x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Prince Bandar, who formerly served as Saudi ambassador to the US for 22 years, had special responsibility for the Levant for years, leading Saudi intelligence and strategic affairs in the region.

Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan at his palace in Riyadh on June 4, 2008. Hassan Ammar / AP
Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan at his palace in Riyadh on June 4, 2008. Hassan Ammar / AP

RIYADH // Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan will return to the kingdom within days after spending around two months abroad for surgery and retake his position as intelligence chief, including control of the Syrian dossier, said Saudi security officials late on Sunday.

The Saudi officials said that during Prince Bandar’s absence, Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef was put in charge of the Syrian file and of the intelligence agency.

The three security officials said the 65 year-old prince was seeking medical attention in the US and resting in Morocco after surgery on his shoulder. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Prince Bandar, who formerly served as Saudi ambassador to the US for 22 years, has had special responsibility for the Levant for years, leading Saudi intelligence and strategic affairs in the region. Some analysts have speculated that Prince Bandar has been the key figure trying to boost Saudi weapons flow to Syrian rebel forces seeking to oust President Bashar Al Assad’s government.

The officials said that Prince Bandar held a number of official meetings while in Morocco, including with Saudi deputy defence minister Salman bin Sultan. The deputy defence minister briefed Prince Bandar on his official visits to Washington and Paris last month, they added, also saying that he met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan while in Marrakech.

Some analysts had said Prince Bandar may have been sidelined because the US was unhappy with his handling of Syria’s civil war, mostly his alleged support for radical groups among Syria’s opposition.

However, a top Saudi diplomat previously said that Prince Bandar could not have taken any decisions without King Abdullah’s approval. He said that the interior minister took over Prince Bandar’s responsibilities in his absence because he too has experience in dealing with counterterrorism and security affairs.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has issued a royal decree that imposes prison sentences on Saudi nationals who fight in conflicts abroad or those who incite them to fight. The decree was announced just one day after a sweeping antiterrorism law went into effect in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has also declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, along with Al Qaeda’s branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian Al Nusra Front, Saudi Hizbollah and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis.

* Associated Press