The detained Saudi prince who was ousted as heir to the throne three years ago now fears for his life because of social media claims that he is plotting to bring down his successor Mohammed bin Salman, his lawyers say.
Twitter is also causing a headache for the prince, who was the subject of a barrage of tweets ahead of the US election which claimed he was part of a Democratic-led plot to undermine the Saudi royal family.
Bin Nayef – who was shunted aside in favour of MBS in 2017 – denies plotting against the crown prince, and his lawyers say they are ‘concerned’ for his safety after nine months under house arrest.
Former crown prince: Mohammed bin Nayef, pictured at the United Nations in 2016, was ousted as heir to the throne in 2017 and is now under house arrest
Current crown prince: Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, takes part in a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia last month
The YouTube video apparently claims that Bin Nayef has been at large and possibly consorting with Joe Biden, who is thought likely to distance himself from Saudi Arabia after the kingdom enjoyed warm relations with Donald Trump.
The video also promotes the theory that Bin Nayef is plotting against MBS, according to his lawyers, who say that his loyalty to the regime has ‘never wavered’.
‘The true position is that our client has been detained against his will and without charge since March 2020 where he remains to this day,’ Bin Nayef’s lawyers say, adding that he has limited access to his lawyers and family members.
‘Such communication as our client does enjoy is undoubtedly monitored. Both our client and our client’s family are concerned for their safety, and it is not known whether the lives of our client and our client’s family are in jeopardy.’
There is also suspicion of ‘bot-like behaviour’ in the flood of tweets which suggested that Bin Nayef was involved in a plot.
The tweets, which came in the final weeks of the US election campaign, promoted a conspiracy theory involving Bin Nayef, Hillary Clinton and a former CIA director.
At one point, it became a trending topic in Saudi Arabia and the story was reported by some Arabic-language media outlets.
Bin Nayef’s lawyers insist that he supports the crown prince, who replaced him as heir to the throne on the orders of King Abdullah in 2017.
MBS enjoyed warm relations with Donald Trump (pictured together in Riyadh in 2017), but Joe Biden has pledged to ‘reassess’ the US relationship with Saudi Arabia
Before his removal, bin Nayef was head of an interior ministry which closely monitored dissidents and critics of the kingdom.
He was also regarded as an ally of US intelligence officials who credited him with bringing al-Qaeda under control in Saudi Arabia in the years after 9/11.
But he was dropped in 2017 to make way for MBS, who has laid out ambitious plans to modernise Saudi Arabia and end its dependence on oil.
Bin Nayef’s ouster was supported by 31 of the 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Allegiance, which decides on succession issues in the kingdom.
In March this year, he was picked up at a private desert camp and put under house arrest in what was seen as a consolidation of power by MBS.
Bin Nayef and others were accused of ‘conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat,’ it was claimed.
Criticism of bin Nayef on Twitter was already becoming apparent by June, with some accounts accusing him of corruption.
It came amid rumours that MBS was seeking to press charges against bin Nayef relating to allegations of corruption during his time at the interior ministry.
The royal family may face more scrutiny when Biden takes office, after the former vice president pledged to ‘reassess’ the US relationship with Riyadh.
Trump came under criticism for putting little pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
A UN investigation voiced strong suspicion that MBS was involved in the plot to kill Khashoggi, but this has always been denied by the Saudi government.