Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has detained one of the most senior members of the royal family, a former crown prince and a royal cousin for unexplained reasons, a relative and a person close to the royal family said Friday.
The senior royal, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, is a younger brother of King Salman and an uncle of the crown prince. He was for a time the great hope of family members and other critics who hoped he might try to block Prince Mohammed’s ascension to the throne, but he had shown no signs of seeking to do that.
The former crown prince who was arrested, Mohammed bin Nayef, is also the former interior minister and a longtime favorite of Washington.
He had already effectively been under house arrest since he was removed from those roles by the current crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in 2017. It was unclear why he was detained.
His younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, was also detained.
An official of the Saudi embassy in Washington declined to comment.
The detentions come at a touchy moment for the kingdom and the royal family.
The apparently unilateral decision of Crown Prince Mohammed to halt visits to Mecca in response to the coronavirus — a move with few if any precedents in Islamic history — has stirred grumbling. His plans to modernize the Saudi economy have shown little progress so far. And concerns about the impact of the coronavirus have slashed the price of oil, the source of the kingdom’s revenue.