The CIA’s conclusion that journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been described as the most damaging blow yet to the de facto Saudi leader, officially placing him at the heart of a scandal that continues to shake the region.
The finding, first reported by the Washington Post, for which Khashoggi had written, was the first US government assessment linking Prince Mohammed to the dissident Saudi’s death in Turkey.
It came after Donald Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, had tried to shield him from criminal investigations that have incriminated 21 Saudi agents in the grisly murder.
Amid international uproar over the killing of Khashoggi, some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king.
Dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession but would not act while King Salman – the crown prince’s 82-year-old father – is still alive, the sources said. They recognise that the king is unlikely to turn against his favourite son, known in the West as MbS.
Read our previous story: Khashoggi Death Linked To Arab Prince
Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the sources.
Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said.
Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after 2-1/2 months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticise the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.
The House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes. Unlike typical European monarchies, there is no automatic succession from father to eldest son. Instead the kingdom’s tribal traditions dictate that the king and senior family members from each branch select the heir they consider fittest to lead.
However, despite resistance and speculations MbS remains the favourite son of the king, and an ally of the Trump government. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a statement. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”