The Magazine

Who is Prince Nayef?

The most powerful man in Saudi Arabia.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15 • By BILL TIERNEY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Whether it is the efficacy of the Jewish lobby or plain misconception, the Western media seem to be running amuck with reports against the Kingdom and its way of life. On Saturday, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz strongly criticized this trend and affirmed that such campaigns will not have any effect on the Kingdom itself. Prince Nayef's rejoinder to the Western campaign was most timely and may have put to rest whatever doubt one may have on the Kingdom's integrity.

Lately, following the revelation that a member of the royal family had indirectly funded a 9/11 hijacker, Prince Nayef has resurrected the view that the Jews were behind the attacks. An article in the English edition of the Saudi newsweekly Ain Al-Yaqeen of November 29, 2002, states:

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said that he greatly suspected that these terrorist organizations have relation with foreign intelligence that worked against Arab and Muslims, topped by Israeli intelligence. They wanted to attack us at our bases and tenets, notably our religion and the Palestinian issue.

He noted that it is impossible that 19 youths including 17 Saudis carried out the operation of September 11, or that bin Laden or Al-Qaeda organization did that alone. We can say that these people are either agents or ignorant since their action was against Islam and Muslims. By this action the world became against Islam, Muslims and Arabs.

It is not a towering or trained intellect that propels Prince Nayef to propound these positions. His bio mentions his "studies in religion, diplomacy, and security affairs." In fact, his lack of education is one of his greatest credentials. The ministers of commerce, information, and foreign affairs all studied in the United States. From an Islamist point of view, they're tainted.

WHAT PRINCE NAYEF does have, thanks to his perch as interior minister, is a better feel for the mood of the populace than anyone else in the kingdom. He sees the Islamist storm brewing and is trying to co-opt its energy to keep the House of Saud, or at least himself, in power. Thus, among his concerns as minister of the interior is the possibility that members of his own security personnel will join the jihad and direct it against the House of Saud, deeming their rule illegitimate on Islamic grounds.

Nayef is keenly aware that the widespread sympathy in Saudi Arabia for Osama bin Laden is a response not to bin Laden's personal charisma but to his jihadist mission, explicitly framed as obedience to the true Islam. It is a danger inadvertently sown by the regime itself, which long ago instituted the incessant intoning of the Koran on state radio and television. Prince Nayef, it seems, has decided to deal with this threat by riding the jihadist wave.

His monetary support for the Palestinians has been high-profile. He was the organizer of the famous telethon to raise money for Palestine in April 2002, and the website of his Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada carries exhaustive reports on Saudi financial and media support for the Palestinians. Nayef is also general supervisor of the Joint Saudi Committee for the Relief of Kosovo and Chechnya, which funds Muslim activities and conducts training courses in these two countries. This is precisely the kind of relief organization that is routinely used by jihadists as a cover for their activities. Many of the jihadist Arabs in Taliban-run Afghanistan had previously fought in Chechnya.

As interior minister, Prince Nayef is responsible for controlling the clergy within the kingdom. Although he has had the occasional extremist cleric arrested, he stands aside while many others preach jihad. One example from a long list is Ibn Jebreen, a respected sheikh from the Najd region, the heartland of Wahhabism. He emphatically preaches jihad, notably in support of the Muslim brothers in Chechnya. By his logic, anytime Muslims are under attack, it is incumbent on other Muslims to go to their aid. Given that a majority of Saudis cheered the 9/11 attacks, we can expect to see tens of thousands of Saudis head north to help their fellow Muslims when Iraq is attacked. As the ultimate boss of the Border Guards, Prince Nayef will be fully informed.

Further evidence of Prince Nayef's riding the jihadist wave is the case of Sheikh Salman bin Fahd Al-Oadah. Arrested by the Interior Ministry in 1994 for his radical preaching, Al-Oadah was released in 1999 without cause or comment. Since then, he has launched a website, Islamtoday.net, from his home in Buraydah, in the Najd. The English version of this site contains a straightforward definition of jihad: