Authorities in Saudi Arabia have released the first prince of a group of royals and key figures who are expected to be freed from detention following an uproar over the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, people familiar with the situation said.
Prince Khalid bin Talal, a nephew of King Salman, was released on Friday after being locked up for 11 months for criticizing the country’s crown prince and a corruption crackdown that ensnared the kingdom’s elite. His brother, billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, was also among dozens of royals, senior government officials and businesspeople rounded up in early November and detained at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.
Their detentions were part of a wave of arrests that the Saudi government called a corruption crackdown, but critics labeled an effort of the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to sideline potential rivals.
Now, the royal court appears to be seeking ways to shore up internal support as part of efforts to defuse its worst diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks, when a majority of the perpetrators were Saudis. Prince Mohammed and his circle of advisers have come under scrutiny and intense global pressure after the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
“The leadership wants to show it wants to change and is taking some serious steps,” a senior royal familiar with the matter said. “The release of Khalid is quite symbolic because he was arrested for going against the crown prince,” he said.
Prince Khalid couldn’t be reached on Saturday. Late Friday, his son and two nieces tweeted pictures of him with Prince Alwaleed visiting another of his sons, who has been in a coma for more a decade.
Representatives of the Saudi government didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Other releases of detained princes and businessmen are being considered, three royals and a person familiar with the matter said. They expected Prince Turki bin Abdullah, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd, and billionaire businessman Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi to be among those who may be released in the coming days, they said. An adviser for Prince Turki and a spokesman for Mr. Al-Amoudi said they hadn’t been notified on any impending release.
The death of Mr. Khashoggi—who was killed by a team of Saudi operatives on Oct. 2—has strained Riyadh’s ties with foreign powers, including its most important ally, the U.S. The Saudi government has acknowledged the murder at its Istanbul consulate was premeditated, and detained 18 people in connection to the killing, but it has repeatedly denied that Prince Mohammed had any direct knowledge of the operation. The prince condemned the killing as a “hideous incident” and vowed to deliver justice.
Still, the episode has piled pressure on the crown prince. Two of the crown prince’s closest aides have lost their jobs because of their suspected of involvement in the plot. More of the prince’s advisers are expected to be sidelined or fired, people familiar with the matter said.
Since being named heir apparent last year, Prince Mohammed has overseen a campaign against perceived dissidents even as he has also loosened some of the kingdom’s social strictures, such as allowing women to drive and permitting live music concerts.
But within the royal family, there is mounting resentment with the young prince’s missteps. Aside from the corruption crackdown that imprisoned many of his family members at the five-star Ritz Carlton, Prince Mohammed also clamped down on conservative clerics and arrested female driving activists before lifting the driving ban.
“The crackdown on clerics and dissidents, the Ritz campaign, and the arrests of female activists are mishaps that can and should be reversed,” another royal said. “Releasing those who are still locked up since the Ritz is especially important if you want to mend fences with the different branches of the royal family.”
During the anticorruption crackdown, some of the detainees were beaten and deprived of sleep while being questioned, officials and people close to the detainees have said. In some cases, these people said, those in custody haven’t been charged with crimes and have been permitted little or no contact with relatives or lawyers.
Many are being held at a maximum-security prison outside the capital. Others are being housed in pal aces that have been converted into detention centers, two government officials said.
Source : WSJ