Two new reports suggest more trouble for Saudi's crown prince. The New York Times is out with a front-page story alleging a brutal campaign authorized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to abduct and torture dissidents that began more than a year before the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Guardian, meanwhile, reports that the crown prince appears to have lost some authority, at least temporarily, on the orders of his ailing father, King Salman. The king is apparently worried about a big drop in investments coming in to Saudi Arabia after it was revealed that a special Saudi security team murdered Khashoggi. The kingdom has denied allegations that the crown prince personally ordered the journalist's killing, but the new Times piece will only add to the speculation about him.
The story is based on interviews with American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about a secret campaign to curb dissent that ramped up in 2017, when the crown prince assumed broad new powers. This Saudi Rapid Intervention Group sometimes abducted Saudis living elsewhere and brought them home to be detained and abused, often in palaces owned by the royal family. Women's rights activists were among those rounded up and subjected to abuse that included electric shocks, beatings, and threats of rape and murder. The Times says one such detainee, linguistics professor Eman al-Nafjan, attempted to kill herself because of the harsh treatment. “We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” says a former CIA analyst. “A dissident like Jamal Khashoggi in the past wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.” (Read more Mohammed bin Salman stories.)