Rumor has it that the Saudi spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was murdered in Riyadh two weeks ago when a bomb exploded at intelligence headquarters in the Saudi capital.
The Saudi authorities have yet to confirm or deny the rumor but admit that a bomb attack was carried out in central Riyadh on July 22, three days after a similar explosion in Damascus killed the Syrian defense minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother in law.
Bandar was appointed head of the Ri’āsat Al-Istikhbārāt Al-‘Āmah, the oil kingdom’s primary intelligence agency, in early July. He earlier served as Saudi ambassador to the United States and secretary general of the National Security Council.
In his present function, Bandar organized a meeting with Syrian defector Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, formerly a confidante of President Assad’s and one of the highest-ranking Sunni officers in the Syrian army who fled to Turkey last month.
Saudi Arabia has strongly supported the largely Sunni uprising in Syria against the secular Ba’athist regime of Bashar Assad. The extent of Saudi aid remains ambiguous. David Ignatius suggested in The Washington Post last week that the kingdom, in collaboration with neighboring Qatar, is “providing money and weapons” while other rebel sympathizers in the region, including Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, are “providing intelligence support on the ground.”
If Bandar was killed in the July 22 bombing, it may appear retaliation for the attack that killed several members of Assad’s inner circle in Damascus three days earlier but it is unlikely that Syrian intelligence could have pulled off such a scheme, especially on such short notice.
The Saudis are likely to blame their arch nemesis Iran which they also pointed in relation to the foiled assassination attempt of the Saudi ambassador to the United States in October of last year. In March, a Saudi diplomat was killed in Bangladesh.
The Saudis see Shia Iran as their primary rival for hegemony in the Middle East and have warned that if the regime there attains a nuclear weapons capacity, they will seek the same.
The two powers are also at odds over Syria. Iran continues to stand by its only Arab ally while Saudi Arabia is actively trying to undermine the Assad regime.
However, there may not have been foreign involvement in the Riyadh bomb attack at all. Saudi Arabia also battles an internal, mostly Shia opposition which is concentrated in the oil rich Eastern Province. Just last week, Shiite “rioters” were arrested in the city of Qatif on the Persian Gulf coast after setting tires on fire during an overnight demonstration. The capital has been rocked by bombings in recent years. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for several of them.