RIYADH – A report said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has kidnapped his cousin, Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz, who has been missing for over a year, amid a crackdown on critical voices. According to the Spanish ABC newspaper, the princess, a critic of the royal family and an advocate for women’s rights, has been held in al-Hayer Prison since she was abducted in February last year.
The paper released footage purportedly recorded by a surveillance system showing a group of eight men waiting for the princess outside an elevator in her palace in Jeddah on February 28, 2019. Some members of the group are then seen noticing the cameras and attempting to disable or cover them.
“Since then, she has been held in cell 108 of Wing B where she is allowed to contact her family once a week,” the daily quoted a source close to the princess as saying, adding that her family did not know when she would be freed.
The source said the princess was kidnapped “on suspicion of trying to flee the country” with her daughter. She had been due to travel to Switzerland for medical treatment. Late last year, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported that Princess Basmah had been banned from leaving the country on December 18, 2018 “accompanied by her daughter, for urgent medical attention as requested by her Swiss doctor”.
The princess’ plane was “kept on the ground and she was not allowed to leave” despite having clearances to fly out of Jeddah, DW added, citing documents it had seen. Princess Basmah returned to Saudi Arabia in 2016 after the then-Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef intervened with the king to secure her return.
The princess was demanding that King Salman return vast pieces of land owned by her father, the late King Saud bin Abdulaziz, in the city of Taif, and two billion dollars held in Swiss bank accounts. ABC quoted a source close to bin Nayef as saying that the princess might remain in the maximum-security prison until she gave up the claim for her father’s property.
Meanwhile, sources close to Princess Basmah suspect that her detention is part of a crackdown led by bin Salman against his critics among the royal family. A number of high-ranking Saudi royals and other individuals have been arrested recently, prompting speculation that the Saudi crown prince may be seeking to further tighten his grip on power ahead of a probable ascension in the near future.
In 2017, Salman ousted Nayef in a push to become crown prince. That year, dozens of high-ranking officials and figures were detained on Salman’s order and placed in the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel under security over corruption charges. The detentions came in a crackdown aimed at consolidating Mohammed’s power. That purge followed an earlier roundup of clerics, writers, economists, and public figures.