Reporting by Margaret Brennan
A U.S. official confirmed Saturday that top members of the Saudi royal family have been detained and the land bridge to Bahrain has also been closed. The official said the purpose and breadth of the security lockdown remains unclear but it appears related to the latest "succession move." Saudi Arabia has not officially acknowledged the arrests.
Rumors swirl that the latest detentions may be connected to the deteriorating health of King Salman, but U.S. officials tracking those reports pointed out that the monarch appeared healthy when Secretary of State Pompeo visited with him just two weeks ago.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of King Salman, is the de facto ruler of the Kingdom and has tried to consolidate power since ousting Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the King's nephew, as heir to the throne in 2017. Later that year, several members of the royal family and other prominent Saudis were detained for months at the Ritz Carlton in the capital, Riyadh.
The detentions this weekend are occurring at a moment of economic crisis for Saudi Arabia and coincide with a Kingdom-wide effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier, Saudi Arabia announced that it has placed new preventive and precautionary measures in its fight against the novel coronavirus, by temporarily restricting the entry of Emirati, Kuwaiti and Bahraini nationals into the country. Saudi Arabia has closed its land borders with theses three countries, with an exception for commercial trucks. According to the Saudi Press Agency, citizens from those countries will only be permitted entry through the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah and King Fahd International Airport in Dammam.
The most recent arrests were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Bin Salman was first heralded as a reformer when he came to power in 2016. But he is also conducting a bloody war in Yemen, stands accused of targeting civilians and children and employing famine as a weapon. He has also rounded up political dissidents, and the CIA believes he is behind the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince. Bin Salman denied ordering Khashoggi's murder on "60 Minutes" in 2019.