Saudi King Overhauls Interior Ministry After Palace Shake-Up

  • Decree creates homeland security agency under prime minister
  • It also strips the Interior Ministry of its key powers

Saudi Shakeup Consolidates Prince Mohammed's Power

King Salman overhauled Saudi Arabia’s security agencies on Thursday, stripping the Interior Ministry of key powers a month after his son became crown prince in a palace shake-up that saw the ouster of the monarch’s nephew and longtime Interior Minister.

The king set up a homeland security agency that will be linked to the office of the prime minister, a title that he also holds, according to royal decrees published by the official Saudi Press Agency. Units such as the investigative branch and special forces as well as counterterrorism and anti-terror financing departments will be folded under the new body.

The decree consolidates the king’s control over security agencies. It was announced after the monarch relieved Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and appointed his 31-year-old son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as heir to the throne of the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The Interior Ministry spearheaded the kingdom’s fight against al-Qaeda and then Islamic State under the former crown prince and his father, the late Prince Nayef bin Abdelaziz, before him. The two men were seen by U.S. intelligence and security services as key partners in the war on terrorism.

An official at the Saudi embassy in Washington said the decision aims to refocus the Interior Ministry on domestic issues such as traffic laws, immigration and airport security. The changes are part of long-term reforms to overhaul the Saudi economy and government, the official said on condition of anonymity. He denied the decrees were related to this week’s report in the New York Times that described palace intrigue leading to the crown prince’s removal. Saudi officials said the story was baseless.

The royal order suggested that the restructuring was first proposed by Prince Nayef. The move aims to help security agencies face challenges “with a great degree of flexibility and readiness,” according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The new security agency will be headed by Gen. Abdulaziz al-Huwairini. The New York Times said this week that the general was “confined to his home” after the ouster of the former crown prince.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams

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