Nayef: the prince who fought Al Qaeda

Updated 24 Jan 2015

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Deputy Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef
Deputy Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef

RIYADH: Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, appointed second in line to the Saudi throne on Friday, built his reputation by leading a campaign against Al Qaeda and survived a suicide bombing claimed by jihadists. His appointment was among the first decrees announced by King Salman.

Born on Aug 30, 1959, Prince Mohammed became interior minister in 2012, taking over from his late father Nayef bin Abdulaziz, who headed the strategic ministry for 37 years.

Take a look: Looking back: The political life of late King Abdullah

Mohammed bin Nayef is the youngest Saudi royal to be named to such a high-ranking post, in a country where key figures are often advanced in age.

He was in charge of a crackdown on Al Qaeda following a wave of deadly attacks between 2003 and 2006.

His appointment helps to solidify control by King Salman’s Sudayri branch of the royal family, named for their mother Hissa bint Ahmad al Sudayri.

As second crown prince, Nayef is second in line to the throne and takes over from Prince Muqrin, the first crown prince and heir.

The position of second crown prince did not exist until KingAbdullah appointed Muqrin last March, aimed at smoothing succession hurdles.

Prince Nayef studied political science in the United States and had several military training courses, including under the aegis of the CIA, according to experts on the royal family.

In 1999, the bespectacled Nayef was given his first official post, serving as aide to the interior minister, his late father.

ANTI-MILITANT NETWORK: His formative years at the interior ministry allowed him to build a “solid network both inside Saudi Arabia and regionally to fight Al Qaeda”, said a Saudi expert.

Western governments noted his “successes” in confronting the global network and that his men were the first to detect and prevent Al Qaeda attacks, said the expert.

His reputation put him in Al Qaeda’s firing line and nearly killed him.

He survived a suicide attack in Aug 2009 when a bomber managed to infiltrate the prince’s security and detonated an explosive device.

The prince suffered only superficial injuries, but apart from the bomber, who was killed, no other serious casualties were reported.

The Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

It was the first high-profile Al Qaeda attack on the government since militants rammed a car bomb into the fortified interior ministry in Riyadh in 2004.

It was also the first strike on a royal since Al Qaeda launched a wave of attacks in Saudi Arabia in 2003, targeting Western establishments and oil facilities.

Prince Mohammed also led a programme to rehabilitate Al Qaeda members who either surrendered or were arrested.

The programme has been both praised and criticised, as many militants who underwent rehabilitation found their way back to extremism, with some joining Al Qaeda in Yemen.

When he himself was attacked, the royal court described the bomber as a wanted terrorist who had approached Prince Mohammed under the pretext he wanted to give himself up.

Published in Dawn January 24th , 2015

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