Saudi Royals Want to Stop Crown Prince Becoming King, Appoint His Uncle Instead, After Jamal Khashoggi Murder

Members of Saudi Arabia's royal family have conspired to remove and replace Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder last month, according to a Reuters report.

Three sources close the royal family spoke to Reuters to discuss the purported court intrigue, saying that dozens of leading princes and relatives want to remove the crown prince (known by his initials MBS) and replace him with his uncle, King Salman's younger brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. But such a move would likely not be made until after the death of the 82-year-old king, as the conspiring family members do not believe he would turn against his favored heir.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 23. Prince Ahmed, 76, who is the king’s only living brother, would reportedly have the support of the family as well as Western nations and the kingdom’s security apparatus. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Prince Ahmed, 76, who is the king's only living brother, would reportedly have the support of the family as well as Western nations and the kingdom's security apparatus. The leading prince was reportedly one of three senior members of the royal family who initially opposed the appointment of MBS last year. After spending two and a half months outside the kingdom, in what some suggested was a self-imposed exile, Prince Ahmed returned to the kingdom last month as the news surrounding Khashoggi's murder drew international outrage.

The journalist, who was a columnist for The Washington Post and a U.S. resident, was killed when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. More than a dozen Saudi agents were reportedly waiting for him inside the consulate. They allegedly killed him shortly after he entered and then dismembered his body with a bone saw. The body has not been recovered, and Saudi officials initially denied any knowledge of the journalist's disappearance.

Following international outcry, the kingdom admitted weeks later that Khashoggi had been killed, with the kingdom's public prosecutor later announcing that his death was believed to have been "premeditated." But Riyadh has attempted to distance the crown prince and his father, King Salman, from any connection to the killing, while many analysts and intelligence sources have argued that MBS would have ordered or been aware of the operation.

A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with blood on his hands protests outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC on October 8, demanding justice for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Although Prince Ahmed and his representatives have not commented on the Saudi sources' claims, others have said that senior U.S. officials have already voiced their support for the royal. The elderly royal, who served as the kingdom's interior minister for nearly four decades, recently told protestors outside his London residence that they shouldn't blame the entire Al Saudi ruling family for the actions of the crown prince.

Another source told Reuters that the White House wasn't currently aiming to distance itself from MBS, despite the allegations of his connection to Khashoggi's killing. While leading Republican lawmakers have taken aim at the crown prince directly, the Trump administration has continued to tout financial ties with the kingdom to avoid targeting MBS directly. The State Department has, however, sanctioned top Saudi officials that were reportedly connected to the killing.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump said that it was "possible" that MBS had ordered the hit on Khashoggi, and that he would receive a full intelligence report on the murder on Tuesday. Saudi sources also revealed that the crown prince had ordered the Defense Ministry to look into purchasing new Russian weapons, which Trump has repeatedly raised as a concern. The president has pointed to a multi-billion arms deal with the kingdom, suggesting it could fall through if the U.S. takes a tough stance.

On Tuesday, the White House released a statement from Trump saying that the U.S. would continue to stand with Saudi Arabia despite the possibility that the crown prince was behind the killing of Khashoggi.

Leading the statement with the words: "America first," the president argued that the world was "a very dangerous place" and that the relationship with the kingdom remains important, despite the internationally condemned murder.

"It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump said, while pointing out that the kingdom has "agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States." He also called Saudi Arabia "a great ally."

This story has been updated to include a statement from the president on Tuesday.