residents of the neighborhood posted videos and eyewitness accounts online, only adding to the Saudi Crown Prince death rumors. Video footage showed heavy gunfire, while locals reported seeing soldiers attacking the palace, led by footage and information received from a military drone which flew over the palace. Others claimed, the attack was led by Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have fired missiles and drone attacks on the palace in the past.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were said to have been taken to a bunker at a US airbase in the city.
Bin Salman’s “special guard” then allegedly took control of the security operations, shutting down Riyadh’s airways as they circled the palace with military helicopters.
A Saudi Armed Forces Medical Services plane was later seen departing from the King Salman Air Base in Riyadh feeding the speculation over the coup attempt and possible injury of MbS.
Saudi Authorities Dispel Rumors
Saudi authorities have refuted claims of an attempted coup. Shorty after the attack, the Riyadh police issued a statement claiming there was no attempted coup and the gunfire heard by locals can be attributed security guards attempting to shoot down a toy drone that had come to close to the royal palace.
An anonymous source within the Saudi government told Reuters that King Salman was not even in the palace at the time of the alleged coup attempt, but at a nearby family farm. The source also claimed there was no attempted coup, just security guards shooting down a recreational drone.
After deposing his cousin in a palace coup to become crown prince in June 2017, MbS has made a number of high levels enemies, including powerful princes and government officials following his November anti-corruption purge, which saw many of Saudi Arabia’s elites taken into custody. After the purge, the Crown Prince stripped many of Saudi Arabia’s princes of their wealth and status. MbS has also angered the powerful Wahhabi clerics with his liberalizing reforms.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman Death Rumors
A few days after the incident, newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Riyadh. Although he appeared publicly with King Salman, Pompeo was not seen with MbS. It was uncharacteristic of MbS to not make a public appearance with a visiting high level official, sparking online rumors of the Crown Prince’s death.
Images of MbS at the opening ceremony of a resort in Qiddiya on April 28th, made their rounds of Twitter, but did not quell the rumors.
Iranian media stoked the flames of the rumors, claiming to have a secret service report from an unnamed Arab state, indicating the Crown Prince’s injury and potential death. Iran is Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival. Currently, the two states are locked in a proxy war in Yemen. In the past, Houthi rebels, believed to be backed by Iran, have fired missiles at the royal palace in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016.
Director of the Private Office of the Crown Prince, Bader al-Asaker, attempted to finally put the Saudi Crown Prince Salman Death rumors to rest, tweeting a picture of the Crown Prince with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, King of Bahrain bin Isa and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The caption reads: “A friendly meeting between the two brothers was hosted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a few days ago.”
Those unwilling to relinquish the rumors of the Crown Prince’s death have argued that the date of the image cannot be confirmed.