Saudi King overhauls Interior Ministry after palace shake-up

Move consolidates monarch's control over security agencies

RIYADH • King Salman has overhauled Saudi Arabia's security agencies, 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 long-time 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 counter-terrorism and anti-terror financing departments, will be folded under the new body.

The decree consolidates the king's control over the security agencies.

It was announced after the monarch relieved Crown Prince Mohammed Nayef and appointed his 31-year-old son, Prince Mohammed 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 the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group under the former crown prince and his father, the late Prince Nayef Abdelaziz, before him.

The two men were seen by United States intelligence and security services as key partners in the war on terrorism.

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.

An official at the Saudi Arabian 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 General 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.

A former senior US official who tracks Saudi Arabia said that appointing Gen Huwairini was smart because he had good relationships with the US, specifically with the FBI, and because he is popular with his men and runs a large network of domestic spies across the kingdom.

But it remained unclear whether he would run the new body or merely act as a figurehead, the former official said.

BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Saudi King overhauls Interior Ministry after palace shake-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe